Friday 26 March 2021

The age old problem of losing face: Absolute Collagen review

I watched a heartwarming programme on Channel 5 last night: '10 Years Younger in Ten Days', which is another of those quick turnaround makeover shows in the tradition of 'The Swan', 'What Not to Wear', and 'Changing Rooms' (for houses!). Both the women featured had touching stories, and I particularly sympathised with the one who had had some horrible - only adumbrated - things happen to her in the past, compounded by 43 years of heavy smoking. As a result she was heavily lined, careworn and sad, and a straw poll of straight-shooting passersby guessed she was on average 8 years older than her actual age. The presenter made the point that chronic stress floods the body with cortisol, which in turn 'eats' collagen, a dismal truth of which I was already aware. Within ten days, however, the makeover candidate had had a complete new set of teeth, botox, fillers, a sassy wardrobe and a leonine cascade of toffee-coloured hair. Whilst I don't agree with the post-makeover poll that said she now looked 52 rather than 64, she was certainly much revivified by this comprehensive overhaul. I am especially envious of her teeth.

I concede that nothing in my own past comes close to whatever troubles this woman had experienced, but the point about cortisol eating collagen struck a chord with me. The lockdown has been a stressor for all of us to varying degrees, and I have found it much harder than I expected, despite being someone who is normally fine on their own. Over the course of the year I acquired tinnitus and have had protracted spells of insomnia, itself a source of stress, as well as robbing you of what is rightly termed 'beauty sleep', for it is at night that the body repairs itself. Long story short, I fear I may have been awash in cortisol for quite a bit of the past year, and come November, my gaunt and sunken face was starting to bug me. The line of my jaw, once smooth and slightly rounded, now had a distinct and saggy triangle in it half way along, like a miniature map of Tasmania. The brown spots on my cheeks, caused by a mix of long term use of antibiotics and sun exposure, and which once took the form of separate little patches, have managed to coalesce into archipelagos stretching from ear to mouth nearly, making my face look permanently dirty. The 'peach fuzz' on my cheeks also seemed more luxuriant, but it is blonde at least, so have bought a de-fuzzer by Revlon and will get round to tackling that one day, when I can pluck up the courage. As for estimating my age, the best approach is the dendrochronological one of counting the concentric rings on my neck. ;)

Baseline photo - me in March 2019. NB My blog avatar photo (to the right) is from 2014. ;)

November is a depressing month at the best of times, never mind in a lockdown scenario, but the local private hospital was still open for business, and one dark rainy night I had a consultation with a rather dashing plastic surgeon from Minneapolis. I had no intention of actually having any cosmetic surgery - it was more of a fact finding mission. I am delighted to say he didn't charge me for the session, because he felt that the radical work I needed(!) was not his speciality. 'I could sort your eyes out, though.' The session was not quite as dispiriting as you might be forgiven for thinking. He added that my eyes (even in their hooded and crepey state) 'had a spark about them', and that I had good skin, 'just too much of it'. He explained that the main reason for people's skin becoming looser as they age is in fact the shrinkage of the underlying bone structure, like the facial equivalent of coastal erosion. 


This instantly explained the disconcerting amount of 'travel' in my cheek when I applied moisturiser. It seemed almost as though it would slide past my ear, given half a chance. I did lob in a tentative question about fillers, thinking that might be a more affordable and less scary route if I ever did bite the bullet and have anything done, but he wasn't a fan. 'I mostly work in a hospital in Liverpool, and walking around the city centre I see far too many cases of unnatural looking fillers.' (My thoughts immediately flew to those preposterous trout pouts that sometimes accompany the infamous Scouse brow.)

And then I asked him about oral collagen, a bargain bottle of which from Amazon I had in fact just started taking from a company called SuperSelf - probably not long enough for it to have made a difference, if it was ever going to. His hesitation before replying struck me as significant, and though I can't remember his exact answer, it was far from an outright no, as though he were leaving the door ajar to its possible efficacy.

