Ingestible collagen supplements — in gummy, powdered, capsule or beverage form — have become some of the most ubiquitous beauty/wellness products on the market. In the past few years, the category has absolutely exploded, with dozens of formulas promising shinier, longer hair, healthier, stronger nails and younger-looking, more supple skin. But it's also one of the murkiest product categories for a lot of people, with experts calling for more education on the subject. So allow us to do exactly that.
"Collagen is a protein that forms the structural support in the skin," dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner told Fashionista for a previous story on the subject. "Think of it like the frame of your skin's 'mattress,' while elastic fibers are the springs and hyaluronic acid is the stuffing." Most ingestible forms of collagen rely on animal-derived versions, sourced from cow hide, fish bones or sometimes chicken flesh, which are processed into powders that can be dissolved in beverages, encapsulated in supplements or infused into gummies.
"Collagen basically keeps our skin looking healthy and youthful. It provides strength as well as elasticity for supple skin," adds nutritionist Brooke Alpert. The body's natural collagen production slows down with age, so it makes sense that finding ways to counteract and supplement that might offer beauty benefits.
But while collagen is crucial for healthy, resilient skin, it's also found in many other parts of the body, including the joints, cartilage, blood vessels, tendons and even eyes. When it comes to ingesting it, there's no way to guarantee that collagen will go straight to your skin, hair or nails. "Collagen, whether consumed from food sources or from supplements, is mostly broken down into its components, called amino acids, when digested," says dermatologist Dr. Arash Akhavan. "Amino acids are used by the body to synthesize other proteins, including more collagen for areas such as our skin."
Experts do seem to agree that the amino acids in ingestibles can benefit the body's ability to produce its own collagen — and if nothing else, it serves as a source of protein that may generally benefit the body's overall health. While nutritionists also tend to concur that collagen supplementing is generally safe, it's worth noting that ingesting too much protein could potentially have a negative effect on some people's kidneys, particularly for individuals who tend to have trouble processing protein or are already consuming a lot of it. So, as with any major change to your diet, it's suggested to check with your doctor before loading up on ingestible collagen.
For those looking for vegetarian or vegan alternatives to traditional collagen supplements, there are also plenty of products on the market that don't actually contain collagen itself, but rather offer nutrients that support the body's natural collagen production. "There are many products out there that provide a lot of the building blocks that are needed for collagen production without actually containing collagen themselves," explains Alpert. Supplements (and, it's worth reminding you, foods!) containing high levels of vitamin C, amino acids and antioxidants may be effective for spurring collagen production.
In the gallery below, we've rounded up our favorite collagen-spiked supplements:
For those interested in collagen-boosting alternatives to ingesting actual collagen, turn your attention to the gallery below. Many of these picks are either vegetarian or vegan, but contain nutrients specifically created to support natural collagen production in the body.
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