Is it possible to eat (or drink) your way to better skin? Perhaps. What we put into our bodies has an impact on our skin and of course our health, and some people are turning to collagen supplements to improve their complexion. Collagen is one of the most buzzed about beauty ingredients since bee venom. It’s showing up in gummy bears, powders and as a shot in smoothie bars. It’s a darling of the wellness set. But what exactly is collagen, and how does it work?
Related: Best Collagen Creams
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the main structural protein in our skin. It is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, and are needed to repair bones, joints and muscles. It also supports healthy skin and nails. Think of collagen as the scaffolding that holds up skin and bones.
Collagen makes up about 70-80% of the dermis and is what gives skin a plump, supple look. It also helps skin retain moisture. But as we age, collagen production naturally slow down. By some estimates, the skin loses 1 percent of its collagen every year starting in the mid-thirties, which leads to the formation of wrinkles and flatter looking skin. As collagen production dips dramatically nearer menopause, sun spots, brittle nails and dry hair make an appearance. Joints become less limber. The connective tissue between skin becomes thinner and the layer of fat underneath it becomes more visible, leading to cellulite.
What are Collagen Supplements?
Since collagen plays such an important role in keeping skin looking firm and youthful, boosting its levels seems like a no brainer for anyone wanting to hold on to plump, supple looking skin. This is the driving idea behind ingesting a collagen supplement. But it’s not just about better looking skin. Collagen supplements are also marketed to athletes and those seeking relief from joint pain or suffering from arthritis, as well as anyone looking to improve their gut bacteria.
The supplements come in multiple forms, such as powders, pills and collagen peptide drinks that are sometimes called “elixirs” as they are also packed with vitamins. The supplements come from two main sources- either marine, which is derived from fish, or an animal based that comes from pigs and cows. Animal by-products such as skin, bones or fish scales are often used in ingestible collagen. These powders also pack a protein punch – two scoops of collagen powder typically contain around 18 grams of protein.
Do Collagen Supplements Work?
So let’s say you start your day by scooping collagen powder in your coffee or your green smoothie. Or maybe you pop a collagen gummy after lunch. The million dollar question though, is how much of the collagen is getting absorbed and is it having any benefit on the skin? What is the primary benefit? How long does it take to work? And is it safe?
Collagen supplement companies (and devotees) believe that ingesting collagen peptides may trigger to the body to produce more collagen, and also stimulate the production of elastin and hyaluronic acid, leading to hydrated and smoother looking skin. The concept is that taking collagen orally, whether through a drink or a powder, impacts the deep layers of the skin. It targets the dermal layer, where most collagen loss occurs, while creams and serums only target the top layer of the skin.
Some people swear that adding a scoop of collagen powder to their oatmeal or acai bowls leaves their skin extra hydrated, and they see the results in months. Fans claim it helps banish brittle nails and leads to shiny, healthy looking hair. Collagen supplements have also found devotees among those suffering from arthritis or joint pain. It may also help with improving gut bacteria.
In an ideal world, the collagen we eat would end up in our skin. One issue is that collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream. To get around this, the collagen in many drinks and supplements is hydrolyzed. This mean it has been broken down or essentially shrunk. Hydrolyzed peptides are tiny, and the concept is that they are easily absorbed by the body.
But consuming collagen doesn’t mean it gets automatically turned into more collagen in our skin. When collagen is consumed, the gut breaks it down into amino acids which are then absorbed by the body. Although they may make it into the bloodstream, you can’t direct the collagen where you want it- say, your forehead wrinkles rather than your joints. One way to think of it as that the collagen supplements may be helping with a little bit of everything at once.
Keep in mind that collagen supplements can be pricey. They are meant to be taken daily so the costs can quickly add up. There is always the chance of an adverse reaction as well. If you typically eat meat, the chance of having an allergic reaction to a collagen supplement is low – but anything you consume could trigger an allergy or an upset stomach. Some supplements, especially the collagen drinks, contain sweeteners so all those sugar calories can add up as well.
