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As is generally the case, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Take, for example, collagen serums, which have been touted with being able to plump and firm skin when applied topically. Not so, according to dermatologist Margarita Lolis, who tells The Zoe Report that topical collagen products "are essentially worthless." The best collagen serums are actually antioxidant and retinol serums that work by stimulating the production of collagen in our skin. "Topical collagen products cannot penetrate the skin because their molecules are too big," Dr. Lolis explains. "Topical vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid has been proven to stimulate collagen types I and III," Dr. Lolis says of what to try instead. "Retinols penetrate deep into the skin and stimulate the production of collagen in the deep dermis, which is the deepest layer of the skin," she adds of another effective ingredient.
Dr. Margarita Lolis, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist practicing with Schweiger Dermatology Group in Hackensack, NJ. Dr. Lolis specializes in cosmetic and medical dermatology, scar removal and body contouring, and Mohs micrographic surgery.
What Is Collagen?
If you're not totally sure what collagen does in the first place, Dr. Lolis explains it best: "Collagen is a protein that serves as the building block of our skin, bones, hair, and other parts of the body," she tells The Zoe Report. "In the skin, think of it as the scaffolding that keeps it from sagging," she says, adding that collagen keeps our skin looking plump and firm. As we get older, the amount (and quality) of collagen our body produces lowers, which is where collagen-stimulating serums come in.
More Ways To Support Collagen
Antioxidant ingredients can all help stimulate collagen production, as can peptides. "Antioxidants such as niacinamide and vitamin E are excellent as well, but the powerhouses are hands down retinol and vitamin C," Dr. Lolis says. "Copper peptides help to support collagen in the skin, and squalane and hyaluronic acid help to retain moisture in the skin, which also helps keep collagen strong," she adds of the importance of choosing a serum with moisturizing ingredients, too.
Another way to help prevent the breakdown of your own natural collagen is to wear sunscreen every day. "Besides the fact that collagen breaks down naturally as we age, accumulated damage in the skin from sun exposure further weakens the supportive structure of the skin," Dr. Lolis says. "Look for broad-spectrum physical sunscreens with a minimum SPF 30."
And collagen serums aren't the only overhyped product in the collagen world. Collagen supplements, which come in powders that can be mixed into juices and lattes or gummies, are questionable at best. "There have been studies that have shown that collagen supplements have improved joint mobility, but there are not enough studies showing any benefit to the skin," says Dr. Lolis. "We don't know how much the body is actually absorbing to make any difference," she continues, adding, "There is no real risk unless you are allergic to any of the components of the product, but there is no real benefit to them either."
Shop The Best Collagen Serums
In a hurry? Here are the best collagen serums:
- Best Vitamin C Serum To Boost Collagen: Sunday Riley CEO 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum
- Best Retinol Serum To Boost Collagen: SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0
- Best Collagen-Boosting Serum Capsules: Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules
- Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serum To Boost Collagen: RoC Multi Correxion Revive And Glow Daily Serum
- Best Drugstore Retinol Serum To Boost Collagen: L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Night Serum With Pure Retinol
- Best Korean Collagen Serum: MIZON Collagen 100
- Best Peptide Serum For Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice Peptide Booster
1. Expert’s Pick: Best Vitamin C Serum To Boost Collagen
Not only does the vitamin C in this serum help to stimulate collagen production, but it also fights free radical damage (you're constantly being exposed to these skin cell-damaging molecules through things like pollution and UV rays). "This serum contains 15% stabilized vitamin C with glycolic acid to target dark spots and dullness," Dr. Lolis adds of why the Sunday Riley’s CEO Serum is one of her top recommendations. To reinforce the skin's moisture barrier and combat redness due to sensitivity, you'll also find squalane, saccharide isomerate extract, and a phytosterols complex derived from soybeans in here.
Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, Squalane, Phytosterols Complex, Vitamin E, Jojoba Esters, Glycerin, Glycolic Acid Size: 1 oz.
