Plump cheeks and a sip from the fountain of youth, hair that flutters long as if Haim’s fourth sister and nails so robust they demand pointed queries from strangers; all promises of a collagen supply kept topped up to the brim. A reserve that dims as we age.
I’ll admit I’m a skeptic, hedging my beautiful bets as I gather fine lines. The multitude of health benefits offered by many a collagen-lifting drink seems all too polished to be true. Is it a sprinkle of magic dust into my smoothie brightening my complexion or the fact that I’m enjoying a green smoothie at all in place of a handful of trail mix with a side of second-coffee anxiety?
Not as sexy as the skincare commercials have touted to this day, collagen is essentially a tissue-binding protein. Or in other words, a building block of elasticity and strength in our skin and beyond. The adhesive that binds our body together, it’s naturally produced by our body but production slows with age. When our collagen is high (at birth ‘til approximately mid-20s), smooth, bouncy skin becomes us. ‘Til it starts escaping our perfectly lathered and lotioned hands and pores, leaving a trail of less than taut skin in its path. And the pesky phantom pains of squeakier joints and muscles too.
Replenishing our collagen stores and working on the density dive from the inside out is most promising. Where topical collagen products are unlikely to make their way beyond the dermis, ingestible collagen with the right surrounding conditions can lengthen strands, elevate elasticity, and deliver long-lost radiance. Fans of collagen supplements are evangelical as a peer through reviews shows, baby-hairs banished and botox-sidelined.
The quest for forever glow is not new nor novel, this pursuit for collagen spans decades. Bird’s Nest a beloved Japanese drink bursting with collagen, CoQ10, and hyaluronic acid or collagen-abundant bone broth has framed the rituals of many a woman for generations. Recognized as an essential daily defense from the aging process. In Western cultures, collagen supplements are often maligned as vain pursuits, a dosage of mirror-approval unsupported by study or science. But is this merely an act of beauty is a silly little pursuit defiance uttered by those who don’t face the same societal pressures to look forever young? After diving single-origin fish skin deep into the topic, the answer is a wholehearted yes.
Collagen marked on the label of your health shelf of choice can be all kinds of misleading, a trail of Italian breadcrumbs distracting from the ingredients at hand. Delicious and deceptive all at once. Let’s debrief (decrumb) on the two types of collagen, pure collagen, and the boosters.
Pure collagen: Derived from fish (marine), pork (porcine), or cattle (bovine), collagen in its purest form will be developed from all three of these into a powder or liquid ready for your morning routine. While bovine is most common, marine collagen is identified in more clinical data for its hair-lengthening and skin-tightening prowess. The gold standard amongst this bunch is hydrolyzed, whereby the collagen has already been broken down into peptides to speed up your body’s ability to soak it up.
Anna Lahey founder of VidaGlow, the wild-caught and fresh-farmed marine wonder of brightly adorned packaging and swiftly nabbed sachet adds its all about molecular weight. “To make the most of any skincare formula, its essential actives have a low molecular weight. Whether they’re applied on top of the epidermis or ingested to reach the dermis from within, actives can only perform at their potential if they’re absorbed where they’re most effective. When supplementing collagen, it’s important to recognize that it is a large molecule in its native state. Meaning it’s too large to be absorbed by the body and penetrate the skin’s deepest layers. This is why our Natural Marine Collagen is hydrolyzed. Enzymatic hydrolyzation emulates the digestive process to naturally break down collagen into smaller peptides. By reducing collagen peptides from 30,000 Daltons to as low as 2,000 Daltons, Natural Marine Collagen has an absorption rate of over 90% in the body.”
Fellow marine collagen champion Olivia Boyd-Smith of Pearl by Par Olive concurs, “For instance Bovine, they’re very big particle. So it’s actually harder to absorb, bovine is more specifically for like bone and ligament and gut health. And then marine collagen is more specifically for hair, skin, and nail health. Because Marine is really rich in type one and type three collagen, which is the most abundant type of collagen in the human body, so it’s best assimilated into the human body. And that’s where type one and type three in marine collagen are definitely the most beneficial for hair, skin, and nail health. In terms of bioavailability, it’s so important to have a hydrolyzed collagen. Pearl is hydrolyzed down to the lowest molecular weight. If it’s not hydrolyzed, you’re just going to be digesting those collagen peptides as protein.”
Collagen-boosters: This is where the vegan sources come into play. Not delivering straight collagen peptides, these sources seek to induce elevated collagen production in our bodies. A raft of Vitamin C, pearl on its own, bamboo extract, hyaluronic acid, and the novel cermaosides all fit the bill.
Trinity Mouzon Wofford, founder of beauty and wellness outfit Golde created such a solution for vegans or lovers of creamer. Their collagen-booster is a blend of bamboo extract, a rich natural source of silica – crucial in collagen-building, hyaluronic acid, and biotin all with a soft coconut sweetness. Trinity wanted everyone to be able to experience these beauty-boosting benefits, saying “As we think about how to make wellness truly accessible for everyone, dietary choices and restrictions are an important category that comes into play! A lot of forms of hyaluronic acid aren’t vegan either, so we made sure to source an animal-product-free version to keep our formula 100% plant-based.”
