Collagen is an important protein in your body that strengthens tissues and organs. Although it comprises almost 80 percent of your skin, the collagen can break down as you age, a process increased by excessive sun exposure [source: Zelickson].
As you age, a lifetime of sun exposure can cause wrinkles and visible signs of distress for skin. The best method to prevent collagen from breaking down is to avoid sun exposure and use a high SPF sunscreen [source: Bernstein]. However, for people who already have sun-aged skin, wrinkles or thinning lips, collagen injections may be the answer. Compared with a facelift or more invasive surgical procedures, collagen injections require minimal time away from daily activities. But the effects of collagen-based fillers can wear off after three to six months, making it a procedure that patients may need to repeat throughout the year to maintain the skin's smooth appearance. This is especially true for softer fillers, which are popular lip-injection products. [source: American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery].
Collagen and other injectable fillers plump and smooth the skin's appearance. A variety of products, including human, bovine (cow) and porcine (pig) collagen, as well as and synthetic substances, are available for people interested in collagen injections. Most collagens are biodegradable, naturally breaking down after several months, but other collagens are intended as a permanent fix. Collagen injections are commonly used on facial wrinkles, especially those between the nose and mouth. The procedure also can be used to fill hollow cheeks, repair facial imperfections, improve scarring and minimize deep folds [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Collagen injections are fairly common cosmetic procedures. Read on to learn about the benefits of collagen injections and to find out if they're right for you.
Collagen Injection Benefits
People who get collagen injections seek a smoother, plumper appearance for their skin, which gives them a more youthful appearance, but collagen injections are also often used to plump thin lips. A New York plastic surgery consultant told the New York Times that Angelina Jolie's mouth has done for lips what Jennifer Lopez's rear did for butts -- everyone wants Jolie's plump lips [source: Singer].
But collagen injections can also be beneficial for people with scars, acne, gaunt cheeks, wrinkles and other imperfections. The collagen is injected under the scar and smoothes the skin, promoting collagen growth and helping the patient feel less self-conscious [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
There are many types of collagen and collagen products available on the market. One such product is bovine collagen fillers. Made from the skin of cows and approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1982, this option is less costly but has a higher percentage of skin allergies associated with it. People undergoing this treatment are tested in advance to avoid an allergic reaction [source: WebMD]. Some people prefer bovine collagen because the body absorbs it more slowly than human collagen.
Human collagen is also available and normally doesn't cause allergic reactions; however, it can be more costly to produce. Both bovine and human collagen products are biodegradable and temporary. Synthetic collagen options are also available and are often made in a laboratory by combining human or bovine collagen with chemicals that make the product unable to break down once it's injected. Synthetic collagen will remain in the body for a longer period than biodegradable collagen. The FDA has approved many natural and synthetic collagens [source: Tholpady].
Before receiving a collagen injection, patients should consult a doctor and discuss the expected outcome and the number of sessions necessary [source: MedicineNet]. Read on to learn more about the overall cost of collagen injections.
Cost of Collagen Injections
On average, each collagen injection costs between $350 and $450 [sources: RealSelf, Bernstein]. This price depends on where the patient receives treatment; in larger urban areas, the cost per injection could be more than $500.
Costs can add up quickly because biodegradable collagen injections break down in three to six months, just like the collagen your body naturally produces. A patient may need a touch-up visit sooner than three months after the first injection [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Most patients receive between two and four injections per year. For a year's worth of treatments, the cost could be about $1,000, depending on how often injections are required and how much the doctor charges for each one. Still, this price is much less than a facelift.
To ensure a safe and satisfactory experience with collagen injections, some resources caution patients to avoid low-cost offers, which may indicate an inexperienced practitioner. Patients should consult a doctor to determine what injections would work best and what the price will be. [source: Berstein].
Depending on how extensive the treatment is, additional fees may be required. Patients should be aware of charges for anesthesia, prescription medications and medical tests, all of which could raise the price of treatment [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons]. Most health insurance plans do not cover cosmetic procedures such as collagen injections, so patients will likely have to foot the entire bill.
To find out how collagen injections work with your health insurance -- or if they will at all -- keep reading.
