We briefly mentioned collagen powder's benefits for skin health in our Deep Guide to Collagen video ( which you can find here ) and received numerous requests to explore oral collagen supplements further. We'll try to provide honest and accurate information on whether they work or are just a waste of money.
Studies suggest that porcine collagen, sourced from pig skin, is the most effective collagen supplement as it closely resembles human skin collagen. Marine collagen is a viable alternative for pescetarians, while plant-based collagen is questionable, often containing ingredients that merely claim to aid collagen production. If you're vegan, topical serums and creams can still benefit skin health, and Maelove offers an entirely vegan skincare line.
When shopping for collagen powder, look for "hydrolyzed collagen" or "collagen peptides," which indicate the collagen has been broken down into smaller proteins.
Note added: We greatly appreciate your trust in us and thank you for contacting us for product recommendations. However, please understand that we are unable to make specific product recommendations due to our lack of visibility into how other brands and companies source their ingredients, run their production lines, and conduct quality assurance.
Oral collagen supplementation - is it legit?
As discussed in our Deep Guide to Collagen, the natural collagen content in our skin decreases with age, leading to the formation of wrinkles. In a previous video, we highlighted three effective topical ingredients for stimulating collagen production: Vitamin C, retinoids, and niacinamide - all of which can be applied through serums or creams.
In addition, we also touched upon the topic of oral collagen supplementation, which has been proven effective in boosting collagen levels in the skin, as per multiple studies.
Hydrolyzed collagens show positive results for improving skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkles in multiple randomized, double-blind trials (de Miranda et al. 2021, Wang 2021, Choi et al. 2019, Aguirre-Crux et al. 2020).
Side note: what the heck is randomized and double-blind?
Randomized means that test subjects are randomly assigned to get either the real deal or placebo.
Double-blind means that both the test subject and the investigator administering the study on the test subjects don’t know who is getting the real deal and who is getting the placebo. They are both “blind” to what the subject is getting. It’s a technique researchers use to try to eliminate bias.
What should you look for when shopping for collagen powder?
As you may be aware, there is a plethora of collagen powders available for purchase today. In short, the most effective collagen supplements for skin possess two key characteristics: firstly, they closely resemble human skin collagen, and secondly, they are in a hydrolyzed form. Let's delve deeper into these nuances.
What is the best source of collagen - pigs, cows, fishes, or plants?
What’s the best type of collagen to buy then? If you can find something that says it’s hydrolyzed collagen from porcine skin which is pig skin, that would be the best.
Basically, the more different the collagen is from the collagen in your actual skin, the less benefit you’ll receive from them.
For example, marine collagen from fish has been compared to collagen from pig skin in a head to head study, and it was shown that the collagen from pigs is superior (Wang 2021, Asserin et al. 2015).
Let's look at this study conducted by Asserin and colleagues. (Asserin et al. 2015)
This graph compares the efficacy of placebo against two types of collagen peptides - one derived from fish (labeled Peptan F) and the other from pigs (labeled Peptan P) - over an 8-week period. The results showed that the peptides from porcine sources outperformed those from fish sources and placebo in terms of improving skin health. However, it's worth noting that fish collagen still fared better than the placebo, making it a worthwhile supplement to consider.
What accounts for the difference in performance? The primary factor is the close resemblance between pig skin collagen and human skin collagen, which enables the peptides derived from porcine sources to be more effective.
Furthermore, it has been noted that marine and bovine collagen sourced from cows may trigger allergic reactions, unlike porcine collagen. The reason for this can be attributed to the similarity between pig skin collagen and human skin collagen (Wang, 2021).
That being said, double-blind trials have demonstrated that marine and bovine collagen still provide skin benefits compared to placebos (Asserin et al., 2015; Wang, 2021; Bianchi et al., 2022).
For those following a vegan or vegetarian diet, oral collagen supplementation can be complicated as plants do not naturally produce collagen. Instead, products marketed as "plant collagen" vary widely in their composition but generally contain amino acids, minerals like silica and zinc, and vitamins like Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and biotin. These ingredients do not constitute collagen but may potentially enhance the body's collagen production.
As we previously discussed in our comprehensive guide to collagen, Vitamin C is a necessary cofactor in collagen production, and clinical studies have shown that topical application of Vitamin C can increase skin collagen content. However, oral Vitamin C supplementation has not yet been scientifically validated to boost skin collagen levels (DePhillipo et al., 2018).
In other words, "plant collagen" is not collagen at all, but rather a mixture of other ingredients that may theoretically aid collagen production but have not yet been clinically proven to do so.
