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We hear the word collagen bandied around a lot in beauty, but many of us are probably a bit fuzzy on what exactly it is. We’re not talking about facial fillers, nor are we talking about beauty supplements. We’re focusing on collagen beauty products and how the ingredient can plump skin without a needle in sight. Promise.

To start with the basics, collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and one of the major components of skin, saysDr. Karyn Grossman, board-certified dermatologist and creator of KARYNG. Collagen literally holds the body together and is the scaffolding that holds skin up, addsPaula Begoun, founder and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Without it, skin would be floppy and sag. Of course, that’s what starts to happen when we age. After the age of 20, our collagen levels deplete by about one percent per year, says Grossman. The loss of collagen in skin results in wrinkles, sagging and enlarged pores.

It would be nice if beauty products could add collagen to our depleted reserves but, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. (Those looking to actually stimulate collagen should scan product ingredient labels for collagen peptides or collagen amino acids, which are not the same as collagen found in skin care products.) Instead, collagen contained in beauty products acts as a humectant, a molecule that brings water into skin, helping to plump and hydrate, says Grossman. The ingredient can be used at any age to help moisturize skin.

According to Begoun, there are three sources of collagen: synthetic, animal-derived and plant-derived. Unfortunately, the ingredient label doesn’t indicate which type is in the product, so we’re left to trust the brand’s claims. The good news is, according to research, one type isn’t better than the other and they all help to hold moisture within skin’s surface layers.

Now that we’ve been filled in on collagen, here are the hydrating collagen beauty products to use.

[ Next: The Importance of Collagen and Why You’re Never Too Young to Start Thinking About Aging Skin ]

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