beauty

Does that fancy collagen powder you're taking actually...do anything?

For many women, ingesting collagen supplements on the daily has become as routine as brushing your teeth and putting on sunscreen.

Whether you down a little vial of it every morning, stir it into a glass of water or add it to your morning smoothie, getting some form of collagen in your gut is the buzzy new "wellness" solution - and it seems to be one we're all jumping on board with.

To put into perspective just how big it is, the global collagen market is expected to reach $7.5 billion by 2027.

Yep. That's a lotta money. 

And given this is such a rapidly expanding sector in the beauty industry, there are now HEAPS of ingestible beauty supplements on the market.

They normally take the form of a tablet, capsule, powder or liquid and you'll probably spy them on social media, marketed by influencers, celebrities and wellness brands as the key to keeping skin hydrated, glowing and ageless.

And while talk around collagen isn't anything new (this has been going on for years, friends), the current hype around skincare and anti-ageing solutions is bumping the trend into overdrive.

Watch: Here are 7 ways to improve your skin while sleeping. Post continues below.


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As a beauty editor, I was first introduced to collagen supplements a few years ago when I went to a brand launch. It seemed pretty whacky at the time (so many wild promises! tastes 10/10 gross! why is it brown!). However, since then it's just become a part of my day.

Every morning I take a spoonful of the powder and mix it in with water - I used to shudder at the taste, but now I don't even mind it. 

These days my ingestible routine has grown to include little vials of hyaluronic acid and omega elixirs (I have a whole section of the fridge dedicated to my powders, liquids and capsules), as I attempt to cover all bases - even though I have no idea if it’s doing anything for my skin.

I’ve spoken to a bunch of experts in the past and while they've all said that being aware of natural collagen production and the ways you can give it a lil' boost is obviously a very good thing (whether that be from supplements, your diet or professional skincare treatments), they've had differing opinions when it comes to the actual effectiveness of collagen supplements. 

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Listen: More of a podcast kinda gal? That's cool. No, I'm not crying. Listen to this episode of You Beauty, where Leigh and Kelly talk about what drinking collagen does for your skin.

So, I've just kept at it in the hope that it's doing *something* good.

It wasn't until the moment that my boyfriend and his friend decided to use several of my liquid collagen vials as MIXERS FOR THEIR GIN that I wondered if my absolute uncontrolled rage was warranted. 

Do these collagen powders and supplements actually do anything in the first place? 

So, I decided to do a deep dive on collagen supplements. I put on my science beanie and spoke to a bunch of different experts from different fields (a nutritionist, a scientist and a medical doctor) to find out if it's actually beneficial to ingest collagen, or if we're all hooked on just another wellness hoax.

Hang on a tick. What exactly is collagen?

Oh, good one! Probably best to start off with what collagen actually is, yeah? Let's back it up a little...

Collagen is an integral structural component in bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and connective tissue, explains Fiona Tuck, nutritionist and founder of Vita Sol.

It's the most abundant protein in the body and it makes up 80 per cent of the skin. Collagen works with another cute protein called elastin (the stuff that keeps our skin elastic).

"Collagen acts as a structural protein in the dermis layer of skin," explains Tuck. "This connective tissue provides structural support, strength and elasticity to the skin." 

Collagen not only improves the tone and texture of your skin but also increases bone density and muscle mass. So, without it we'd basically look like jelly. 

But here's the shit news. Starting in our twenties, our collagen levels start to drop by around one per cent per year and essentially it breaks down faster than we can replace it :(  

The result? Your skin starts to struggle to 'hold itself up'. "As we age, collagen, elastin and HA production declines resulting in lines, wrinkles and sagging skin."

Sad!

Things like sun damage, pollution, and oxidative stress can accelerate this whole process.

And this, friends, is where things like collagen supplements come into play. So, it's no real shock that they're in such high demand.

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But it's worth knowing that unlike natural collagen, the collagen in these supplements are called collagen peptides - also known as hydrolyzed collagen. It's basically collagen that’s been broken down into more easily dissolvable amino acids.

"Collagen powders, pills and supplement drinks are big business at the moment, and particularly for women, they’re marketed onto our feeds and phones as a potential ‘holy grail’ when it comes to fighting signs of ageing within the skin, bones and muscles," said medical doctor and psychiatry resident Dr Kieran Kennedy.

