by Naomi Chadderton
Ah, collagen. We all know how important it is for our skin. It’s what fills out our wrinkles, plumps our pouts and improves our skin appearance for a supple, younger-looking complexion. Essential stuff, basically. However while back in the noughties we were injecting it left, right and centre, fast forward to 2022 and the oral collagen industry is booming, set to double to $8bn (Dhs29.4bn) by 2027 in the US alone. But are collagen supplements really the secret to eternal youth, or are we all just falling for an edible hoax?
What is collagen?
“Collagen is a protein that is responsible for skin elasticity, or stretchiness, as well as healthy joints,” Dr Lina Shibib, clinical nutritionist at Medcare Hospitals and Medical Centres tells RAEMONA. “It’s found in your bones, muscles and blood, and makes up three quarters of your skin and a third of the protein in your body.” Like all good things, however, it comes to an end, and when we hit our mid-twenties (eep!), our collagen levels slowly start to decline. “As they do so, it impacts the appearance and feel of the skin which, in time, begins to wrinkle and sag,” adds Nina Prisk, UK-based cosmetic nurse and founder of Update Aesthetic. That, my friends, is where hydrolysed collagen supplements come in.
How do collagen supplements work?
Collagen supplements first jumped onto the scene when she who never seems to age ie. Jennifer Anniston revealed she adds a scoop of Vital Proteins Collage Peptides into her morning coffee daily. Actress Kate Hudson is another who claims she swears by collagen smoothies for a post-workout refreshment, while Kourtney Kardashian has told insiders that she starts every day off with a dose of collagen, mixed into her morning water. And while many foods do contain the nutrients needed to form collagen, such as salmon, leafy greens, eggs, berries and pumpkin seeds, quite frankly, it’s not enough.
“Supplements work by stimulating your body to produce collagen on its own, they don’t actually provide the active ingredient needed,” explains Dr Shibib. “Once your body actually makes collagen, it combines amino acids from your food with the supplements to fully benefit from the effect.”
Which are the different types of collagen?
There are three main sources of ingestible collagen: bovine, plant-based and marine. Let us break them down for you.
Bovine: sourced from beef cattle, this processed protein has a specific amino acid composition and a high concentration of glycerine. Often the cheapest of the bunch, studies show improved skin health and bone loss prevention when used on a regular basis.
Plant-based: Unsurprisingly, plants don’t have naturally occurring collagen like animals, so plant-based supplements instead are made from a variety of vegan ingredients designed to help boost your body’s own collagen production. Sadly there’s very little scientific evidence on this one just yet.
Marine: Dubbed the king of collagen supplements, marine collagen usually comes from the skin, scales and bones of fish, and has the highest collagen levels which absorb well into the skin. “Marine collagen is the purest form and many believe it is the safest form. It’s also classified as a Type 1 collagen, which is the type that’s most common in the human body,” says Prisk.
Do collagen supplements actually work?
In short, yes, but much more evidence is needed. When taken daily, some clinical trials have shown a collagen supplement has the ability to slow down the body’s breaking down of its own collagen, while others show that taking collagen supplements for several months can improve skin elasticity, (i.e.. wrinkles and roughness) as well as signs of aging. The caveat? Many of these studies are small and funded by companies that make the product, increasing the opportunity for bias in the results. In other words, only time will tell.
“Research into the effectiveness of different forms of collagen is ongoing, however it’s believed that marine collagen is absorbed into the body more easily than bovine,” explains Prisk.
What should I be looking for in a collagen supplement?
While the jury might still be out, there are plenty of advocates who swear by their daily collagen doses to help improve skin elasticity and reduce lines and wrinkles, however like all things in life, not all supplements were created equal. Both Prisk and Shibib advise looking for brands who are transparent about their processes and sourcing, obtaining their bones and tissues from free-range sources that are antibiotic free, meaning grass-fed cows or wild-caught fish. “There are a lot of collagen supplements around right now and they vary hugely in quality, so it’s imperative to look at where in the world it’s coming from,” concludes Prisk. “If they are cheap then they’ll probably be of poorer quality, largely due to relaxed controls and standards of manufacturing.” In other words, choose quality over quantity each and every time.