Collagen is a key structural protein that is found in our tendons, cartilage, connective tissue, bones and skin. Known as the “glue” within our body, collagen accounts for 30 per cent of the body’s protein.
While collagen helps with tissue repair and provides strength and support for the body, it is best known for keeping skin springy, firm, wrinkle-free and radiant – a look that is also known as “that youthful bounce”.
However, the body’s ability to produce collagen is finite, especially as one ages.
By the age of 20, a person produces about 1 per cent less collagen in the skin each year, according to science journal magazine Scientific American.
This loss could be accelerated by external factors such as a poor diet, notes Dr Park Ji-Youn, a Korean board-certified dermatologist and founder and director of the Ozhean Skin and Plastic Surgery Network, which manages Ozhean Zoey Medical & Aesthetic Clinic.
Water is a crucial component in your diet that can impact skin ageing and a lack of it can lead to tissue dehydration. A deficit of the key amino acids that form the collagen protein molecule could also have an impact, as well as insufficient antioxidants and minerals, in particular Vitamin C, zinc and copper.
“If you see hollowing of the cheeks, temples and eyes, coupled with the appearance of deep and fine lines on the face, then you are probably seeing signs of ageing,” notes Dr Mark Twoon, a resident aesthetic physician at Ozhean Zoey.
Collagen loss in men and women
While men start off with a higher collagen density than women, they lose collagen faster at a younger age so they age faster than women at the beginning, notes Dr Park.
“However, as women approach menopause, they start to lose collagen at a swifter rate than men,” adds Dr Park. “Studies have shown that women can lose up to almost one-third of collagen in the first five years after menopause.”
When that happens, women lose skin firmness and elasticity, and wrinkles and sagging skin become more prominent.
“Since we start to lose collagen as early as in our 20s, it will seem wise to start preparing our skin when it's at an optimal state to slow down skin ageing,” adds Dr Park. “Our propensity for collagen production is also stronger when we are younger.”
How collagen banking works
Contrary to its name, collagen banking does not mean your collagen will be removed and “stored” until you need it later in life. Instead it’s a “prejuvenation” treatment that stimulates the body’s natural collagen production and accumulates collagen, so there will be more collagen available as your body ages naturally.
“Many young Singaporean patients come to us and ask for ‘Korean glass skin’, the youthful porcelain-like, almost poreless complexion that many Korean celebrities sport,” shares Dr Twoon. “Some of these Singaporean patients already have good skin but they are striving towards having even better skin; they also seek to look wrinkle-less and hydrated in their later years.”
But compared to a sprightly 20-year-old, could someone older benefit from collagen banking or is it too late?
“It is better to start than not at all. There will still be collagen production at all ages,” advises Dr Park. “Collagen banking treatments can also help us ‘catch up’ and do some ‘skin saving’. That means we can restore our skin to better health and collagen content.
Collagen banking versus collagen supplementation
Oral collagen supplements in the form of pills, powders and certain foods have become popular over the years as they are believed to be effectively absorbed by the body. So why then is there a need for collagen banking treatments?
While collagen supplementation may help, Dr Park says it is not enough on its own due to how the body absorbs it and its inability to accurately target specific layers of the skin.
Explains Dr Park: “In reality, collagen cannot be absorbed in its whole form. It will need to be broken down to amino acids and peptides in order for it to be absorbed. However this effect is limited.”
For collagen production to occur at the face and for anti-ageing effects to show, Dr Park says there must be a stimulus at every layer of the face. For example, collagen boosting at the skin layer will cause reduction in skin wrinkles, pore reduction and pigmentation improvement. And collagen boosting at the fat layer will result in a more lifted face with less visible smile lines and jowl lines.
Dr Park says: “There are some studies1 conducted on collagen supplementation that show improvements in skin elasticity, hydration and collagen density. However, clinically, these results might be subtle to the eye.”
Just like how a combination of exercise and diet holistically benefits our health, it is ideal to have both collagen treatments and supplementation to support skin health, adds Dr Park.
Juvelook: The latest collagen banking treatment
At Ozhean Zoey, aesthetic doctors led by Dr Park are able to customise collagen banking treatment plans to each individual’s unique skin condition, varying the dose and even selecting the layers of skin to build collagen in.
One such customised collagen banking treatment is Juvelook, a minimally invasive procedure that has gained popularity in South Korea.
As a hybrid filler, it carries the immediate filling effect of Hyaluronic Acid (HA), which is typically found in conventional skin boosters, and the long-term collagen stimulation of Poly D-Lactic Acid (PDLA), often found in collagen biostimulators.
During this treatment, PDLA is introduced deep into the dermis layer of the skin through very fine microneedles to stimulate collagen production. The PDLA disappears in six to 12 months, leaving behind strands of collagen in the skin, which causes the skin to be firmer, more poreless and more elastic.
“The beauty of Juvelook PDLA treatments is that it does not make your face puffy, which might happen when excessive hyaluronic acid fillers are injected. That’s because Juvelook stimulates production of your own collagen,” says Dr Twoon.
Juvelook also works to restore acne-scarred skin with its collagen production and helps with rosacea treatment as it can calm inflammation.
As for side effects, Dr Twoon says you may feel minimal discomfort and some mild skin bumps after the treatment but this typically subsides within hours.
According to Dr Twoon, multiple sessions can yield optimal results. For those in their late 30s to 40s, at least three sessions are recommended. One session of Juvelook can cost between $400 and $1,200, depending on the amount of products needed.
For optimal results, Dr Twoon recommends doing Juvelook together with other collagen-boosting treatments such as microneedling radiofrequency or high-intensity focused ultrasound.
To treat pigment-related conditions such as melasma, Juvelook can also be complemented with the pico laser treatment.
However, Dr Park cautions that more isn’t always better. “Excessive energies used during treatment can result in scarring instead of building beneficial collagen; which is why we do not recommend patients to undergo more than a certain number of treatments each year.”
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