"Skin health is where these products seem to have definitely been marketed the most - many tout impressive sounding claims when it comes to improving skin hydration, elasticity and overall appearance."

However, how much of the supplement is actually absorbed and how many amino acids actually make it to where they need to go is still something that is up for debate. 

Does collagen powder actually work?

"Of the thousands (more than 6,000!) of available studies on collagen supplements, there are 19 recent high-quality studies conducted on 1,125 human subjects specifically in the field of dermatology," explains Dr Michele Squire from Qr8 MediSkin

Some of these studies prove the effectiveness of taking collagen supplements for several months on skin elasticity and the signs of ageing.

"These studies show that collagen supplements can stimulate increased collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid production in the skin, plumping out wrinkles and increasing the skin’s hydration and elasticity levels in the process," shares Dr Squire.

One such study was a review in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology on oral collagen supplementation, which found preliminary results confirming collagen supplements increased skin elasticity, collagen density and overall hydration.

However, a lot more evidence is needed to support collagen supplements and their effectiveness on the skin. While the potential benefits are exciting, Dr Squire said it is still an emerging field. 

Image: Getty

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According to Dr Kennedy, we're just not quite there yet. Like many wellness trends and products marketed toward our appearance, from a medical standpoint he said much of this appears to be more hype than actual health. 

"The cut and dry here is that ingestible collagen powders and supplements don’t hold enough current evidence to medically back them," he said. "There are some interesting, and potentially promising, initial results but before you part with your hard-earned cash we need more to show that there’ll be actual bang for buck."

Dr Kennedy said it’s important to point out that most of these studies "don’t yet come anywhere close to scientifically backing the many lofty claims these products promise."

Yikes.

"Many of the studies showing positive results for ingestible collagen are small, poor in quality and (more often than not) funded by companies directly connected to collagen products. This all means that bias in results are highly likely, and positive results need to be backed by much larger studies with even playing fields," he adds.

So, can collagen actually be absorbed by the skin?

Absorption of a huge molecule like natural collagen can be a fickle thing. But can smaller peptides more easily pass through our intestinal barrier and into our bloodstream?

Well, this is what all the good supplements are supposed to do. But again, the science is in its infancy.

"One of the major reasons for caution from many medical professions here is what happens when we ingest collagen through a powder, shake or bar," said Dr Kennedy. 

"The collagen you’re drinking is broken down in the gut just like anything else we eat. I’ve heard many people report (and many collagen products claim) that drinking collagen means it’s delivered straight to the skin and areas where it’s needed. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. When we ingest collagen it’s broken down into its amino acids parts just like any other."

In theory, the body is the supposed to utilise absorbed collagen in areas that need repair the most. So, just because you’re taking collagen that doesn’t automatically mean it’s all going directly to your skin, okay?

"Collagen doesn’t specifically target specific areas," adds Tuck. "The body will use as required, which is why if the protein requirement is increased perhaps due to recovery, wound healing or age, a higher amount of collagen may be required to see benefits."

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Like with any new beauty and wellness trend, brands have jumped on the bandwagon and the offering is exhaustive. From pills and powders to topical creams and liquids, there's A LOT out there. And they offer some pretty hefty promises to boot.

But they're not all the same thing - some are better than others.

"Not all hydrolysed collagen is created equal. Different processing methods can result in very different collagen purity, concentration, composition and peptide size," explains Dr Squire. 

"This means that quality and dose can vary enormously between brands (which is likely why some people report little result from collagen supplementation)."

If you do want to try collagen supplements, then what should you look for? Is there a specific type of collagen that is 'better' than others? 

"Good collagen supplements contain tiny peptides two to four Kilodaltons in size (2000-4000 Daltons) that are soluble, tasteless and bioactive," explains Dr Squire.

*Takes notes*.

In terms of dosage, Squire said you need to decipher the ingredient list on the back to know how much collagen your product actually includes.

"Taking the right dose is key to getting results. There are so many collagen supplements available, so dosage isn’t standardised – you will need to read the nutritional information panel on the label to see how much collagen your product contains in order to take an effective dose," said Dr Squire.

