The Collagen Question: How You Can Reap Its Beauty Benefits
Collagen supplements — like those used and endorsed by actress Jennifer Aniston — can have plenty of benefits. But not all collagen products are created equal. Here, we look at some that are backed by science. Photo: Jason Merritt / Getty Images
Unless you’re a scientist or dermatologist, navigating the beauty market can feel overwhelming. An unending river of “ground-breaking” products and “innovative” techniques, it can be difficult to narrow the flood of options down to what actually works.
One thing that is certain is that higher levels of collagen are the central component of a youthful appearance. A protein that comprises 70 to 80 percent of your skin, think of it as the scaffolding that holds it together — providing firmness and plumpness, maintaining elasticity and hydration, reducing fine lines and tightening pores. Beyond that, collagen keeps muscles, ligaments, joints, hair, and nails strong and supple. The bad news is that our collagen levels wane as we age, decreasing by one per cent per year from age 20 and two per cent after age 30.
Outside of avoiding sun, smoking, and stress, the gold standard collagen-enhancing routine is slathering your face, neck, and décolleté in doctor prescribed Retin-A cream, augmented with a dutiful regimen of chemical peels and lasers, which create the micro inflammation that skin responds to by releasing collagen. This is why celebrities now hover perpetually in what looks to be their mid to late 30s. Think JLo, Gwen Stefani, or Jennifer Aniston; all of whom, chronologically at least, have passed the half century mark.
So it was right on brand when the forever-dewy Aniston, who turns 52 on Feb. 11, signed on to represent Vital Proteins last November. A line of collagen-boosting waters, creamers, and powders launched with a campaign that would share Aniston’s “experiences with collagen to help build greater awareness around its benefits,” the actress enthusing that she’d “always been an advocate for nourishing wellness from within.”
The question is, does ingesting collagen in supplement form — a category of product that falls under the broad, and not hyper regulated, umbrella of “Nutraceuticals” — actually work?
“Taking collagen has many benefits,” says Dr. Holly Fennell, one of Toronto’s most respected naturopaths. “For skin, look for a Marine Collagen Peptide formula.”
She adds that, “What’s important to understand is that stomach acids break down collagen and convert it into an amino acid called proline-hydroxyproline. This amino acid increases the skin’s hyaluronic acid content, which in turn, promotes firmer, more hydrated skin. It’s also vital, through diet and antioxidants, to consume the vitamin C and other nutrients needed to produce collagen; food sources as simple as fruits and vegetables, or organic bone broth, which is high in collagen.”
However, plastic surgeon Dr. Stephen Mulholland, founder of Toronto’s SpaMedica clinic, isn’t so convinced.
“A healthy, well-balanced diet produces all the collagen necessary, and that’s important, but it’s not a magic bullet to beautiful skin,” he explains. “DNA and lifestyle play a large role. And lasers, radiofrequency treatments, and prescribed products with active ingredients, such as Retin-A, will keep your skin looking far younger and smoother than powdered drinks. You can supercharge your diet with collagen, vitamin C, Zinc and other wellness supplements, but that path can also be a waste of money driven by highly paid celebrities, influencers, and brand ambassadors.”
While there’s no debate around whether targeted dermatology procedures work — they do — it seems less clear if collagen supplements have real efficacy. So, what do the scientists say?
The Experts Weigh In …
Collagen peptides — short chains of amino acids — act as building blocks to increase the body’s natural collagen production. Examining the effects of ingesting them as nutraceuticals, specifically a product called ELASTEN, a twelve-week study by German researchers at The Institute of Biostatistics and Clinical Research, University of Münster, one of the leading departments in Germany for research in clinical trials found that a daily 2.5gm ampoule of collagen peptides, acerola fruit extract, vitamin C, zinc, biotin, and vitamin E complex, “significantly improved skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density.”
In Korea, researchers at CHA University, which specializes in high tech, medical-sciences studies, concluded a three-month analysis of collagen-peptide supplementation with the judgement that, as a health functional food ingredient, it was an “effective remedy to improve hydration, elasticity, and wrinkling” and the results were “significantly improved” in those who took the supplement as compared with the placebo group.
In other words, a holistic approach is most effective, combined with regular dermo appointments and a prescription for Retin-A with a collagen-boosting diet and a reputable collagen supplement.
So to help you decide the best way to get your collagen, we’ve rounded up six options — including many made in Canada — which you can find below.
Dr. Fennell’s Age Quencher line of products includes Ageless Beauty Vitamin, a potent, two capsule a day blend of “beauty heroes rich in Hyaluronic acid, Resveratrol, Pomegranate Seed Extract, Grape Seed Extract, Co-Q-10, Zinc and Vitamin C” that helps prevent collagen breakdown. $60
Rejuvenate Beauty Protein — stirred into water or smoothie, Age Quencher’s scoop a day powder is loaded with marine collagen peptides, probiotics, protein, and vitamin C. $90.
COLLAGEN BOOSTING SERUM
An ageless beauty with a chemistry degree, well-known Canadian model, Melani Chong, develops the custom formulations for her signature beauty brand. The result of research, in-vivo testing, and proven science, the collagen enhancing Longevity Serum from Melani Beauty combines matrikines, a peptide that regulates cell activity, with a unique blend of raw natural ingredients like tightening sugar maple complex and antioxidant turmeric. Combating collagen depletion and nourishing the skin, clinical tests on female subjects showed a 19% reduction in wrinkle depth, a 16% reduction in skin roughness, and a 15% improvement in overall skin tone. $78
ECO CONSCIOUS COLLAGEN
This super clean Marine Collagen from Canadian brand, Landish, is sourced from wild North Atlantic fish. Flavour-free, it can be added to anything, coffee, yogurt, shakes, and more — and with a goal of adding one million trees to the national canopy, Landish plants one tree for every order, $50.
COLLAGEN DRINKS & EDIBLES
Beauty, Matcha, Marine, Hydration, or Peptide collagen, Jennifer Aniston’s preferred brand, Vital Proteins, offers a wide variety of collagen-infused products—flavoured waters and single serving packets, to creamers, shots, and energy bars, as well as this powder. US$25
A French company that specializes in tailored ‘prescriptions’, Universkin allows your dermatologist to prepare custom serums. Gauging components and concentrations from a range of active ingredients that target your specific skin issues — hyperpigmentation, inflammation, and acne, to thinning, sagging and wrinkles. In Toronto, Universkin’s tailored formulas are available through Spamedica. Their custom collagen booster, shown here, $185 includes consultation fee and six to eight weeks of product at four to six drops day and/or night.