Picture from last August - if you look closely, you can see Tasmania is just starting to get her droop on.

So I came away thinking there was no way I could afford or ever face a face lift, given my phobia of blood and knives, and if this chap was anti-fillers, that just left me with my collagen experiment. I decided to pursue it for now, to rule it in or out, and when the SuperSelf bottle ran out, I took out a subscription to Absolute Collagen, which is one of the leading brands, with (to my mind) the most convincing 'before' and 'after' pictures from users. AC's founder, Maxine Laceby, has won a number of beauty industry awards, which served as further reassurance of there being 'something in it'. Accordingly, after a month of taking the other brand, I switched to Absolute Collagen on 8/12, and every fortnight receive a cheery yellow box containing a clutch of lemon flavoured sachets which I dissolve in hot water and drink first thing.

[Oh look, they use the dreaded word 'journey'! But as I like the product I will cut them some slack, no dermatological pun intended.]

I am part way through this box!

One week later, in mid-December, I met up with a friend, whom I had not told I was taking anything, but who immediately noticed a difference to my face - a sort of blurring round the edges, as it were. Here is our email exchange shortly afterwards:

> I have also been taking some new supplements
'They really are working - I did notice it without prompt or prior knowledge...'

Fast forward to a full three months later - four, if you include the other brand - and I thought it was time to take stock. I have decided to carry on for a while, not least because the company has brought out a new raspberry flavour which they were kind enough to let users trial before choosing, along with another alternative of mango & mandarin, which is also nice. Notwithstanding the fact that collagen is derived from fish, the raspberry flavour is so expertly blended that I could fancy I am eating a sloppy version of Bonne Maman jam. A coulis, if you will.

So without further ado, here are three areas where I have seen improvements - some more striking than others.

1) Hair is stronger.

I had my hair cut in December and as she was washing it, the stylist spontaneously commented on the fact that my hair felt noticeably thicker! If anything, it feels even thicker and stronger now, to the point where I reckon that you could attach one end to the bow of that poor marooned ship in the Suez Canal and yank the unfortunate vessel out of its wedged position.

[No picture would convey this, so you will have to take my word for it!]

2) Nails are completely transformed!

For as long as I can remember, I have had 'severely ridged thumbnails', to such an extent that they were mentioned in just such terms on early passports in the days when there was a section on 'distinguishing features'. 

Left thumb just starting to grow out...[sorry, my phone doesn't really do close ups!]

Nearly there...!

Right thumb is there already!

Once or twice in the past 60 odd years my thumbnails have grown out straight, but very, very rarely - I could count the times on the fingers of one hand, minus the thumb, haha. I never knew why they did that on those occasions and the effect was shortlived. It was soon apparent that the collagen was turbo-charging the nail regrowth again, and it will be interesting to see if the change stays - while taking collagen, or more impressively when I stop.

3) Facial skin is thicker and fuller.

The most marked change when it comes to my face is the strengthening and thickening of my skin. When I pummel my face or use creams on it, it doesn't do that unnerving 'travelling' I mentioned earlier, and snaps back into place when I let go. I still have the same lip lines and naso-labial lines, but my face is a bit plumper, which I cannot attribute to putting on weight overall, for it has only been a few pounds since the summer and my face is the last place I normally do gain weight. 


So I am pretty sure it is the collagen. I still have too much skin, to quote the lovely surgeon, but it has more bounce and elasticity. If it were bedding, I would liken it to the consistency of a duvet or a quilt, rather than a sheet, or the thinnest of coverlets. It resists you when you go to move it. Obviously I would love the collagen to take up residence in the remaining slack areas of my jaw, to smooth the contours back to how they were. This downward trend has been going on for between 2-3 years I reckon?, and if I could turn back even half that time - the ravages of lockdown, say! - I'd consider it money well spent. 

Would I recommend Absolute Collagen? I would, absolutely, though it is expensive - but hey, it's actually less than the price of a takeaway coffee every day. Plus there is no way of knowing quite how it will change you. But change you it most likely will.

