Collagen is one of those terms that gets tossed around like a leaf on a blustery day. It is both in our skin and in our skin care products. Its territory has grown beyond the confines of a run-of-the-mill collagen cream. We’ve found collagen crop up in everything from an eye pad kit and a facial filler to lip plumpers and anti-aging beverages. With just a smear or swig of collagen, these age-reversing products promise you can look years younger. Such claims set off Marta’s “truth” sensor years ago, when she deduced that topical collagen doesn’t work. Period. But could collagen be more than a buzzword when it comes to cosmetics? As we age, the fibrous protein known as collagen degrades, leading to loss of support within the skin, which then rolls out the welcome mat for wrinkles. Collagen is extracted from marine or bovine sources, added to cosmetic formulas, and marketed as the answer to reversing this process. A new skin care line called Natural Collagen Inventia claims to harness the essential function of collagen within a biologically active collagen-retaining triple-helix. Derived from skins of fresh water planktonophagous fish, this live collagen is sensitive to temperature and comparable to human protein, enabling it to be readily absorbed by the skin.

Penetration is the primary reason that topical collagen can’t stimulate the synthesis of new collagen within the skin. Collagen molecules are generally too large to penetrate to the dermis (inner layer of skin); they thus remain locked outside the surface layer, ineffectual at improving the skin’s underlying structure. If Inventia’s triple-helix formula could get marine collagen deep into the dermis, would it be able to stimulate regeneration of the skin’s natural protein, thus wiping out shallow wrinkles? For four weeks, I put Inventia’s Under Eye Elixir to the test on ripples that had recently formed under my eyes.

Collagen may be the headliner of Inventia’s formula, but there are other far more interesting players. A compound marketed as Pepha-Tight, which is composed of microalgae extracts and polysaccharides, functions as a skin tightener and strengthener. It has been shown to protect human fibroblasts from oxidative stress and increase the formation of collagen-I. Allantoin and lactic acid work together to help shed the outer layer of the epidermis and promote healthy tissue formation. Because of their relatively low concentrations, these exfoliating agents slough off dead skin cells and open up pathways for the formula’s other nutrients without causing dryness.

Dry skin under the eyes makes lines and imperfections look more pronounced. Inventia includes several moisturizing agents to keep the delicate under-eye skin well-hydrated. Most 24 is a new moisturizing agent obtained from the extract of Imperata Cylindrica (also a component of Victoria Principal’s Secret Eyemazing eye cream). Its name derives from the theory that skin moistness can be felt for 24 hours. Tests showed a 60% increase in skin moistness immediately after application, an extended 50% effect after 6 hours, and a 20% increase in moistness after 24 hours. The formula also incorporates natural emollients like glycerin, borage seed oil, soybean oil, and provitamin B5. Borage seed oil, the richest known source of the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid, releases a triple threat of moisturizing, soothing, and revitalizing skin.

If dark, puffy circles are an issue, then you should welcome the addition of Eyeseryl (acetyl tetrapeptide-5). This active tetrapeptide is proven effective at eliminating shadows and puffiness and improving elasticity of skin under the eyes. Loose bags form around the eyes as skin surrenders its elasticity and muscles weaken through age. Puffy eyes can also result from water accumulation, triggered by poor lymphatic circulation and high capillary permeability. Manufactured by Lipotec, Eyeseryl has a dual draining and decongestant effect. In vitro and in vivo studies showed that an application of 1% Eyeseryl solution over 28 days reduced eye bags in 70% of participants. Eyeseryl is also reported to increase skin elasticity by 30% over 30 days.

You’re probably wondering how the celebrated collagen comes into play. The truth is that it doesn’t - at least not in the way implied on the label. Collagen in topical cosmetics (as opposed to collagen injections) only treats the surface layer of the skin, and even if it is identical to human protein, it won’t supplement collagen deficiencies. To stimulate production of new collagen in the skin, a cosmetic formula needs to incorporate ingredients that efficiently penetrate deeply and work together to rebuild collagen. The same holds true for another skin-meshing protein in Inventia’s formula - elastin. Tossing collagen and elastin into the mix isn’t going to trigger the skin to produce its own proteins. However, the cumulative effect of ingredients like amino acids, copper peptides, and growth factors might.

On the upside, Inventia’s collagen won’t endanger or irritate since it is obtained from fish skin, which is free of pathogenic factors, unlike animal collagen. It also might help improve the skin’s appearance in an unexpected way. Because of its unique ability to bind water, topical collagen can naturally condition the skin and help maintain moisture levels. As mentioned earlier, hydrated skin equals happy skin. Inventia’s collagen might decrease water loss, improve texture, and increase suppleness, but that’s where its powers end.

The Under Eye Elixir performed as well as I had anticipated for an eye cream approaching $86. As promised, it did erase signs of puffiness and brighten shadows after a sleepless night. It also added a subtle sheen that seemed to smooth out lines. Inventia’s elixir struck the ideal balance between rich and lightweight, creating a gloriously creamy canvas for a few dabs of under-eye concealer.

Perhaps the elixir touts such a nice texture because of all its stabilizing and dispersing ingredients, such as silicones,  pullulan, isostearyl neopentanoate, and methyl gluceth-10. An even greater eyesore are the preservatives tacked onto the tail end of the formula. Sodium benzoate, phenoxyethanol, and two parabens do not make for a fresh face. Even if the collagen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, there are plenty of other reasons to like Inventia’s elixir. Unfortunately, there are just as many reasons to avoid it.

Aqua, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glycerin, Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Borago Officinalis Seed Oil, Isohexodecane, Isostearyl Neopentanoate, Methyl Gluceth-10, Sucrose Stearate, Algae Extract, Cetearyl Glucoside, Dimethicone, Pullulan, Cetearyl Alcohol, D-panthenol, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil Unsaponifiables, PPG-3 Benzyl Ether Myristate, Collagen, Elastin, Caprylyl Glycol, Lactic Acid, Aloe (aloe Barbadensis) Extract, Propylene Glycol, Acetyl Tetrapeptide-5, Imperata Cylindrica (Root Extract), PEG-8, Carbomer, Allantoin, Tocopheryl Acetate, Ceteareth-25, Sodium Polyacrylate, Triethanolamine, DMDM Hydantoin, Gluconolactone, Iodopropynel Butylcarbamate, Sodium Benzoate, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol.