Collagen supplements are one of the more controversial tools within the beauty and wellness worlds. In the search for effective ways to help boost youthfulness, the suggestion of simply sipping a drink, chewing a gummy or popping a powder into your smoothie sounds tempting, but can it really boost your beauty from the inside-out?
Here, experts answer the questions that have sprung up around collagen products and discuss whether you’d benefit from incorporating ingestible collagen into your skincare regime.
What is collagen?
“Collagen is a multi-functioning protein in the human body and the building block of the skin,” explains consultant dermatologist Dr Alia Ahmed. “It plays a major role in the structure of the skin, providing its elasticity, hydration, and strength.” As it’s what keeps our skin from sagging, in turn it dictates how smooth and plump it looks.
Do we need to supplement our natural collagen levels?
Our collagen levels deplete as we age, and especially for women once reaching the menopause, which leads to the natural wrinkling and lack of firmness seen in older skin.
“Our natural collagen production slows down from our early 20s by 1-1.5 per cent every year and by the time you turn 50, most individuals will have lost about 50 per cent of the collagen in your skin,” reveals the plastic surgeon Dr Paul Banwell. “This can lead to sagging, thinning and wrinkles,” he confirms.
Collagen depletion, however, does not happen at the same rate for everyone. “The rate will depend on various lifestyle factors, such as diet, sun exposure, sleep and stress levels plus genetics and hormones,” Daisy Whitbread, a nutritionist, explains.
That means that wearing sunscreen and limiting your time in the sun, as well as living a healthy, balanced lifestyle, can help protect against prematurely dropping collagen levels – and should be part of any effective skincare routine – but such actions are unable to reverse the process.
How do collagen supplements work?
Collagen supplements are designed to help ‘top up’ your natural collagen levels, helping to potentially minimise the effects of collagen depletion.
Crucially, though, it is key to understand that collagen supplements do not add the collagen peptides you ingest directly to the dermis, “but rather the collagen peptides act as a feedback mechanism to trigger your own natural collagen production,” explains Dr Banwell.
“It’s believed that the presence of the collagen fragments sends false signals to the body, indicating that collagen destruction has occurred. This stimulates the collagen-producing cells, called fibroblasts, to produce more of your own natural collagen,” says Whitbread. “The formulation of elastin (which gives skin elasticity) and hyaluronic acid (for hydration) are also stimulated.”
The result, arguably, is an increase in your body’s collagen levels, which in turn results in a healthier, firmer complexion.
Isn’t collagen too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream?
“Collagen molecules are indeed too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream, but the collagen in collagen drinks and other formulations is mostly hydrolysed”, says Tariq Karim, doctoral research fellow at Santi London, who works with Skinade. This means that the collagen molecules have been broken into smaller pieces, called peptides, which have a very low molecular weight, making them more easily absorbed in the gut.
Are all collagen supplements similar?
Put simply, no – as Dr Ahmed explains: “When looking at oral collagen supplementation, it’s important to look at the collagen source (whether it’s marine or bovine), the type (hydrolysed, dipeptide, or tripeptide), the dose per day, and how you should take it (capsule or liquid form) when making your choice. This all determines its efficacy – type 1 hydrolysed marine collagen has been scientifically proven to be the most bioavailable to the body.”
She recommends Revive Collagen which includes some of the highest doses of type 1 liquid marine collagen available. “Their products include from 8,500 – 10,000mg of marine collagen as well as added ingredients, including essential vitamins and aloe vera, an anti-inflammatory”.
To enjoy the other health benefits of collagen – which in addition to boosted skin health are said to include enhanced hair and nail growth, reduction of bone loss, improved heart health, increased muscle mass, and reduced joint pain – studies recommend that adults consume between 2.5 to 15 grams of collagen per day.
Is there clinical research behind collagen supplements?
Indeed, as Dr Ahmed refers to above, although some are often the result of clinical research conducted via the brands themselves.
Here’s what we know: “One randomised, double-blind placebo study showed that after eight weeks of taking collagen, participants experienced increased skin moisture, and after 12 weeks saw decreased collagen disintegration,” registered nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr tells us here. In addition, Karim reveals that “there are studies that show that collagen arrives at the dermis [meaning the collagen peptides are indeed absorbed before the digestive process in the stomach starts], as well as studies that show that ingested collagen stimulates the body’s ability to produce its own collagen”.
Dr Banwell adds that: “In two independent clinical studies, it been proven that the type of collagen peptides used in Skinade are absorbed into the bloodstream and in a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled case study, participants saw an increase in collagen density, skin hydration and skin elasticity after drinking Skinade for 90 days, compared to a control group.”
“Beauty&Go has also been proven in laboratory studies to reach the tissues within 12 hours of ingestion,” claims Whitbread.
When should I start taking collagen?
“As with most things in life, a preventative approach is best, so the earlier you start taking collagen supplements the better. I would recommend starting in your late twenties to early thirties to get the best results”, states Whitbread.
“It’s dependent on what your own objectives are and your lifestyle, but generally taking the drinks in your 30s would be beneficial both in terms of enhancement and prevention,” Karim concurs.
Is ingestible collagen suitable for everyone?
No. A lot of collagen drinks are not vegetarian, because “collagen is mainly derived from either fish [marine collagen] or pigs [bovine collagen]”, explains Karim.
“It is often not very clear which types of collagen are used in different products and what their origin is – you often have to refer to the small print to find out,” confirms Dr Banwell.
For a vegan alternative, try The Beauty Chef’s Collagen Inner Beauty Boost.
Collagen supplements are also not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What about collagen in topical skincare products?
“Research has shown that taking collagen orally enhances its availability compared with applying it in a cream,” reveals Whitbread. “The positive effects of oral collagen are also longer lasting than those of a face cream. This is because collagen taken orally impacts the deeper layers of the skin, targeting the dermal layer, which is where collagen losses occur.”
“Creams on the other hand, tend to have their effects primarily on the epidermis – the top skin layer. The visible improvements observed with creams are mainly due to increased hydration, rather than the deeper structural changes achieved with collagen supplementation.”
Will focusing on a healthy diet work better?
“To be clear, collagen supplements are not a replacement for a healthy and balanced lifestyle,” warns Dr Banwell. “However, a healthy lifestyle does not prevent collagen loss, so it is really two different things. Collagen drinks are designed to trigger a physiological response in the body, irrelevant of lifestyle. It’s a bit like asking if a healthy lifestyle means you don’t need to wear SPF. Of course you do and must! The functionality of collagen supplements cannot be achieved by anything you eat.”
As Dr Sophie Shotter, skin and aesthetics expert, and founder of Illuminate Skin Clinic, puts it, “the more we top up” our collagen stores, “the better our skin will age”.
In her opinion, the best results always come from “a multimodal approach,” using a combination of topical and ingestible products alongside professional treatments, such as in-clinic methods designed for collagen stimulation.
To discover more ways to stimulate collagen production see Dr Shotter’s – and more experts’ – tips below.
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