2. Best Retinol Serum To Boost Collagen
More of a light lotion than a watery serum, this SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0 uses retinol to increase collagen production. A derivative of vitamin A, retinol also speeds up the rate of skin cell turnover to improve the overall appearance of the skin's texture and tone. Moisturizing ingredients like squalane and glycerin have been included in the treatment, as have skin-calming ingredients like niacinamide, bisabolol, and ceramides. Even so, if you're new to the world of retinols, you'll want to ease your way into this one to reduce the risk of experiencing any redness, dryness, or burning (aka retinization). Start by applying this two to three times per week, gradually increasing to nightly use as your skin adjusts to the retinol.
Key Ingredients: Retinol, Soybean Oil, Niacinamide, Squalane, Tripeptide-8, Vitamin E, Ceramide, Bisabolol, Glycerin Size: 1 oz.
3. A Serum Capsule
If you’re never sure if you’re using the right amount of product — this is especially important with retinol — or you want something that’s easy to travel with, Elizabeth Arden’s Retinol Ceramide Capsules are worth the splurge. Each pink capsule contains the proper amount of serum for a single application’s worth, and it also helps prevent the retinol in the serum from degrading through light and air exposure (the capsules are biodegradable, FYI, being made entirely from vegetable and mineral-based materials). In this serum, retinol combined with peptides and antioxidant-rich ingredients help boost collagen production, while moisturizing ingredients like ceramides and sunflower seed oil work to minimize the risk of irritation and keep your skin feeling soft. You’ll get 60 capsules in one bottle, and since you only have to use a retinol serum a few times a week to see results, this order should last you a while.
Key Ingredients: Retinol, Green Tea Leaf Extract, Ceramides, Sunflower Seed Oil, Olive Fruit Oil, Peptides (E.g. Tetrapeptide-7 and Tripeptide-1), Avocado Oil Size: 60 Capsules
4. Best Drugstore Vitamin C Serum To Boost Collagen
When it comes to vitamin C and retinol serums, there are plenty of great drugstore products out there, too. RoC’s Multi Correxion Revive And Glow Daily Serum contains a 10% active vitamin C blend to improve skin's luminosity and elasticity with continued use. Additional antioxidants, peptides, and moisturizing ingredients further help to improve your complexion’s texture and tone. And best of all, it costs just $25 on Amazon.
Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, Glycerin, Nonapeptide-1, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Kakadu Plum Extract Size: 1 oz.
5. Best Drugstore Retinol Serum To Boost Collagen
L'Oréal uses a concentration of 0.3% retinol in its Revitalift Night Serum to give you visible results sans irritation. As the retinol accelerates skin cell renewal, ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid work their moisturizing magic to promote plumper, more hydrated skin. The brand also uses a patent-pending Retinol Guard technology to protect the sensitive ingredient against degradation — something that’s further thwarted by the dark blue bottle.
Key Ingredients: Retinol, Glycerin, Soybean Oil, Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin E Size: 1 oz.
6. Best Korean Collagen Serum
If you’ve already got a retinol or vitamin C serum you love, consider MIZON’s Collagen 100 serum, which you can rotate with your other collagen-promoting serum of choice. You can use this fragrance-free serum on its own or mixed in with your favorite moisturizer for an added boost of hydration. Hyaluronic acid and hydrolyzed collagen help your skin retain moisture, while antioxidant-rich niacinamide and several peptides encourage your skin’s ability to produce collagen. At under $20 on Amazon, you really can’t beat the price.
Key Ingredients: Hydrolyzed Collagen, Hyaluronic Acid, Allantoin, Panthenol, Niacinamide, Peptides (E.g. Copper Tripeptide-1) Size: 1 oz.
7. Best Peptide Serum For Sensitive Skin
If you find that your skin is too sensitive to handle retinol or vitamin C, this Paula's Choice Peptide Booster is another sensitive skin-friendly way to target dullness, a loss of elasticity, and unwanted discoloration. There are eight different peptides in this fragrance-free serum, and you'll also get more antioxidant and amino acid benefits from ingredients like licorice extract, ginseng root extract, and arginine.
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Peptides (E.g. Tripeptide-1), Arginine, Ginseng Root Extract, Licorice Root Extract, Algae Extract Size: 0.67 oz.
Dr. Margarita Lolis, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Hackensack, NJ