Collagen Injections and Insurance
Health insurance is meant to partially cover the costs of regular doctor visits and act as a safety net in the event of serious illness. However, most insurance plans specifically state that they don't cover cosmetic procedures [source: Lewis].
Cosmetic procedures are designed to improve your body aesthetically, whereas reconstructive surgery is designed to improve your body's function. Having a breast-reduction to reduce back pain would most likely be covered, but having breast implants to improve how you look would not. Your insurance may cover certain cosmetic procedures, but only if they are for reconstructive surgery [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons]. Rarely will a collagen injection fall under this definition. Collagen injections are relatively inexpensive compared with other cosmetic procedures. One option is to talk to your dermatologist who may recommend a loan or payment plan.
Read your health insurance policy closely to see if you'll be covered if the collagen injections create medical complications. Many insurance companies will not pay for medical bills caused by an elective procedure. You may want to consider purchasing an additional insurance policy to cover such expenses [source: CosmetAssure].
Collagen Injection Side Effects
Most people do not report severe side effects after receiving collagen injections; however, the outcome varies by person. More common side effects include slight bruising, as well as puffiness and redness around the injection site. Your doctor may ask about your use of substances like alcohol, aspirin, green tea and St. John's wort before you undergo a collagen injection because using these substances before treatment can increase bruising at the injection site [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
There are no restrictions on activities after receiving a collagen injection, and makeup can even be applied directly over the injection site [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
If your doctor is considering using a non-biodegradable filler, you'll likely have to undergo allergy testing before treatment to determine whether the procedure is suitable for you. Otherwise, you could have a severe reaction. To screen for allergies, the doctor will test your skin by injecting your arm with a small amount of the substance. During the next four weeks, you'll watch to see if there's an allergic reaction at the injection site [source: MedicineNet]. Such reactions are uncommon. Overall, soft tissue fillers are considered safe and effective by dermatologists [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
If you experience unusual side effects after undergoing any kind of collagen treatment, you should consult a physician immediately.
To learn more about collagen injections, visit the links on the following page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Soft Tissue Fillers." (Accessed 7/29/09) http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/cosmetic_softtissue.html
- American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. "Injectable Anti-Aging Treatments." (Accessed 7/29/09) http://www.surgery.org/public/procedures/injectables
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "Injectable Fillers Procedure Information." (Accessed 7/29/09) http://www.plasticsurgery.org/Patients_and_Consumers/Procedures/Cosmetic_Procedures/Injectable_Fillers.html
- Bernstein, Eric. "What Is Collagen?" The Patient's Guide to Collagen. (Accessed 7/29/09) http://www.collagen.org/whatis.aspx
- CosmetAssure. "About CosmetAssure." (Accessed 7/30/09) http://www.cosmetassure.com/about.cfm
- Lewis, Robert. "Does My Plan Cover Lipo? Plastic Surgery and Health Insurance." InsWeb.com. (Accessed 7/29/09) http://www.insweb.com/news_features/plastic_surgery_health_insurance.htm
- MedicineNet. "Collagen and Other Injectable Fillers." September 2003. (Accessed 7/29/09) http://www.medicinenet.com/collagen_and_injectable_fillers/article.htms
- RealSelf. "Cost of Collagen Injection." (Accessed 7/30/09) http://www.realself.com/Collagen-injection/cost
- Singer, Natasha. "The Surgical Way to Have Lips a Trout Could Love." New York Times. August 4, 2005. (Accessed 7/29/09) http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/04/fashion/thursdaystyles/04sside.html?scp=29&sq=collagen%20injection&st=cse
- Tholpady, Ashok and Thomas Gampper. "Collagen and Other Injectable Fillers." eMedicine.com. (Accessed 7/29/09) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1271282-overview
- WebMD. "Cosmetic Fillers: A Quick Way to End Wrinkles." January 31, 2008. (Accessed 7/29/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/guide/cosmetic-fillers-a-quick-way-to-end-wrinkles
- Zelickson, Brian. "Collagen Injections." The Patient's Guide to Collagen. (Accessed 7/29/09) http://www.collagen.org/injections.aspx