Collagen redux: One important truth about anti-aging skincare

Build a collagen-boosting skincare routine with these essential vitamins. (Getty/File)

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For all the potions and treatments promising eternal youth, the anti-aging crusade is, at its core, about preserving and producing collagen in our skin. We previously talked to Dr. Danny Guo, a dermatologist and the director of Rejuvenation Medical in Calgary, about how collagen supplements work. This week, we are exploring what topical serums and creams can stimulate collagen production in our skin.

If you Google ‘ultimate skincare routine,’ you’ll be presented with an unending list of ‘Best Of’ articles and videos. From seasoned experts to radiant celebrities, everyone has a take. (The Curator included!). Finding what’s suitable for your skin is a lifelong journey; however, if you hang on to one truth after reading yet another article, let it be this: Collagen, as an ingredient in lotion, can make your skin feel moisturized, but it doesn’t affect the structure of your skin.

I’ll let Dr. Guo explain: “Topical collagen can’t be absorbed into the skin simply because it is too large of a molecule. It can act as a humectant and attract water, thus moisturizing the skin, but that is the limit of its topical benefits.”

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Collagen is found in the dermis layer of the skin. If you recall from “How to Unlock the Fountain of Youth Within,” after age 20, we begin to lose collagen in our skin at the rate of 1 per cent per year. This can be accelerated by UV damage. Females lose 30 per cent of their remaining collagen within the first five years post-menopause.

Dr. Guo reassures me that while “you can’t restore it back to when you were a baby,” it certainly is possible to restore lost collagen.”

So, where to start? It’s not a matter of adding collagen but applying ingredients that will activate and protect collagen production in our skin.

The ABCs of Collagen Boosting Skin Care

When it comes to boosting collagen, it all comes down to three active ingredients vital to an anti-aging skincare regimen. Each has antioxidant effects and help to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, among many other benefits.

How you layer your skincare products plays an important part too. Take note!

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Morning: Clean & Tone Face + Neck→ Vitamin C serum→ Hylaurnic Acid→Moisturizer→Sunscreen (or a Moisturizer with Sunscreen)

Evening:  Clean & Tone Face and Neck→ Hylauronic Acid Serum→ Retinol →Nicinamide→Moisturizer

Here are 12 products and brands that caught our eye. To get the most out of each treatment, note at what time of day and in what order it is recommended to use them.

Vitamin A: Retinol

When to use: Nighttime.

What it can be used with: Niacinamide and Hyaluronic Acid.

Use Retinol in the evening on your face and neck after you wash and tone your skin. If it’s not already in the product you are using, you can enhance your nighttime routine with a hyaluronic acid and niacinamide serum. Sandwiching the retinol between the hyaluronic acid and niacinamide will reduce the chance of irritation while infusing moisture into your skin. Don’t forget to apply a moisturizer too! Wait five minutes between layers to allow each product to be absorbed by your skin. Remember Dr. Guo’s advice: If you are new to Retinol, begin using a lower concentration a couple of times a week, gradually building up to five times a week.



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A perfect dose in every capsule—RoC can stand behind its retinol. With over 100 clinical studies and 27 years of research, they created an effective formula free of sulphates, parabens, formaldehyde, phthalates, mineral oil and scents to make the product safe for nearly everyone. The capsule is handy for travelling and keeps the formulation stable.


This made-in-Korea serum doesn’t contain niacinamide or hyaluronic acid but Retinal, Bakuchiol and Retinol (0.1%). It uses a “patented elastic-liposome technology” for effective delivery deep into the skin. SOME BY MI is a good place to start if you are new to retinol. The inclusion of the Bakuchiol makes it a gentler formula.


Alastin Skincare is a physician-dispensed skincare brand, meaning it is clinically tested and usually only available at a doctor’s office. Luckily, it’s also available at Designed to improve the delivery of retinol, it also contains potent hydrators and calming properties. Key ingredients: Lipid Encapsulated Retinol, Silver Mushroom, Oat Extract, Co-enzyme Q-10, and Hydroxymethoxyphenyl Decanone. (Yes, Niacinamide is on the longer list of ingredients.)
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p.s. There’s also a 0.5 per cent option too.


