A Definitive Ranking of the Best Collagen-Stimulating Skin-Care Ingredients Money Can Buy

Photo: Stocksy/Santi Nunez

Collagen has become a beauty buzzword thanks to the fact that it results in plumper, stronger skin.  But before you go out and stock up on hundreds of dollars worth of collagen-infused skin-care, you should know that upping your collagen levels isn't quite as easy as slathering your face with the stuff, since collagen molecules are too big to penetrate the surface of skin. So instead, you'll  have to rely on collagen-stimulating ingredients that'll give kick your skin cells into gear produce more of the stuff on its own.

"Collagen is considered the 'youth fiber,' and it's the foundation of healthy skin," says board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD. "With the production of collagen, you'll find that skin appears tighter, pores appear smaller, and fine lines and wrinkles are improved." When collagen stimulating ingredients are applied topically, they activate your fibroblast cells, or "collagen factory" cells, to produce collagen. They also help protect this new collagen from being broken down by other enzymes in your body.

So just which beauty ingredients do the trick? Keep scrolling for the top collagen-stimulating skin-care ingredients on the market.

Collagen-stimulating skin-care ingredients

1. Retinoids: Retinol is famous for its ability to stimulate collagen, so it's no wonder it tops the list. "Some of my favorite collagen-stimulating ingredients are retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives such as adapalene,"  says Dr. Nazarian. Since retinoids can be drying for certain sensitive skin types, bakuchiol also works as a gentler (plant-based!) alternative.

2. Epidermal growth factor (EGF): Epidermal growth factor, a protein that stimulates cell growth, also helps get things going on the collagen front. "It works to stimulate cell renewal and collagen production in the skin, and strengthens elasticity and structure," says Simon Ourian, MD, an LA-based cosmetic dermatologist.

3. Alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids: Chemical exfoliants, like your AHAs and BHAs, help to dissolve the "intracellular glue that holds dead skin cells together on the skin," says Dr. Ourian. According to him, using these ingredients regularly will gradually help your skin become better at producing collagen on its own, since they cause an intrinsic cellular mechanism to trigger and cause skin cells to think the skin is damaged. "The skin's natural mechanism, then, is to try to heal itself rapidly, therefore produce more collagen and more skin cells," he says.

4. Peptides: Peptides are the building blocks of protein, and are found in every cell and tissue. "Peptides act as signaling mechanisms that tell the body to produce more collagen," says Dr. Ourian. There are a number of different types of peptides that all work slightly differently (they'll show up on product labels with 'peptide' somewhere in the ingredient name), but he says they're a must-have for your skin health since your cells have receptors specifically for the ingredient.

5. Vitamin C: The brightening antioxidant vitamin C, according to Ted Lain, MD, board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology in Texas, works as a "cofactor for the enzymes involved in collagen production," he says, explaining that cofactors are chemicals that are required to attach to an enzyme in order for it to function properly. "Applying them as part of a skin-care regimen supports and enhances this process."

Watch the video below to learn more about collagen: 

To squeeze the most out of your routine, here's how to make skin-care products last longer.  And these are the best skin-care sets to buy if you're newly building your regimen.

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