Which Collagen Sources Are Worth Trying?

You may notice someone adding it to their coffee. Or sipping a brownish liquid in the middle of the day (and no, it is not coffee). Alternatively, capsules can be taken in conjunction with other morning vitamins. Collagen is one of the hottest ingredients in skin care right now.

Collagen is a common protein found in the body and is found in the bones, muscles, organs, and skin, according to Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Which Collagen Sources Are Worth Trying? - Photo by Nadine Greeff/Stock
Which Collagen Sources Are Worth Trying? – Photo by Nadine Greeff/Stock

Collagen is what gives your skin its smooth, plump, and springy appearance. The greater the amount of collagen in your face, the fewer wrinkles you will have. Collagen is composed of at least 28 different types, with collagen types 1 and 3 being found in skin, according to an article published in April 2020 in Marine Drugs.

“Your skin begins to lose collagen in your twenties,” Dr. Garshick explains. The visible effects of that loss may manifest themselves later in your thirties as fine lines, but it is occurring. UV exposure from the sun and free radical damage caused by environmental exposures such as air pollution are the two primary factors that weaken and ultimately destroy collagen.

There are several ways to stimulate collagen growth in the skin, including protecting it from environmental aggressors such as UV rays and air pollution and eating a balanced, healthy diet rich in antioxidants, according to a May 2018 Cell Transplant article.

Increased awareness of the health benefits of collagen has resulted in an increase in the popularity of collagen supplements, powders, and topical creams. “When collagen supplements and powders first became available, there was a healthy amount of skepticism,” says Whitney Bowe, MD, a New York City-based board-certified celebrity dermatologist. “Collagen is a large molecule,” she explains, which makes it difficult for it to penetrate the skin regardless of application mode.

Is Collagen Ingestible Effective?

To have any chance of reaching the skin and exerting any measurable effect, collagen must be absorbed into the bloodstream via the intestine. Therefore, does it actually smooth out wrinkles?

The evidence indicates that the process is not as streamlined as it appears in the skin, according to Dr. Bowe, who is passionate about educating her patients about collagen in person and via social media platforms such as her TikTok (@drwhitneybowe).

Collagen is broken down into di-and tri-peptides, which are composed of amino acids, after it is consumed. According to Bowe, these peptides are then absorbed through the intestine and enter the bloodstream, where they are carried to the skin’s blood vessels. “Once these microscopic pieces of collagen reach the skin, they act as signals to collagen-producing cells called fibroblasts, informing them that there has been a wound that requires repair,” Bowe explains, echoing the findings of researchers in a March 2020 Nutrients article.

Consider a time when you have a skin scrape.The gash now has damaged collagen, which stimulates the production of additional collagen during the healing process. Except in this case of taking collagen powder, you have not caused a wound to your skin — but the presence of these tiny collagen fragments has activated your body’s wound-healing mechanisms, explains Bowe.

What’s the catch? Collagen is found throughout your body. As a result, you cannot direct a collagen supplement to the location where you want the collagen to work. Some may be targeted at specific locations, such as joints. “Your body makes this choice for you,” Bowe explains.

Additionally, data is still being collected, and there are still questions about the amount of oral collagen absorbed into the bloodstream, according to Garshick. Some evidence is encouraging, including one study that examined the effect of taking an oral hydrolyzed collagen supplement for 90 days and discovered that it significantly improved skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkles when compared to a placebo, according to a review and meta-analysis published in March 2021 in the International Journal of Dermatology. (Hydrolyzed collagen is collagen that has already been broken down, making it more readily absorbed.)

For the majority of people, these supplements pose no serious health risks, but consult your doctor if you are taking any medications. Additionally, keep in mind that these products can be costly, according to Garshick. As a result, they may not be worthwhile given the paucity of research supporting them.

Having said that, here’s what you need to know about the most common collagen sources:

Collagen Supplements Are the Best

As previously stated, some skepticism about collagen supplements persists, but they may be the most effective external method of increasing collagen.

Collagen capsules may be made from powdered collagen, though some brands may include additional skin-supporting ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and vitamin C. Powder must be consumed in liquid form or blended into a smoothie.

Collagen can also be made into gummies by adding sugar and other ingredients to bind it all together. If you’re not a fan of gummies, capsules are an alternative.

However, scan the label and compare the amount of collagen peptides contained within the recommended serving of capsules to the amount contained in the powder. Collagen peptides at a dose of 2.5 to 10 grams (g) per day were used in recent high-quality clinical studies to increase collagen production, which resulted in improved skin hydration and elasticity, as well as an improvement in skin aging, according to a review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology in January 2019.

