Evolving from its reputation for 1980s-era exaggerated lip injections, collagen and its dynamic partner elastin have advanced into becoming the go-to duo for restoring skin to its plumpest and healthiest state. Essential collagen provides substance to the deeper level of the skin (the dermis), while elastin fibers are responsible for the skin’s elasticity, says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, M.D., Ph.D., a New York City-based dermatologist. “Healthy skin has thick, abundant collagen fibers, which make up the vast majority of the dermal skin volume,” she explains. “Elasticity can be measured by the degree of resistance to stretch.” As collagen degenerates, the skin becomes thin and crepe-like, while a lack of elastin causes sagging skin.
According to Sothys Paris national trainer Leslie Couanon, the skin begins to age around 25 when people begin encountering dehydration. This decreases the elastin fibers and makes them weaker. To keep skin firm and healthy, the body needs water to boost collagen and elastin by improving hydration and circulation, and innovative new treatments claim to do just that. The [CH] Facial – Collagene & Hyaluronic Acid (suggested $175, 75 minutes) from Sothys Paris was introduced to the U.S. market in early 2010. It relies on a cocktail of antioxidants, peptides, firming collagen, and hyaluronic filling agents. “The techniques we use are very specific and fill the wrinkles and swell up the lines, thanks to the hyaluronic acid that penetrates into the skin and injects water into the collagen in order to grow,” says Couanon. The treatment is composed of two phases. The first begins with an application of a replenishing serum in the grooves of the wrinkles and expression lines, followed by a pinching movement to help the serum deeply penetrate into the skin, plus specific firming and tonifying movements on the face, neck, and décolleté. Then, massage and the activation of various pressure points help detoxify, nourish, and rehydrate the skin for better penetration of the product’s active ingredients. “The result is radiant skin, an immediate plumping, a quenched feeling, and diminished lines and wrinkles,” says Couanon.
Stimulating the skin is one proven way to increase collagen, which in turn produces healthier skin. “It’s almost like you’re tricking the body to produce more collagen,” says Di Medlock, a New York City-based esthetician and director of waxing at Exhale MindBodySpa. Exhale’s Cool Beam ($135, 30 minutes) treatment employs the LED technology of a red beam to penetrate six to seven layers beneath the skin’s surface to stimulate it. This increases collagen and plumps up the skin, drawing water and blood to its surface. Similarly, the spa’s Lift ($200, 60 minutes) facial uses microcurrent stimulation, such as an electric pulse, to stimulate the muscles beneath the skin and the muscular structure of the face, which increases blood flow, circulation, and oxygenation to plump skin. The advantage of the Lift facial is that it’s safe to use around the eye area, like crow’s feet and the skin along the optical bone. Medlock recommends a series of six to 12 Lift facials but reports that clients often see a difference after one treatment. “We have some addicts who come in on a regular basis,” says Medlock. “We try to educate them as much as we can. People have been getting good results. When it comes to collagen, there’s no such thing as too much.”
Building on the idea of stimulation, Caudalie introduced its revolutionary VinoSculpt Instant Lift ($375, 60 minutes; $425, 80 minutes) facial in November. It features LED light to rebuild collagen and elastin and microcurrent to retrain the muscles in the face. The treatment begins with a 20-minute massage with electricity and ends with the brand’s Vinexpert Firming Serum to give radiance to the skin. “The quotes from clients are impressive—their double chins are gone, their eyes are more open, their skin feels firmer, and their faces are lifted,” says Caudalie creator Mathilde Thomas. She calls microcurrent “Pilates for the skin,” as the method boosts blood flow and microcirculation, which over time trains the muscles of the skin. Caudalie’s Vinexpert Firming Serum is one of the stars of its Vinexpert line and the product that allowed Caudalie to become a top anti-aging line in France, where Thomas says, “[collagen] has always been the focus for serious anti-aging skincare brands.” The serum relies on resveratrol, a powerful molecule that comes from the grapevine stalk and works within the deep layers of the skin to rebuild collagen and lift the skin.
Beyond miraculous fruits, Alexiades-Armenakas says spas should offer products containing the components of collagen, such as proline, and the cofactors necessary for collagen synthesis, such as vitamin C. “Invest in quality ingredients, less of the fluff,” says Medlock. One of her favorite brands is 302 Professional Skincare, namely its C-Boost, a healing and nourishing formula based on avocado lipids. Medlock recommends antioxidant-rich oils of açai, avocado, buriti, and jojoba that aid in warding off cell-damaging free radicals and 302’s A-Boost, which rejuvenates cells and causes skin to turn over at about twice its normal rate. “302’s claim to fame is the 302 molecule, which demonstrably reduces crosslinking in the skin by renormalizing the lysyl oxidase causation of the problem,” says Richard Huber, technical director of 302 Professional Skincare. “Lysyl oxidase is a phenotype that helps knit the cells together and begins to become erratic with age and over-knits or crosslinks excessively.” The key, he explains, is to reduce that activity and reduce inflammatory response. “The skin is like a house plant—overfeed and overwater it, and you kill it, and in the process, promote inflammation,” says Huber.
With so many options available on the market, experts say simple—one or two methods rather than 10—is better when it comes to building collagen and elastin. Advise clients on the products and methods that are available to them. “You’ll find the most educated professionals at the spa level,” says Medlock. “We’re skin nerds, and we love to talk to people about it.”—Brooke Showell