CeraVe’s Resurfacing Retinol is the number one best-selling serum on Amazon in Canada. This Renewal Cream Serum is not far behind. The latter is on this list because it targets fine lines and wrinkles and includes niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. It is a cream-based serum but non-comedogenic, non-irritating, and fragrance-free.


Vitamin B3: Niacinamide

When to use: Morning or night.

Avoid: Using it with Vitamin C. If Vitamin C is part of your morning routine, save the Niacinamide for nighttime use.

Now, according to Dr. Guo, Niacinamide sounds like a no-brainer.

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Olay describes this formula a ‘fountain of youth.’ It’s an ultra-concentrated formula, although the description doesn’t reveal the percentages of its ingredients. Likely a top-secret formula! When you purchase this product from Amazon, you will receive a travel-sized version of Olay Regenerist MicroSculpting Face Moisturizer, an amino-peptide formula with more youthful benefits and an infusion of hyaluronic acid.
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This formula is 60% Propolis and 2% Niacinamide. It promises a glowy finish while minimizing your pores and moisturizing. Propolis is what the NIH refers to as “bee glue.” It’s a resin-like substance in its pure form. It’s used here for its antimicrobial properties and can be beneficial in treating acne. Other notable ingredients include a seed extract (Bird’s foot) to soothe the skin and a fatty-acid-rich oil (Tamanu) that can aid in repairing damaged skin.


Vichy has much to boast about with this Niacinamide-enriched serum. It’s hypoallergenic and unscented, so it should be safe for sensitive skin. It receives a lot of love from its users, who rave about the lightweight formula that absorbs quickly into the skin. It also contains some other skin-nourishing ingredients like vitamin E and glycerin.
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If you want niacinamide for help with other concerns beyond anti-aging, like acne or hyperpigmentation, this concentration could work for you. However, if you have sensitive skin, stick to a lower-concentrated formula. Highly rated and effective, according to many loyal reviewers on the Naturium site who claim to have experienced noticeably smoother skin. This serum has several superstar ingredients, plus it’s cruelty-, paraben- and fragrance-free.


Vitamin C

When to Use: Morning


Time and again, the leading Vitamin C formulation on the list of beauty editors is Skinceuticals C E Ferulic. It’s a patented formulation designed to improve the look of your skin and protect it from dehydrating environmental factors.


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At 20%, this formula is potent. Timeless makes a gentler 10% option, too. Aside from its protective and collagen-generating powers, it will address any dullness and hyperpigmentation concerns with time. Leaping Bunny Certified.


Another highly rated serum, this formulation does not contain Ferulic Acid, but it is infused with Vitamin E and Hyaluronic Acid. Its water-like composition allows for fast absorption into the skin. Free from Parabens, Silicons, and Parabens. The pharmaceutical-inspired applicator helps to prevent contamination.


This formulation consists of a stabilized blend of Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid), Vitamin E, & Ferulic Acid, not unlike the Timeless and SkinCeuticals serums. It’s a bestseller for the Mavelove brand and made the Strategist 100 list last year. Right now, you need to order The Glow Maker from the website. It ships from the U.S.A.
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Built on a “formula-first” philosophy; Allies is a Singapore-based brand that uses ingredients and ingredient combinations not commonly found in many other brands. This serum stands out because of its “Diamond Powder base” for a” lit-from-within glow.”


In a clinical setting, skin boosters are the most popular skin treatment for collagen. Dr. Guo frequently tells his patients, “You’re going to start seeing clinical benefits at four weeks, but that’s purely hydration. [But] the collagen that’s going to help with your fine lines—that’s going to start at four months.”

Since the changes are slow and require consistency, taking pictures month to month can help you to see if your efforts are, in fact, worthwhile.

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