What To Look for in a Collagen Supplement
When choosing a collagen supplement, it’s important to read the label carefully to see what ingredients were used, and how they were sourced. Many collagen supplements are made from ground up animal parts, ranging from skin to hooves, and these parts could contain heavy metals and contaminants. Another issue of concern is that some of the products could be derived from cows carrying diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. Consumers should keep in mind that supplements are not regulated as closely as prescription drugs. Read the label and try to choose supplements derived from grass-fed cows or chickens that have not been raised with antibiotics.
The bottom line is that the effectiveness of a collagen supplement, whether on the skin or joints, is still up in the air but many people feel it is worth a try to get better skin and ease joint pain. Whether or not you choose to take a supplement, there are other things you can do to improve your skin’s collagen production and safe guard the collagen you do have.
How to Protect Your Collagen
First, try to get your protein, vitamins and minerals from real food. There’s a reason why bone broth is all the rage right now. Boiling bones helps extract collagen from the bone marrow. This is why broth forms a gelatin like layer when refrigerated- this jelly like layer is rich with collagen. Eating high protein foods, such as egg, fish and beans, is thought to help give the body a boost in collagen production and some studies suggest that upping vitamin C intake also helps collagen production.
Protecting your skin should be a priority to prevent collagen loss. Smoking and damaging UV rays can deteriorate collagen levels, so don’t smoke (or quit now) and always use a sunblock with a high SPF.
Instead of a Supplement, Choose the Right Beauty Product OR Alternatives to Collagen Supplements
The right beauty product can also make a big difference when it comes to collagen. There are two types of collagen creams – those that contain collagen, and those which help boost collagen production.
One of the best collagen boosting ingredients is the vitamin A derivative retinol, which works in two ways. It prevents the breakdown of collagen after UV exposure (known as collagenase) but also increases the amount of collagen produced by “turning on” genes and cells involved in collagen production.
But vitamin A isn’t the only collagen friendly ingredient. Antioxidants in serums and creams can also help. Powerhouse ingredients such as vitamins C, E, as well as green tea and pomegranate work by blocking the damage caused by free radicals, which attack collagen and elastin. They protect existing collagen while also protecting it. Ingredients such as peptides and growth factors also help stimulate collagen production- they basically act as “messengers” to signal cells to start creating collagen.
Here’s a look at some of the most popular collagen supplements, as well as a topical alternative.
Natural Factors BioSil Hair Skin Nails Vegetarian Capsules
These collagen boosting pills are ideal for vegetarians. The supplement is powered by ch-OSA- or choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid, a type of silcon. It is meant to turn on the fibroblasts in skin and osteoblasts in bone that generate collagen. Take two capsules a day to improve skin elasticity, strengthen hair and reduce wrinkles.
Verisol Collagen by Gelita
Gelita offers a wide range of collagen supplements, and one of its key ingredients is Verisol. It helps to increase skin moisture and prevent the formation of wrinkles. Verisol is a collagen peptide that helps stimulate skin metabolism and improve skin structure.
These supplements are loaded with good-for-you skin ingredients including six grams of collagen Type 1, 2 & 3 along with 18 Amino Acids. The addition of vitamin C helps to support collagen production, while leaving skin, hair and nails looking healthy and strong. The product is dairy and soy free.
Meiji Amino Collagen
Meiji’s Amino Collagen is made by extracting calcium from fish scales and skin, and then converting it into a while collagen peptide power. The thought process is that collagen derived from fish is more readily absorbed into the body than other types of animal-derived collagen. The powder also contains vitamin C to boost collagen production, and the powder can be mixed in with drinks, soup or yogurt.
Vital Proteins Matcha Collagen
Available in original and peach flavor, Vital Proteins Matcha Collagen is packed with goodness. Key ingredients include skin from grass-fed, pasture raised cows, along with Japanese matcha green tea which has more than 137 times the amount of antioxidants as other green teas. Just dissolve one scoop of the powder into a glass of water for healthier and stronger skin, hair and nails.
Here’s an alternative
Formulyst Pro-Collagen Serum
If supplements don’t do it for you, consider a topical solution instead. Formulyst’s Pro-Collagen Serum contains a highly concentrated mix of peptides and proteins, derived from seaweed, wheat and soy, to help tackle these signs of aging. Peptides are anti-inflammatory, and are the building blocks of skin which keep it looking firm and supple. Apply a few drops of this hydrating serum to help skin look smoother, more refined and youthful.