And finally, does any of this matter? Am I just being vain? Is aging an inescapable process it is folly to try to even slow down, never mind stop in its tracks? Maybe, but 2020 has been such a strange and alienating year that aspiring to have a skull that broadly fits my face is perhaps an understandable indulgence...

PS For those of you who were guessing a while back what supplements I was trialling, no, it wasn't biotin, hehe.

UPDATE: As you know, I have no commercial connection with Absolute Collagen, but it has just come to my attention that anyone purchasing the product who cites my name in full (Vanessa Musson) as a 'referring friend' gets £10 off their subscription, with a similar amount coming my way(!). The latest person to order must have chanced across this mechanism and given my name - I was not aware of it. It may come down to people's definition of 'friend', hehe, but I thought it worth mentioning, as a shared £20 is a win-win situation. ;)

Sunday 14 March 2021

'A Life in the Day of' Peggy Musson: guest post by my late mother, at (more or less) the age I am now...!

The other week I had the loft partly boarded, an extremely messy and noisy undertaking which took two days and a lot of heavy exhaling by the installer - something which wouldn't normally raise an eyebrow, but which has acquired an altogether more unsettling aspect in these strange Covid times. Once I had got over my concern about a lingering 'Corona miasma' on the landing, I was able to focus on the fact that for a relatively small outlay I would a) likely add value to the house, as the loft is like a cathedral, and b) be able to declutter the bedrooms and make it easier to have a part-time lodger again one day, who could enjoy more than just enough space to hang precisely three shirts. Also, I think I am still 'haunted' by several readings of Marie Kondo's 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up', and am all too aware of the psychologically oppressive nature of having umpteen bags and  boxes of wool, tiles, toiletries, bedding, perfume accessories, rolls of wallpaper, and even a spare toilet seat under the bed. Hmm, Marie probably wouldn't approve of adding more storage space to a house on the grounds that it is merely displacing clutter, but then I doubt the Japanese have the temptation of lofts to use.

Anyway, while fishing out plastic bins of old papers from the equally rammed cupboard under the stairs for rehoming in the loft when my hand is better - I have been banned from lifting heavy things for now - I found a file with several typewritten stories and articles by both me and my mother. Of particular interest, in faded, old-fashioned type, was a piece she had written in the early 80s, describing what she gets up to in a typical day, and pondering the question of how one should spend one's time in retirement. She had split up with my father a couple of years previously, and was living alone in a tiny two up, two down terrace off the Lisburn Road in Belfast. 

I was fascinated to re-read this piece after nearly forty years. By way of background, in 1977 The Sunday Times launched a column called "A Life in the Day of", in which mostly famous people documented an ordinary day in their lives. Here is a screenshot of one entry by Tom Baker, of Dr Who fame.

I don't know if there was a call for "civilian" contributions which my mother answered, or whether she thought it would be fun to write something similar just for herself. If she did send it in, I can't remember if it was actually published, as it was all so long ago. (And if her column was featured, I don't know if she would have assigned away the copyright, but I doubt the newspaper will come after me, if they even see this post!) And whatever the circumstances behind her impulse, my mother has created a personal record for her family to enjoy years later, along with a snapshot of life in Belfast during The Troubles.

I was prompted to publish this now, partly because it is Mother's Day in the UK (though I only realised that after I had written the post!), and partly because I went round yesterday to see the vegan friend who fell for Hiram Green's Lustre. Val the Cookie Queen had very kindly sent us both some Vivacious to try (mini-review coming up soon, together with one on Papillon Perfumes Spell 125), and I was delivering my friend's sample by hand. We had a bit of a chat, and at one point she asked how I was finding this in-between stage of not being officially retired, yet not having any work either. I said it was strange, and a bit guilt-ridden at times, but that I was trying to embrace this transitional period of my life, where circumstances seemed to be conspiring to make me wind down, professionally at least. I could resume my Airbnb sideline or have another lodger as I say, especially if it turns out that my market research work doesn't come back after Covid. It is so hard to know what the future holds.

