Not all collagen is created equal
It’s 2022 and you go to your computer to google skin care trends: 50 different brands of collagen - including bone broth, liquid collagen, vegan collagen, and more – pop up. Which do you choose?
Unfortunately, not all brands or types of collagen are backed by scientific studies to prove their claims and no collagen can fully reverse or stop aging.
To help you navigate the world wide web’s abundant collagen brands and their claims, we’re going to break down what collagen is, how it works and which kind of collagen to look for when the goal is better quality skin and slowing down the aging process.
What is collagen and how does it relate to aging?
Collagen is a protein that, amongst other roles, provides structure to your skin. As you age, your body decreases its production of collagen such that the skin's structure weakens, creating fine lines and wrinkles.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body and is made of amino acids that act as the body’s glue to hold everything together and provide structure to your skin. The middle layer of your skin, the dermis, contains 90% collagen which strengthens and supports the skin, and 5% elastin which maintains the skin’s elasticity. When the skin is subjected to aging and external stresses like diet and UV rays, the amount of collagen and elastin in the dermis decreases, causing the upper layer of skin to lose support elasticity and firmness. This results in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin – signs we associate with aging.
Studies have found that starting in your mid-20s or early 30s, your skin loses collagen at an average of 2% per year. Although collagen is broken down and built up every day no matter what age we are, as we get older, the amount of collagen that is broken down begins to exceed the collagen that is being produced.
How do collagen supplements work?
When collagen is broken down in the body, it becomes collagen peptides. By specific collagen peptide supplements, the ingested collagen peptides can mimic the body's broken down collagen, signaling to the production system that more collagen must be produced.
Enter: collagen peptides. The broken down collagen floats around in your body and tells your production system that it needs to make more. When the production system slows down with age, ingesting collagen peptides that mimic the broken down collagen will send a signal to the production system that there is too much broken down collagen and it needs to make more ASAP.
For this to work, collagen must be hydrolyzed (broken down with enzymes) into collagen peptides that are of a specific size to accurately match the broken down collagen in your body. The collagen in The SolutionTM is broken down using a patented method to achieve the correct size. This process has been tested with several studies which proved that the peptides work to ramp up the production system and increase skin quality while slowing down aging.
This means that collagen peptides supplements that do not use the same patented technique cannot rely on the same studies, and must have their own studies to prove that their collagen peptides correctly mimic the body’s own broken down collagen.
It also means that collagen supplements which have not been hydrolyzed into peptides do not give the same results as peptides. Instead, a whole collagen supplement will merely be digested as a protein – giving you a nice protein boost that can definitely help with your overall health and therefore appearance, but cannot directly target the skin. For this same reason, drinking bone broth or getting collagen through food in your diet alone is not enough to specifically target and improve your skin.
Marine collagen versus mammalian collagen
Oslo Skin Lab’s collagen powder, The Solution, uses bovine collagen because mammalian collagen (porcine and bovine) has been shown to resemble human collagen more closely than marine collagen. Since the collagen peptides need to mimic the human body’s own collagen degraded collagen in order to produce the desired effects on the skin, choosing the closest collagen form to the that of a human’s was important to us. Marine collagen has been proven to have an effect by some studies but seems to require a larger daily dose than The Solution’s 2.5 grams and the studies often use collagen products that have additional additives and vitamins, making it difficult to determine the true effect of marine collagen.
What about vegan collagen?
Since the collagen peptides must mimic the body's own broken down collagen, the collagen must come from a mammal that produces similar collagen, and therefore cannot come from a plant and produce the same results.
Recently, a number of vegan “collagen supplements” have entered the market. We love the idea of vegan collagen as it could be more accessible for those for have dietary restrictions on animal products and sounds as though it could be more sustainable, as most vegan products are. Unfortunately, however, vegan collagen is not possible. Here’s why:
There are many plant-based foods that contain collagen protein, including soy and hemp, but just like bone broth and other foods with collagen, these collagens are used as proteins by the body and do not directly target the skin like some collagen peptides. Further, to get collagen peptides that work in a human body, they must directly mimic that of warm-blooded animals so that your body recognizes the collagen peptides as its own and can easily absorb and utilize them. A human body cannot recognize a plant’s collagen peptides as something similar to its own and thus it would not have the same effect.
What is the difference between liquid collagen and powder collagen?
Since collagen peptides need to signal the production system to make more collagen, the "absorption rate" is not important. Instead, it is important that the supplement has studies that show that taking the specified amount of the collagen peptides, whether liquid or powder, will have an effect.
Several companies have recently come out with liquid collagens that promise to be more available or “absorbable” than powder collagen. Liquid collagen that contains collagen peptides of the correct length and that have been proven to directly target and improve the skin can work just as well as powder collagen.
The claims about more of the collagen being absorbed by the body when the collagen is in liquid form than in powder, however, do not have any basis in science for a simple reason: it does not matter how much of the powder or liquid collagen your body has absorbed, as long as the studies show that the amount you have ingested is proven to have an effect.
The SolutionTM , for example, has been tested to show that 2.5grams is the daily dose needed to have an effect (this was tested against 5grams daily which showed no more improvement than 2.5grams). This means that even if only 1% of that daily dose is being “absorbed,” like some liquid collagen companies try to claim, it doesn’t matter because the science shows that that 1% is enough to have the desired effect.
Choosing the collagen that’s right for you
Now that we’ve laid out all the basics for how collagen supplements work, you may go forth as an informed consumer and choose which collagen is best for your goals. We recommend finding a brand that is transparent about their collagen and has studies that you can easily find and read for yourself. Be sure to check that these studies were done on the specific collagen used by the brand and that they are not just making references to studies done about other collagen, because not all collagen can make the same claims.
If you want to learn more about The Solution’s science-backed collagen peptides, read about our studies here.