The Collagen Deep Dive: Expert Insights from Dr Johanna Ward

We unpacked the secrets of collagen with award-winning GP, Cosmetic Doctor and founder of ZENii Skincare, Dr. Johanna Ward. In the next installation of the W-Edit, Dr. Ward delves into the basics, backed by scientific evidence, and shares her invaluable insights from her career in the wellness space. Johanna also shares her expert advice on navigating the competitive wellness industry as a female founder. So let’s dive into it…

Starting with the basics…What is collagen, and why is it so important for our skin health? 

“Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It makes up human bones, hair, teeth, skin, ligaments, tendons, muscles, intestines, vessels, cartilage and organs. `It is a major structural protein forming molecular cables that strengthen, support and protect our bodies and connect the soft tissues with the bony skeleton” explains Dr Ward.

 

“Our collagen levels reduce as we age and so deficiency becomes synonymous with ageing. In the skin as collagen levels start to reduce fine lines, wrinkles and sagging begin to show.”

 

How does collagen production change as we age? 

Johanna explained how in our youth, collagen levels are abundant and continuously replenished, maintaining a balanced state. However, this changes as your body ages.

“Every decade from as early as your 20’s you lose 10% of your body’s total collagen. It’s a slow and steady decline that spans our entire lifetime. This is a process of NET collagen loss. You also lose the QUALITY of your collagen as you age. And you become less able to make new collagen. So, over time, we all experience a net collagen loss and a net quality loss.”

 

Are there specific foods or nutrients that can help boost collagen production naturally? 

“Collagen by definition comes from collagen rich animal foods like chicken skin, fish skin, bone broth and chicken feet. Our ancestors used to eat animals from head to toe and so got enough collagen in their diet. But most of us these days do not eat chicken feet and bone broth so we can easily end up deficient in collagen based amino acids which are essential building blocks for good health” says Dr Ward.

Johanna went on to explain how you can boost collagen, “if you know you don’t eat enough collagen rich foods then taking a collagen supplement can help keep things topped up so that your collagen production does not become impaired.”

“Collagen deficiency won’t kill you or do anything major like reduce your fertility. You probably won’t even notice it in the beginning. But the body responds to reduced collagen intake by simply slowing its production so you will start to get creaky stiff joints, weak bones and wrinkled skin if you live in a deficient state for long enough.”

 

Can you tell us a bit about your brand, Zenii? 

“ZENii is all about nourishing the skin from the inside out. We create high performance skincare and nutritional supplements that help to support and optimise skin health at the cellular level. It’s about synergy, about creating products that nourish and fortify the skin and creating products that disrupt the market and carve out new directions for consumer products.”

 

We know you offer both a powder and liquid form of collagen. What’s the difference between these types of collagen and which is best for me? 

“The ideal dose of collagen is currently thought to be about 10,000mg per day”, shares Dr Ward.  “Its impossible to get this high a dose in capsules because you would have to take 10-20 per day which isn’t practical or convenient. So at ZENii we formulate our collagen as powders and liquids so that the daily dose can be easily achieved. It’s about personal preference really.”

 

“Collagen is a heat stable molecule so you can add it into coffee / tea or put it into your daily smoothie easily if it’s a powder. Liquid shots may better suit those who have a busy schedule and want to take it on its own quickly. I often formulate our collagens with collagen’s essential cofactors like vitamin c, zinc and copper so that we get the optimal effect from the supplement. And if it’s a skin health formula, I will often add anti-ageing molecules like hyaluronic acid and MSM into the formula to optimise skin hydration, glow and vitality.”

 

If we’re correct in thinking, Zenii only uses marine collagen. Why have you chosen marine over bovine? 

“Yes, I only formulate with marine collagen. Marine collagen has a high bio-match for humans and has been used in the vast majority of clinical trials involving collagen. It’s made from fish skin and scales which would ordinarily be just discarded as a by-product from the fishing industry so it’s a nice way to reuse and upcycle something that would ordinarily be a waste product but is so rich in nutrients”, explains Johanna.

 

You are one of the first brands to offer collagen designed for men’s health. Why did you specifically formulate collagen for men and what are the differences to your other collagen products? 

“Men want to be part of the health and wellness movement and want products that can help them to achieve their personal health goals and elevate their wellbeing. They want these types of products as much as women do. We know this because our men’s collagen is hugely popular”, explains Dr Ward. “ So it felt important to give men a product that was specifically for them. The men’s collagen contains high levels of collagen plus hyaluronic acid, green tea, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.”

 

What are your top three tips for preventing the signs of ageing and maintaining healthy, youthful skin? 

Johannah explained how she feels that living a healthy life is the most impactful thing you can do to prevent skin ageing. “A well balanced diet with abundant fruit and veg consumption is a great foundation for positive ageing. Exercising regularly, reducing stress and avoiding toxins  also helps to reduce the burden of stress in the body and reduce any risk of accelerated ageing. In addition a good skincare regime with daily use of sun protection and daily collagen will super boost your health even more.”

 

What inspired you to start your own brand, and what challenges did you face as a female founder? 

“I started ZENii because at the time in 2016 there wasn’t a great clinically evidenced brand that combined high performance skincare and nutritional supplements. No one took oral collagen back then either!” explains Dr Ward.

 

“As a female founder the juggle of balancing the demands of family (I am a mum of 3) and work are always a challenge. And as a small UK brand the challenge of cash flow is always something we have to be aware of and negotiate.”

 

How do you balance the demands of running a business with maintaining your personal well-being? 

“It can be tricky! Over time I have become better at saying no and better at delegating things to my amazing team. That helps take the pressure  off and spread the workload more evenly. In the beginning of course when the brand is small so is the team so you end up trying to do as much as you can yourself. But there are only so many hours in the day so we all need to choose where to invest our time best.” 

 

“I make sure that I surround myself with positive and passionate people which helps keep my personal well being buoyant. And I prioritise self care without any guilt because I know that I am no use to anyone if I am exhausted and burning the candle at both ends. Work hard, play hard is my general mantra for life. As a Doctor, I know that life is so precious and short that we must all prioritise the things that give us love and light in our life.”

 

What advice would you give to other women looking to start their own business in the health and wellness industry? 

“I’d say just go for it. If I can do it, anyone can. If you can dream and envision it then it’s possible. Success is never overnight but it is the reward for hard work and passion every time.”

You can purchase Dr Johanna Ward’s new book, Collagen: Not Just a Beauty Molecule on Amazon, linked here.

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