By Jessica DeFino | Dec. 11, 2018
If you’re even a little bit interested in skincare, you likely have a basic working knowledge of collagen: It’s a substance that keeps skin looking young and plump, and is therefore a definite Must Have. Now more than ever, beauty enthusiasts are ingesting collagen powder and applying collagen cream for a daily dose of the good stuff — but do ingestible and topical collagen supplements actually work? It turns out, the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no.
While collagen is naturally produced by the body, this process begins to decline around age 30. “When skin ages, it produces less collagen because of a decrease in epidermal growth factor (EGF) within our body,” Dr. Ronald Foy, a dermatologist and consultant for the brand DNAEDF Renewal, tells us. In addition to this inevitable slow-down, collagen is also impacted by sun exposure and environmental pollution, which “damage the collagen proteins,” Dr. Foy says, resulting in wrinkles and sagging skin. And contrary to what many of the buzzy collagen supplements on the market would have you believe, increasing your body’s natural collagen production isn’t as simple as swallowing a pill — it all comes down to what's known as bioavailability.
To counteract this problem, a slew of new “inner beauty” brands are creating collagen supplements with smaller, more bioavailable particles. “With supplements, making sure that you can absorb them ‘pre-digestion’ — meaning that most of the ingredients enter the circulation before the digestive process kicks in — is key to the efficacy of the product,” Marchesin says. Skinade utilizes collagen peptides (aka, broken down collagen protein particles) with a low molecular weight in a liquid formula for this reason. “This way, the ingredients can pass the stomach lining intact, triggering the body’s natural production of collagen, hyaluronic acid, and elastin,” she says.
Another key word to look out for is hydrolyzed. “Hydrolyzed collagen means that the collagen is broken into smaller, easier to process particles,” Dr. Foy tells us. Kalumi BEAUTYfood, a brand that makes meal replacement bars packed with collagen and other skin-healthy ingredients, uses hydrolyzed collagen to increase the efficacy of absorption — specifically, they use hydrolyzed marine collagen from wild-caught cod fish.
The most effective collagen supplements will combine actual collagen with additional ingredients that increase the body’s own production of the protein. To this end, Skinade includes MSM (a type of organic sulphur that supports the formation of collagen) and L-lysine (an amino acid that helps skin cells rebuild collagen), and Kalumi BEAUTYfood bars rely on an extra dose of antioxidants via sweet potatoes. “Antioxidants from sweet potatoes, vitamins C and A, are known to support collagen production in the body naturally,” Harnwell and Blair tell us, a point which Dr. Zeichner confirms.
This is the thinking behind vegan-friendly “collagen” supplements, as well, like The Beauty Chef COLLAGEN Inner Beauty Boost. “We don’t use collagen as an ingredient, instead we employ ingredients that help to both boost collagen synthesis and protect collagen from degradation,” says Carla Oates, the founder of Beauty Chef. The plant-based, vegan liquid supplement has been scientifically proven to boost the body’s own collagen production with the use of maqui berries (rich in antioxidants to prevent collagen damage), blueberries (a source of vitamins A and C, which both increase collagen production and prevent collagen breakdown), and grape seed extract (high in proanthocyanidins to protect elastin and collagen).
For a vegan-friendly topical option, Algenists GENIUS Liquid Collagen contains plant-derived "collagen" — which, it should be noted, is not actual collagen; the real stuff only comes from the cartilage and connective tissue of mammals and fish. Algenists' plant-based version offers “a highly functional equivalent to animal-derived collagen,” Tammy Yaiser, the brand's Vice President of Product Development, tells TZR; thanks to a healthy dose of microalgae extracts and amino acids. "Minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, copper, calcium are found in algae, which function along with amino acids to improve skin barrier repair and regeneration," Dr. Aanand Geria of Geria Dermatology tells The Zoe Report — meaning that products heavy in algae, like Algenists' GENIUS Liquid Collagen and ELEMIS' Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, are powerful collagen substitutes.
You should begin noticing thicker, firmer skin from topical products within a matter of weeks, but “any effect that you are going to see from ingestible collagen will take at least several months to start kicking in,” Dr. Zeichner says. Skinade’s independent studies confirm this; in a placebo controlled, double-blind case study, participants saw a 25.5 percent increase in collagen density on average after 90 days of daily consumption — which, in the grand scheme of things, is pretty impressive.
The moral of the story? Collagen supplements can work — just look for the words “bioavailable,” “hydrolyzed,” and “marine collagen” when determining the best ingestible supplement for you; and opt for food- or liquid-based supplements (including powders that can be mixed into smoothies and lattes, like Vital Proteins Marine Collagen) in lieu of capsules and tablets. "The Physician's Desk Reference [an esteemed medical guide for doctors] puts the absorption rate of tablets at between 10-20 percent, as opposed to liquids, which are listed at a much higher absorption rate of over 95 percent," Marchesin explains. Medicare Europe quotes this same Physician's Desk Reference on their site when explaining why hospitals prefer liquid delivery of medication, rather than pills, when possible.
As far as topicals, reach for skincare products formulated with ingredients “that are proven to rev up collagen production,” like rather than actual collagen, per Dr. Zeichner. He recommends vitamin C, vitamin A, and hyroxy acids; while Dr. Geria notes that some natural ingredients can deliver similar results, like algae and broccoli seed oil.
Ahead, 12 bioavailable collagen supplements to give you better skin from the inside out — and the outside in.