Now of course my mother would have accessed her state pension when she turned 60, a few years before she wrote this, meaning that unlike me with four years still to go, she had in fact officially retired. Even so, as you will see, Mother is not entirely at ease with this new era of leisure.

"I usually wake at 6.30am and turn on Redhead and Timpson on Radio 4. Then I luxuriate in the knowledge that I don't have to get up at any particular time and float up and down in half sleep.

Breakfast I have in my newly furbished kitchen, which gives me so much pleasure when I remember what I lived in for two years with a sink and one cold water tap. Then I have a bath where there was once only a W.C. in the yard. Friends were very kind about offering me baths and I had five or six bathrooms to turn to; I could have written a sort of Michelin guide to their different qualities - five stars here for hot water, five stars there for fluffy towels etc. Now I can wallow in my own five star hot water.

I look to see if there is any post, especially from my son in Edinburgh or my daughter in England. Then I slip over the road to buy the Times to check up if I have won anything with my Portfolio cards, Portfolio being an upmarket bingo, and I have a quick look at the crossword to see if there is any chance of solving it later.

My little house is in a side street running from the Lisburn Road down to the railway. The house rattles slightly when a train goes by and the 8.05am to Dublin is really good value.

I sometimes think I could never live up a mountain and buy food enough for a week at a time when I am so used to having Jim's shop on the corner open until 9pm seven days a week, so that in the middle of cooking when I realise I haven't got some ingredient I can just nip out for a minute. The bank is across the Lisburn Road as is a row of some of the best food shops in Belfast.

The library is only five minutes' walk away and a visit there is one of my chief pleasures. Why is it that some days one walks up and down and finds nothing and yet on others one scarcely has enough tickets for all the books one wants to take out? I hardly need fiction when there is so much interesting, not to say dramatic, in the real life that goes on in my street. There was the rape of my next door neighbour at 5.50am by the man across the road, which led to representatives of every branch of the R.U.C. being in my front room with the victim. And next door the other side there was a noisy family and friends who did not go to bed until 4am. I can only think that there being only two bedrooms they went to bed in relays. Fortunately they have departed and now there is only one man living in the house who is quiet but is visited from time to time by a big bruiser of a man, who has served a term for murdering Catholics.

If it is a windless day I go for a cycle ride, preferably on the tow path by the Lagan in the Lagan Valley Park. In high summer the white cow's parsley is shoulder high. Always I walk some part of the day. Sometimes I walk into town, trying to avoid being too dependent on the car against the day when it finally disintegrates. 

After two years battling with the Housing Executive to get my house fixed it is now complete and finished down to the last detail, and having resigned from being the Secretary of a voluntary organisation I am confronted by the problem of retirement. How does one cope with that Puritan work ethic that needles one on to feel always that one must be doing Something Useful? Maybe one is facing up to something really fundamental about Life and its Meaning. I suppose it is easier when one's energy runs out and there is only enough to get through the basic activities each day.

In the meantime I take myself off for a midday swim in the Queen's (University) pool. I might see a film in town in the afternoon when OAPs get in for a mere £1. In the evenings there might be a concert or a foreign film at Q.F.T. (Queen's Film Theatre) and always there are friends to visit and conversation to enjoy.

Bed calls about 11.30pm and I wait for the midnight news before drifting off to sleep. If I am lucky I might wake up between 3 and 5 am and be able to hear something interesting on the World Service."

Oh Mother, I hear you on the noisy neighbours! The police are also no strangers in my street. And I go to bed at 11.30pm, or try to in my new regime (to be featured in an insomnia update soon). Then your life sounds more physically active and cultural than mine, and you probably do more cooking, and have time for a physical paper, but there again this was well before the life-sucking vortex that is the Internet and social media. ;)

Finally, here is a photo of me at 22 with my mum at 61 - ie my current age - even if her article is from a few years later.  

(Photo of Tom Baker article from, other photos my own.)