While scientists are exploring genetic modifications of plants and microorganisms to produce human collagen, as of March 2023, plants do not naturally produce collagen outside of a laboratory setting.
Look for “hydrolyzed” collagen or “collagen peptides”
Ideally, the collagen that is absorbed by the skin should come in the form of hydrolyzed tripeptides (Yazaki et al., 2017). Hydrolyzed refers to the process of breaking down large collagen proteins into smaller pieces. In their study, Yazaki and colleagues tested collagen peptides that were hydrolyzed into two groups of peptides.
The first group consisted of peptides in the size range of 1500-1800 Da, which were primarily tripeptides (containing only three amino acids). The second group consisted mostly of larger peptides in the size range of 4500-5500 Da, comprising longer peptide chains that were more than three amino acids in length. For simplicity, we can refer to these groups as the "small peptides group" and the "big peptides group."
A quick note on proteins, peptides, and amino acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and there are nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce and must be obtained through the diet. The body can then generate the remaining 11 amino acids.
Peptides are short chains of amino acids linked together by peptide bonds, ranging from dipeptides (two amino acids) to tripeptides (three amino acids) and longer chains known simply as peptides or peptide chains.
Chains exceeding 50 amino acids are called polypeptides, which are the same as proteins. Hydrolyzing a protein breaks it down into shorter peptide chains or individual peptides. Therefore, collagen peptides are simply shorter chains of amino acids derived from hydrolyzed collagen proteins.
Yazaki and colleagues discovered that individuals in the "small peptides" group had a significantly greater increase in collagen peptide levels in the blood than those in the "big peptides" group. In another part of their study, they found that peptides from the blood accumulated in the skin of animals, indicating that collagen tripeptides can be orally administered and transferred to the skin.
These findings suggest that hydrolyzing collagen into tripeptides instead of larger fragments is more effective when it comes to oral supplements.
But wait - there is more (Type 1 vs 2 vs 3 collagen)
Oral supplementation with hydrolyzed collagen may offer additional benefits beyond improving skin appearance. Older adults experiencing muscle wasting may see improvement with collagen supplementation following exercise, and those with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis may also benefit. However, it's worth noting that the collagen types present in cartilage (where type 2 collagen is mostly found) differ from those in the skin (where type 1 and some type 3 collagen are present).
For joint pain and recovery, supplements with type 2 collagen may be more effective. While some supplements indicate their collagen type, if not, checking the source can provide some insight - collagen from skin mostly contains type 1 collagen with some type 3 collagen.
Nevertheless, any type of collagen can be beneficial. For example, type 1 collagen may still help with pain relief in osteoarthritis, possibly due to anti-inflammatory properties or other mechanisms that are not yet fully understood (Wang, 2021).
How does oral collagen work?
The precise mechanisms behind how oral collagen benefits the skin are not yet fully understood, and there may be multiple processes at work. As previously mentioned, research by Yazaki and colleagues revealed the transfer of collagen peptides taken orally into the skin. Other studies have expanded on this finding, suggesting a more complex understanding of how oral collagen can increase collagen levels in the skin.
Oral collagen supplementation may work by directly impacting fibroblasts or through immune-related processes involving macrophages (Barati et al. 2020).
A quick note on fibroblasts and macrophages: Fibroblasts are cells located in the deeper layer of the skin that produce collagen and elastin, which provide structure, firmness, elasticity, and hydration to the skin.
Macrophages, on the other hand, are immune cells that protect the body and can stimulate fibroblasts to produce more collagen, especially during wound healing. Collagen peptides may trigger macrophages to think there is a wound with broken collagen, thereby stimulating fibroblasts to produce more collagen, elastin and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs).
What is known for sure is that oral collagen has been validated through multiple randomized double blind studies, and that they certainly benefit skin.
CEO's note: I take oral collagen myself and I’d recommend it. It’s not easy to shop specifically for the “best” collagen powder but as mentioned, the best will be hydrolyzed collagen from porcine skin. Frankly I am not too fussy about it because even lesser collagen such as from fish sources are still beneficial and consistency is the key. Thanks and see you again soon! - Jackie
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This article is lead-authored by Sunbin Song, PhD, who serves as our senior research adviser. Sunbin's educational background includes a degree in Biology from MIT, and a doctorate in neuroscience from Georgetown. With her extensive experience as a research scientist at the NIH, she has a wealth of knowledge to share on the topic of nurturing our body, mind, and spirit to lead more joyful lives. We hope you enjoy reading her insightful and informative writeup. Sunbin on Google Scholar / on ResearchGate]
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