"Subjects in clinical trials took 2.5-10g/day for 12 weeks before results were measured (I aim for 5-10g/day initially, then 3-5g/day after three months). Results should be evident by three months, although may be apparent earlier, depending on dose, the quality of the supplement and the skin’s own collagen requirements," she adds.

If you decide to take collagen supplements, Dr Squire said you need to set yourself up for a long haul. "The thing to remember is that collagen supplements are like good skincare and good health… consistency is key!"

Are collagen powders the only way to boost collagen?

No, you sweet fool. Not even close. Experts say that eating a rich, nutritious and colourful diet will help increase your collagen production.

"Genetics, poor intake of nutrients required for collagen production, nutritional deficiencies and digestive system dysfunction can all affect collagen synthesis," said Tuck. "Ensuring adequate nutrition is therefore one of the most important things we can do for skin health," she said.

See? Told ya!

"Eating a diet rich in vitamin C and polyphenols (think deeply coloured plant foods) is important for skin health and collagen. Even good quality coffee contains polyphenols - just ditch the added sugar and whipped cream," said Tuck.

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"Healthy collagen formation requires a number of nutrients such as protein, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron and the best way to get these is naturally via food."

As we all know, eating 100 per cent healthy isn't always doable, but Tuck said to be wary of taking high-dose supplements long-term, as this can cause nutrient imbalances and send everything outta whack. 

So, making sure you get nutrients as naturally as possible is always your best bet.

"Include a variety of healthy food to ensure your body is receiving the right nutrients such as nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes, whole grains, and a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables," adds Tuck.

Using good quality skincare, stringently protecting your skin from UV rays (obvs!), exercising regularly and limiting junk food and alcohol are also key things you can do to help slow down collagen loss.

"Sticking to a balanced diet that delivers our skin and joints the building blocks they need to build collagen should be 101 here - and that’s something we don’t need special powders or products for," said Dr Kennedy.

"It’s cliche (and classic doctor chat, I know), but sticking to the basics when it comes to looking after our skin and health overall is definitely where we’ll get the best benefits."

So... should I take collagen supplements?

Well, it all comes down to your personal choice, boo. If you think it's all BS, that's totally fine. If you want to just roll with it and take whatever benefits you can get, that's cool, too! 

The good news is: as long as you're taking the recommended dose, there's no real harm in taking collagen supplements - apart from the dint it makes in your bank account, of course.

"I’m all for people taking action when it comes to their health and (as long as there are no risks), choosing products and practices they feel might work for them," said Dr Kennedy.

If you're up for jumping on board the collagen supplement trend, just be wary that you'll be signing up for a long-term relationship - because you certainly won't see results overnight. It also pays to know what you're looking for, because there is a lot of fluff out there.

Image: Getty

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Tuck said to to be mindful of what's actually in a product before purchasing it, and to avoid stuff with artificial flavours, additives and fillers such as maltodextrin. So, read the ingredient list!  

"Some ‘collagen’ products do not contain collagen and therefore do not have the same activity on the fibroblast cell," said Tuck.

"Capsules and tablets come with excipients such as diluents, fillers and bulking agents, so always check the amount of collagen per serve. Pre-blended liquids usually need carriers and contain preservatives and flavours."

No good.

Dr Squire also said there are a few false, fluffy claims you need to be wary of, including terms like 'vegan' and 'natural'. 

"'Vegan’ collagen isn’t actually a thing in supplements, so don’t be fooled," she said. "Collagen is only an animal by-product."

Oh! How... awkward.

"Bioidentical human collagen produced by microbes (so it can properly be termed ‘vegan’) has become available in the last 12 months for incorporating into topical skincare formulations. There is only one manufacturer of this product worldwide (Geltor)."

According to Squire, any other ingredient or set of ingredients, even if labelled ‘collagen’ or ‘vegan collagen’, isn’t actually the same molecular structure as collagen - especially if it comes from a plant source. So, worth noting.

What's the bottom line?

While some experts are sceptical about the efficacy of collagen powders and the likes, others are not completely dismissive. 

So, it's totally up to you what you want to spend your money on - we're just here to present the facts and tell you what we know.

Bottom line: You do you.

Do you ingest collagen powder on the regular? What are your thoughts? Share them with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty