I receive so many questions from people asking if, from a skin perspective, collagen powders, capsules and drinks are really worth the hype. It’s no wonder the US collagen supplement market will hit $2 billion by 2030. Collagen supplements are one of the most popular products in skincare, and also one that people are most dubious about. Do they really have any effect on the skin? Can they actually reverse the signs of ageing? Or are they nothing more than a waste of time and money?
What is collagen?
Collagen is, in simple terms, the protein that makes up around three-quarters of the dry weight of human skin, helping it to remain firm, supple, and plump. Think of it as the glue that holds everything together. Found in all body tissues, it forms the structure of cartilage, tendons, ligaments, bones and connective tissue. Levels of collagen decrease with age, accelerating sagging and wrinkling in the skin, and this loss is one of the biggest causes of skin ageing. If you think of your skin as being a mattress, collagen is the frame around the mattress, giving it the necessary support, shape, and structure. Often referred to as the skin’s scaffolding, collagen helps to form a network of cells called fibroblasts that encourage new skin cells to grow.
Do they really work?
There have been many credible studies, and some results have been very encouraging, suggesting that the right oral collagen products can reduce lines, skin slackening, discolouration, and even cellulite in some people. Collagen in its native form cannot be utilised by the body. So always choose ‘hydrolysed’ collagen, where the naturally quite large collagen molecules are broken down into peptides. This makes it easier for your body to absorb and so plays a key role in how effective your supplement is.
In the right formulation, collagen supplements absolutely do work. You need a product with a decent daily dose of collagen in it, ideally 10,000mg of hydrolysed collagen peptides that are fragmented to be between 2 and 4 kilodaltons in size. Essentially, your body is tricked into thinking that these fragments indicate there has been some trauma to the skin and repair is urgently needed, which then stimulates fibroblasts to produce more collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid – the three compounds that give our skin its youthful qualities.
You need to keep taking it for months to see a result, and you need to be consistent with it too. Some people claim to see an improvement in their skin after just a couple of weeks. You might have better skin hydration after a fortnight if your collagen product has a genuinely significant dose of hyaluronic acid in it, too but that new collagen that is building deep in your skin will take up to three months to show its effects on the surface. Over time, collagen supplements will also benefit your hair, nails and joints.
Lots of people feel collagen supplements won’t help you any more than eating enough protein, because the protein in our diet is broken down into amino acids by the stomach acids, and so what’s the point? The key point is that protein is broken down into long-chain peptides. What you get with a supplement made with hydrolysed collagen is short-chain peptides which are readily absorbed in the gut and taken up into the body.
So, what’s the best collagen supplement?
It’s important to note that if your body is nutritionally depleted, even if you’re taking a high-quality collagen supplement daily, your body still won’t be able to produce new collagen. We need stable amounts of various vitamins and minerals to enable collagen production, vitamin C being a particularly important nutrient. So, if you are serious about optimising your collagen production, look for a product that combines both.
My favourite collagen supplement is the Skin Fusion by Zenii, which combines everything you need. It’s brimming with marine collagen, vitamins A, B, C, D, zinc, and hyaluronic acid, and I take it every morning without fail.