The Difference Between Collagen Powder and Collagen Capsules

Collagen is available in powder and capsule form, and includes collagen peptides that have been broken down into collagen. The dose per serving is one of the primary distinctions between the two.

For instance, a scoop of a popular powder called Vital Proteins contains 20 g of collagen peptides, whereas the brand’s own collagen capsule (which contains collagen peptide powder within the capsule) contains only 3.3 g of collagen peptides per dose, or six capsules. (These require a commitment to regularly swallowing several pills; they recommend six capsules twice daily for 6.6 g of collagen peptides.)

If collagen powder is out of your price range, look for a bovine or marine collagen supplement from a reputable brand that contains the collagen types 1 and 3 required for skin health. (Reliable supplement brands will conduct independent third-party laboratory testing to ensure that their products contain the ingredients they claim and are free of contaminants.) Collagen Peptides by Vital Proteins ($25, VitalProteins.com), Collagen Hydrolysate by Great Lakes Gelatin ($25.99, GreatLakesGelatin.com), and Collagen Peptides by Live Conscious ($28.99, WeLiveConscious.com) are three options that fit the bill. Additionally, it is advantageous if the formula (or your diet) contains vitamin C, which is required for collagen production.

If capsules are more your style, Hum ($40, Hum.com) sells collagen capsules made with a blend of collagen peptides and other skin-friendly ingredients such as hyaluronic acid. Each capsule contains 600 milligrams (mg) of collagen peptides (equivalent to 0.6 g). Olly Glowing Skin gummies ($13.99, Olly.com) contain 120 mg of collagen peptides in a two-gummy serving (equivalent to 0.12 g). As a result, you will need to take numerous capsules to achieve the same effect as powder.

Certain collagen capsules are also marketed toward joint health and contain type 2 collagen. Therefore, verify that yours contains type 1 or 3 collagen (or both), or that it is specifically marketed toward skin health. Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides Capsules is one brand that carries the necessary ingredients.

So-So: Collagen-Containing Foods

“While a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in protein sources such as chicken, bone broth, fish, and beef is likely to contain peptides beneficial to skin health, as well as other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients beneficial to skin health, these diets frequently lack studies demonstrating proven effects,” Bowe says.

Nonetheless, Bowe notes that protein consumption can provide the building blocks necessary for the body to produce the collagen it requires. That includes lean protein, eggs, and fish in your diet. As a study published in March 2020 in Nutrients noted, dietary protein is critical for skin structure and repair.

A healthy eating pattern is critical for overall skin health, which includes fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein, according to Bowe. Consuming this type of whole food, plant-based diet (which may include animal and fish proteins but is primarily composed of antioxidant-rich foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and legumes) has been shown to slow down skin aging and promote the appearance of younger-looking skin, according to a study published in May 2020 in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.

There is insufficient evidence to support the use of topical collagen.

Collagen applied topically as an ingredient in creams or serums may not produce the best results. Due to the size of collagen, it is unlikely to be absorbed effectively to stimulate collagen production, according to Garshick. While a topical collagen cream may temporarily plump the skin, it is not the best use of your skin care budget.

“Retinoids, vitamin C, and exfoliating acids such as glycolic acid have all been shown to increase collagen production in the skin and are widely accepted methods of increasing collagen production,” she says. According to a study published in March 2016 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, retinoids, specifically retinol (a type of retinoid found in over-the-counter topical products), aid in collagen production by targeting the collagen type 1 and 3 genes. Individuals who used retinol for 12 weeks saw an increase in collagen levels, and thus a reduction in wrinkles.

Finally, a remark on collagen sources

If you want to boost your body’s collagen production, despite a dearth of comprehensive research on their efficacy and side effects, hydrolyzed collagen supplements may be your best bet. Having said that, experts are skeptical of its claims. “We’re approaching the yellow-light zone. We still lack sufficient data to recommend oral collagen supplements universally. It’s difficult to tell everyone they should take it without knowing exactly how it will manifest in their skin, “Garshick explains. However, preliminary research appears to be promising. A healthy diet is critical for overall health, and thus should be followed regardless. Meanwhile, topical products are likely to be the least beneficial.

Consult a board-certified dermatologist before investing in a collagen supplement. He or she can assist you in developing a holistic approach that includes nutritious foods and habits that help protect your skin from environmental damage.

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