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Care/of's New Ingestible Collagen Line Includes a Game-Changing Vegetarian Option

It's sourced from a surprising — but ubiquitous — breakfast food.
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Anyone who has been paying even a little bit of attention to the wellness industry over the past decade will tell you: Vitamins are big business, and the supplement market is still booming. Beyond that, a significant portion of that market is focused on beauty. Personalized direct-to-consumer vitamin brand Care/of launched in 2016, and in the years since, more than 5.5 million people have taken its personalization quiz — of those, a whopping 74% of them cited skin and hair health as a priority, according to the company. On Tuesday, Care/of is putting all that data collection to use, expanding its existing lineup of vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements with a range targeting the health of hair, skin and nails. 

Core to Care/of's beauty collection is ingestible collagen. There are several traditional ingestible bovine collagen protein powders that can be mixed into beverages (in unflavored, matcha, vanilla oat creamer and lemon passionfruit), but there's also an antioxidant "superberry" powder, a keratin supplement, a supplement with ceramides and an ayurvedic herbal supplement called shatavari with purported breakout-busting benefits. But arguably the most noteworthy and potentially game-changing of them all is a vegetarian collagen supplement in capsule form. 

First, a bit of background about why ingestible collagen is even A Thing and why, exactly, a vegetarian version of it is such a big deal:

There's some debate — and not as much research as many experts would like — about whether ingesting collagen can really have much of an impact on the health or appearance of skin. "Collagen, whether consumed from food sources or from supplements, is mostly broken down into its components, called amino acids, when digested," dermatologist Dr. Arash Akhavan told Fashionista in a previous interview on the subject. "Amino acids are used by the body to synthesize other proteins, including more collagen for areas such as our skin." So there's no guarantee that ingesting collagen is going to directly impact the collagen present in skin, but most experts agree nonetheless that the amino acids in collagen are essential to the body's ability to produce healthy collagen, so supplements may be a step in the right direction. What's more, even if the collagen a person ingests isn't directly benefiting their skin's appearance, it can be a source of protein in a diet, having other potential benefits for healthy muscular function.

The majority of ingestible collagen on the market is bovine: It's sourced from the bones, hides and other byproducts of cattle, which are boiled to extract the collagen, then dried and powdered — certainly not vegetarian nor vegan. There's also marine collagen, which is sourced from fish (it can be derived from their scales and bones), making it pescatarian-friendly, but, again, neither vegetarian nor vegan. Some wellness brands (Rae Wellness and SmarterCollagen are two examples) do sell vegan and vegetarian collagen "boosters" which claim to support the body's own production of collagen with vitamins and minerals — but these are not, themselves, collagen. 

Because vegans and vegetarians aren't ingesting collagen regularly in their diets via eating meat and other natural sources, they're actually among those who could potentially benefit most from a supplemental version of it. That's why Care/of's vegetarian collagen supplement — which is derived from the membrane inside chicken egg shells (meaning it's still not suitable for vegans) — is so groundbreaking and promising.

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"One of the most well-studied ingredients for skin health is collagen. It's a critical protein that helps keep skin hydrated and supple, which in turn can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles," Brittany Shaw, Care/of's Director of New Products, tells Fashionista. "We combined this clinical evidence with the feedback from customers that they love our powders, which taste delicious and fit seamlessly into their existing routines. So collagen was a clear choice."

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As for the decision to create a vegetarian-friendly version, it was a pretty logical choice for Care/of. "When we're launching new products, we want to make sure they are as inclusive to our customer base as possible. Many of our customers follow vegetarian diets or try to limit their intake of animal-based products, so it's important for us to launch products that fit within these goals," explains Shaw. "We also identified a gap in the collagen market where the vast majority of offerings were not friendly to vegetarians. We scoured the market for possible vegetarian sources of collagen and came across eggshell membrane, which allowed us to offer the great benefits of collagen to vegetarian customers."

There are other benefits to relying on the inner membrane of eggshells as a source of collagen, according to Shaw. Beyond allowing those who follow certain diets to avoid bovine and fish-based products, it's also making use of a byproduct that otherwise might go to waste. It can provide other nutritional benefits as well: "We found was that eggs, and in particular the membrane of the eggshells that we typically throw away or compost, can be a source of collagen, hyaluronic acid and other skin and hair supporting compounds that are still vegetarian friendly. So that membrane (the sticky stuff) that we typically just try to keep off our stovetops and get into the pan when making eggs is actually an opportunity for supporting vegetarians' skin, hair and nail health," explains Shaw.

care of vegetarian collagen

Unlike the bulk of ingestible collagen products on the market, which are sold as powders to be mixed into beverages or flavored coffee creamers, Care/of's vegetarian collagen comes in capsule form, allowing users to pop the pill along with any other daily vitamins they may be taking. "It's purely a targeted supplement," explains Shaw, meaning it does not serve as a source of protein in the way that a powder does. (Care/of's bovine collagen powders offer 10g of protein per serving.) 

As for the research side of things, the company claims its vegetarian collagen supplement has proven results when it comes to skin and nail health. "Clinical research shows that our vegetarian collagen has benefits to skin elasticity and hydration and to nail strength and growth, based on containing both collagen and hyaluronic acid," says Shaw. "Eggshell membrane has been clinically studied with several trials. Recently, a couple of double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies have shown that taking eggshell membrane may help improve firmness, hydration and elasticity in skin after just 60 days."

The brand's collagen supplement can be added to Care/of's monthly pill packs for $15 a month.

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