Ceramosides is another novel vegan vehicle, a wheat-based form of ceramides ready to ingest for glow-from-within-skin. Ceramides are lipids that help boost your skin barrier and fill the space between your skin cells. They keep things looking plump and stop trans-epidermal moisture loss, and in restocking your body’s supply you can preserve the collagen you already have a little longer. It halts the enzyme breakdown of collagen and elastin and clinical explorations of its efficacy are promising. Supplements are available in capsules and even delicious morsels of vegan chocolate as Sourse delivers for the powder-averse and pro-treat.
Nutritionist and whole-food hero Serein Wu notes that promises of plumpness on the label aren’t always the full picture. Her pick? A varied diet first, supplements as supporters. “Bone broth is incredibly rich in collagen as a whole food source. A lot of these supplements are high in sugar or filler ingredients that can disrupt absorption, making it more expensive than useful.” She notes monk fruit or a dash of Stevia are OK, but is in favor of less is more if you want to truly glow.
A principle shared amongst the purveyors of powder, the quality of the collagen, its sourcing, and the delivery all make an impact. Naturopathic dosages, wild-caught, single-origin, and locally-grown all elevate the absorption and minimize the presence of unwanted inhabitants, such as heavy metals, microplastics, even jellyfish in marine collagen served en masse. This being one of the key reasons Olivia of Pearl crafted her mixture, “I felt such a disconnect between, I’m sourcing all of this produce to try and have the most nutrients and have the highest nutrient products that I can and as locally and sustainably sourced as I can… I turned the back of the big ugly green tub and it never stipulated where the collagen actually came from.”
She speaks intimately of the Norwegian wild-caught fish that make up her potions, with the ability to know which catch makes its way into each jar, alongside the Kakadu Plum from Australia’s indigenous growers and freshwater pearl sparkled in. A single-origin approach to supplementation reminiscent of a Vitner’s Daughter cultivated connoisseur.
The beauty of this supplement is in the consistency, whether that’s your morning smoothie, oats, or coffee – collagen supplementation isn’t a cure-all for aging woes. Rather it’s a booster and however you can consume regularly with ease, that’s how it’s best enjoyed daily.
Anna of VidaGlow is candid about results, “Like all skincare, full benefits are only achieved with consistency. After committing to marine collagen for four weeks, you can expect improved skin hydration – and our community also reported fast-growing nails and baby hairs… six weeks, fine lines around the eyes and mouth begin to soften. And as collagen reserves begin to replenish at nine weeks, the collagen matrix is strengthened and thickened for skin that looks firmer and smoother. By 12 weeks, elasticity is improved for plump and bouncy-looking skin.”
Pearl founder Olivia agrees, “You can’t take hold on a Tuesday and then forget to take into Saturday, because you just won’t see results, you need to be really consistent. And that is definitely with our community, people who are consistent, they will see the most incredible results in as little as three weeks. In our clinical studies, six to eight weeks is where we see the full spectrum of your results. But so many people will write within three weeks and say, oh my God, my nails have like, not stopped growing.”
The ritual, dosage, and the bigger nutrition picture all make their sway known when it comes to collagen. As someone who’s experienced too-much-sugar-face (ahem, glycation no-glow) or puffy-post-drinks visage (rude of the champagne really), beauty concerns are never fixed by a single face mask nor beverage. Pearl recommends 4-8g a day (10g max) in line with their clinical data, VidaGlow predoses in sachets for ease and Golde supports a double teaspoon stirred into your first hot beverage of the day.
If you’re diligently dosing collagen, it’s crucial to elevate your protein intake too, or otherwise, your superbly sourced blend won’t be able to do its supple skin best. Nutritionist Serein Wu shares, “You need to be eating enough protein first, and I say eating – not sipping protein shakes. If you’re not getting enough protein (at least 20g a meal) the collagen peptides are going to essential functions first, before they go to your hair, skin, or nails.”
Though there’s no ongoing benefit proven to double-dosing your collagen powder of preference forevermore, the phrase collagen-loading pops into conversation with Olivia founder of Pearl, and I’m suitably intrigued. A Google spiral post our chat and I’m entranced. New to collagen supplements, post-partum, pre-wedding, post-vacation, or otherwise in search of iridescent skin, collagen-loading is an option to drive maximum absorption for those depleted. Olivia explains, “It just gives your skin a really incredible glow. So a lot of our clients will do it before their weddings or before a special event… for a period of two to three weeks. You’re giving your body such a pool of those key amino acids for collagen production, that’s when you really will see incredible results in that time with collagen loading. And it’s recommended by many functional doctors all around the world.”
Ultimately the science is still in its high collagen years, a toddler with a promising future ahead. With reviews as glowing as the newfound skin of those penning them, there’s something to the ritual of replenishing our body in this way. And in defense of beauty as an act of self-care, collagen supplements offer more than an extra pinching of youth. Though if you’re still on the fence or fancy a denser read than I can provide, oodles of research linked below.
Oral Collagen Drink for Anti-aging – 2020
Effects of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation on skin aging – 2021
A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density – 2019
Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Attributes in Healthy Adults – 2021