We know that one of the skin’s key components that retains its youthful appearance is collagen.  Because of this, many people choose to add collagen to their diet or beauty routine. But does it work when applied topically? One of the fastest growing trends, especially since COVID, has been the introduction of collagen sheet masks.

These are usually gels, or active solutions, including collagen that are added to sheets and sealed in a pouch.  They are designed to be applied to the face as a 20-30-minute treatment and disposed of. The idea is that the collagen from the product absorbs into the skin where it works to decrease the appearance of lines, wrinkles, and sagging.

As we know, collagen has large molecules that cannot penetrate the epidermis. Experts, therefore, advise looking for the ingredient listing that indicates hydrolysed collagen or collagen amino acids for better absorption. Some collagen masks simply list collagen as an ingredient, which may mean that these products contain molecules that will not be absorbed.

Hydrolysed collagen is more readily absorbed into the epidermis as it has been broken down into groups or chains of amino acids, which are much smaller. Hydrolysed collagen also acts as an antioxidant, notes a 2020 review in the journal Antioxidants.

So, as the skin soaks up the amino acids, the idea is that collagen production may increase. While there is not a lot of scientific data to back the efficacy of collagen masks, there is evidence that hydrolysed collagen can penetrate the upper layers of the stratum corneum. Additionally, there is one small study on 60 middle-aged women published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology that noted that those who applied a topical hydrolysed collagen product for one month benefitted from a rise in the moisture content of their skin as well improved elasticity compared to a placebo. (Another group consumed oral collagen. After 90 days their pore size decreased.) That been said, larger, more conclusive studies are needed to determine the true effectiveness of collagen-infused skincare products.  As sheet masks are occlusive, they are often used with additional ingredients to maximise hydration levels, including various vitamins, peptides, and botanical extracts.

While on their own they can only provide temporary hydration benefits, there is evidence that used regularly they can provide some benefit in enhancing hydration and refining skin texture.