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Your skin care – why Marine Collagen ?

Marek Dobke, M.D., Simon Ourian, M.D., James Krulisky, M.D.

Body lotions, creams and ointments have historically been the mainstay of skin care because they hydrate and nourish. Paralleling the transition of plastic surgery and cosmetic dermatology to specialties with strong evidence based practices, cosmetology and  cosmeceuticals  were transitioning . Tradition driven and empiric formulations and production technologies have been replaced by the most current scientific developments. The resultant rise of new, innovative and powerful skin care products is due, in part, to the integration of additional components such the ability to reinstate the natural skin chemical milieu, the alleviation of skin sensitivities, ultraviolet protection, skin brightening, cleansing and exfoliation, toning and even lifting as well as changing the skin scent The best cosmeceuticals were developed by blending the best of tradition and empiric experience with modern science (1).

At the heart of skin care are moisturizing formulations. The effects of skin moisturizing agents are heterogenous and are described as lubrication (increasing skin slip, reducing flakiness and roughness), hydration (imparting skin moisture and increasing skin flexibility), and emolliency (products filling spaces between layers of epidermis with oils. They are frequently marketed as repair or replenishing compounds (1).

Considering the physiological mechanisms of moisturizing and the physical-chemical properties of  collagen, it is not surprising that collagen became a top candidate as an ingredient of high-end formulations. Collagen-containing creams effectively retard transepidermal water loss. Moreover, collagen molecule bind molecules of water because collagen can absorb up to 30 times its weight in water (1). Collagen may act as a powerful humectant itself or may serve as a hydrophilic matrix for other agents or cellular products (including stem cells) which have been shown to penetrate the skin. Although the principal mechanisms of cosmetic permeation across the skin (transepidermal and appendageal pathways) favor lipids, hydrophilic collagen penetration via alternative mechanisms similar to water diffusivity and ionic mobility pathway, is significant enough to enable collagen to deliver drugs or cosmeceuticals , or to serve as an effective vehicle for water delivery (2,3).  The removal (or thinning) of a protective and lipophilic superficial epidermal layer (stratum corneum) by either srubbing or exfoliation, chemical peel or laser treatments and exposure of aqueous viable epidermal layers can enhance penetration of aqueous compounds such as collagen or hyaluronic acid. In addition, micro needles  and micro needle roller skin massage will not only stimulate native dermal collagen production but may also help to infuse collagen into the skin through artificial temporary “pores” (4).

Typically, collagen is an additive found in many skin care products. However, its quantities are negligible and the full hydration enhancing potential of collagen is not maximized. In traditional cosmetology complex type I collagen prepared from bovine tissue by limited proteolysis and purified by differential precipitation was used for both skin care products and production of injectable forms of collagen (5,6). Macromolecular, relatively stable, fibrillar collagen was treated to remove nonhelical end of molecular chains responsible for the antigenicity and allergic reactions experienced by humans upon exposure to bovine collagen (1,6). Despite these technological procedures, biocompatibility problems and allergies led to a significant set back and decrease in the popularity of bovine-collagen based skin care products and injectable tissue fillers.

Research on phylogenetically lower forms of collagen with a simpler molecular structure derived from marine life opened new opportunities for cosmetology and renewed interest in collagen. Counter-intuitively, simpler collagen derived from more primitive forms of life has demonstrated more biocompatibility with humans. More “primitive” collagen (structure –wise) is free of immunizing and allergy-causing domains present in collagenous proteins of phylogenetically higher species (e.g., bovine) but retains the water-binding properties so desired for rejuvenating effects. Once the technology needed to maintain tropocollagen stability was mastered the marine collagen became available for the practice of cosmetology and perhaps cosmetic surgery (7). The discovery that hydrated tropocollagen thermostability was dependent on the nature of the source, and that if products were marine life from cooler waters, tropocollagen particles broke down into smaller components in contact with the 37 C environment of human skin which thus enhanced penetrability through the epidermis. This was an additional research breakthrough bonus for marine collagen cosmetic applications (6). Test skin care applications revealed no adverse, allergic reactions even by pure, almost 100%  concentration, marine collagen formulations. Superb skin hydration and volumizing effects of marine collagen-based products led to their rapidly growing popularity in Europe. Our own trials have re-affirmed that the enthusiasm for the use of marine collagen gel for skin care on the other side of the Atlantic is fully justified (Photographs 1,2).  Based on the research findings available so far, the superb rejuvenating effect of collagen (Photograph 3) is attributed to skin hydration, thickening of the layers by volumizing, and the reduction of small wrinkles and toning.

Crow-feet wrinkles.

Crow-feet wrinkles.

Crow-feet wrinkles after 2 weeks of daily applications of collagen-gel (pure collagen)

Crow-feet wrinkles after 2 weeks of daily applications of collagen-gel (pure collagen)

So far, there is no evidence that applying pure collagen to the skin would result in an increase of native collagen internally in the dermis in addition to the increased hydration (4,5,7). However, several intriguing hypotheses are currently being tested. These include: externally derived collagen stimulates fibroblasts to produce native dermal collagen, and externally delivered collagen is incorporated into or binds existing molecules of skin collagen  thus improving aging skin quality.  In addition, the research on vehicles (microcapsules, liposomes, nano lipid carriers – NLC technology) enhancing transepidermal delivery of bioactive substances needed for dermal rejuvenation such as collagen is promising and raises an expectation that in the future collagen delivery to the dermis and its integration with the native collagen will not be a technological challenge but the reality of skin rejuvenation procedures (4,8,9).

Collagen cream: preproduction research sample (Marine Collagen Biologicals/Dermesse).


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  3. Nabi Z, Tavakkol A, Dobke M, Polefka TG:  Bioconversion of vitamin E acetate in human skin.  Curr Probl Dermatol 29:175-186, 2000.
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  5. Nimni ME, Cheung DT, Startes B, Kodama M, Sheikh K. Bioprosthesis derived from cross-linked and chemically modified collagenous tissues. In: Nimni ME (Ed.) Collagen. CRC Press, Boca Raton, 1988, 1-38.
  6. Wallace DG, McPherson JM, Ellingsworth L, Cooperman L, Armstrong R, Piez KA. Injectable collagen for tissue augmentation. In: Nimni ME (Ed.) Collagen. CRC Press, Boca Raton, 1988, 1-38.
  7. Batieczko SA, Liedzjewirow AM. Kolagen. Nowa Strategia Zachowania Zdrowia I Przedluzenia Mlodosci (Polish). Collagen. New Strategy to Maintaining Good Health and Youth. (transl.) Hobbit Plus, Poland, 2010.
  8. Kowalska-Wochina E. Trendy Wspolczesnej Kosmetologii (Polish). Trends in Modern Cosmetology. (transl.) Cabines Polska 48: 40-46, 2011.
  9. Robert L, Labat-Robert J, Robert AM. Physiology of skin aging. Clin Plast Surg 39:1-8, 2011.