It seems everyone is praising the health and beauty benefits of collagen, but does it live up to the hype?
Whether you’re considering stirring a collagen creamer into your morning coffee or adding an infused eye cream to your skin-care regimen, you’ve probably gotten the memo: Collagen is important for healthy skin and strong bones. But what is collagen, anyway? And does taking a supplement really result in healthier joints and smoother skin?
Jennifer Aniston thinks so. The actor swears by a scoop-a-day of collagen powder in her coffee—and she barely looks a day older than she did on Friends. Thanks in part to celebrity and social media influencer endorsements, collagen-infused beauty products and supplements have become a huge wellness and beauty trend. (Aniston herself is a spokesperson for mega collagen brand Vital Proteins). In fact, collagen powders, bars and infused waters are so popular that the global collagen supplement business is expected to reach $7.5 billon USD by 2027. It’s also estimated that in the last three years nearly 7,000 skin-care products launched worldwide with the word collagen in the product name. It’s clear that many of us are hoping that this key protein can give our bodies and complexions a boost.
What is Collagen?
“Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies,” says Sarah Berneche, a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counsellor. “It’s a major building block of our bones, skin, tendons, ligaments and muscles.” Collagen makes up about one-third of the body’s protein, and about 80 to 90 percent of the collagen in our bodies consist of types I, II and III.
Collagen starts off as something called procollagen, a precursor to collagen that’s made up of proline and glycine, two key amino acids that the body uses, along with vitamin C, to create collagen. In theory, as long as the body has sufficient amounts of the right raw materials, including proline, glycine, vitamin C, copper and zinc, it will make ample amounts of its own collagen. However, as we get older, there’s more breakdown of collagen and our bodies also stop producing quite as much. Particularly as we approach menopause, the decrease is quite significant, says Berneche. “That’s a contributing factor as to why, as we get older, we start seeing more fine lines and wrinkles, and we start having bone and joint issues.”
A study published in the Natural Medicine Journal showed that women who took a collagen supplement saw a reduction in the appearance of their pores and less hyperpigmentation of the skin after six months.
Can A Collagen Coffee or Face Cream Turn Back Time?
“Collagen supplements are very much on trend and they may also have some helpful benefits,” says Berneche. “There have been a few studies showing that women who consume supplemental collagen have improved skin elasticity and a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, so there is that preliminary information,” she says. A study published in the Natural Medicine Journal showed that women who took a collagen supplement saw a reduction in the appearance of their pores and less hyperpigmentation of the skin after six months. There’s also evidence that supplementing with collagen may be helpful for people with bone and joint issues. A 2016 study published in the Nutrition Journal showed notable improvement in knee function in people with osteoarthritis who were taking a collagen supplement.
It’s worth noting that most of the scant number of studies on collagen are coming from supplement companies themselves, so they are not beyond bias. “The science really is still in its infancy,” says Pamela Fergusson, a registered dietitian in Nelson, B.C. What would be significant is research comparing people taking collagen powder versus another protein supplement, she says. “We don’t know if [the benefit] is just a function of improving a person’s protein intake.” When it comes to serums and moisturizers, we have no evidence that the collagen we apply in a topical product translates into increased collagen production in the body.
How Can I Boost My Body's Collagen Production?
Both Berneche and Fergusson recommend a food-first approach. That means getting enough vitamin C from foods like citrus fruits, peppers and broccoli. Your body also requires zinc and copper to support collagen pro duction, so look to pumpkin seeds, almonds and seafood for those micronutrients.
“When you’re thinking about collagen you can also focus on snout to tail eating,” says Berneche. “The more gelatinous cuts of meat are naturally rich in collagen,” she says. Think of saving the neck from a roast chicken or picking up beef bones from the butcher to make a bone broth, for example. You can also boost your body’s natural collagen production by focusing on vegan sources of protein, like quinoa and soy products, says Fergusson.
If you’re a fan of taking supplements to ensure your body is getting enough essential nutrients, there’s no shortage of collageninfused products to pick from. Many brands contain grassfed bovine collagen (which is made from the connective tissue, bones and hides of cows) because it contains types I and III collagen, which best match the overall needs of the human body. Marine collagen is derived from fish skins and scales, and is a rich source of type I collagen, which is key for complexion concerns. (If you’re plant-based, you can’t really partake—actual collagen can only be sourced from animals, though some companies are trying to replicate it with vegan ingredients). The jury is still out on whether a collagen capsule, powder or drink will be most effective, but opting for hydrolyzed collagen products is key because the amino acid chains are broken down to be more easily absorbed. (Just look for the term “collagen peptides” on the packaging.) Plus, hydrolyzed collagen powders are more versatile since they work in hot and cold foods, like soups or smoothies. Or, of course, your morning cup of coffee.
Experts recommend a food-first approach. That means getting enough vitamin C from foods like citrus fruits, peppers and broccoli.
This non-sticky hyaluronic acid-alternative serum contains tremella mushroom (along with some skin-nourishing plant-based ingredients they’ve dubbed “vegan collagen”) to plump and hydrate dry skin.
HERBIVORE Cloud Jelly Plumping Hydration Serum, $60, thedetoxmarket.ca.
This lightweight daily moisturizer is optimized with Olay’s powerhouse peptide formula designed to penetrate deep down for visible results.
OLAY Regenerist Collagen Peptide 24 Hydrating Moisturizer, $45, shoppersdrugmart.ca.
This snack bar is loaded with 7 g of wild-caught marine collagen. It’s also grain-free, paleo-friendly and sweetened with dates.
Sproos COLLAGEN BAR Chocolate Almond, $3.50, well.ca.
Flavoured Water Tablets
Give your water bottle a boost of fizzy flavour and a hit of collagen anywhere, anytime. Each tab contains a dose of hydrolyzed marine collagen and vitamin C.
ORGANIKA Effervess Marine Collagen Tablets with Vitamin C Kiwi, $17, organika.com.
Collagen Protein Peptides
Per serving, you’re getting 20 g of collagen to help with muscle tissue formation, the maintenance of healthy bones, joint health, cartilage and teeth and gums.
NEOCELL Collagen Protein Peptides, $50, shoppersdrugmart.ca.