Over the last few years, it’s felt like every beauty and wellness brand is talking about collagen. They’re either bringing out skincare products formulated with collagen-boosting ingredients that can be applied topically or introducing ingestible collagen supplements to boost collagen production from the inside out.
And while we kind of already knew collagen was good for our skin, it also plays other important roles in our body function — as the Founder of JSHealth, Jess Sepel, explained to us. Ahead, we chat through the function of collagen in the body and the science behind how collagen supplements can support our overall health.
First up, what exactly is Collagen?
If you're not familiar with collagen, it's the most abundant protein in the body and is the largest part of the extracellular matrix (a network in our body that provides support and structure to our cells), explains Jess. “This matrix supports smooth, firm and strong skin. Collagen is a protein that regulates skin physiology and skin structure, predominantly made by the amino acids glycine, proline and hydroxyproline.”
You might be surprised to learn that collagen isn’t just collagen. There are actually over a dozen different types with three main ones making up 80% of the body. “The type of collagen and how it has been extracted are the main factors that affect its function. Type 1 is the most common in skin, bone, teeth, tendons, ligaments and organs. Type 2 is in cartilages, and Type 3 is contained in the skin, muscle and blood vessels,” says Jess.
What impacts our natural collagen levels?
We already know that a gradual decline in collagen happens as we age, resulting in fine lines and wrinkles. However, Jess explains that there are other factors in our daily lives that can have an impact too.
“Other elements that can exacerbate this include sunlight, smoking, environmental pollution, alcohol and nutrient deficiencies. The skin’s elasticity is destroyed, wrinkles can appear, and the skin can become thinner and dryer due to the reduction in collagen.”
Our skin also contains high levels of vitamin C, a well-known antioxidant that can protect against UV damage from the sun and stimulate collagen production, says Jess. “Skin cells in connective tissue depend on vitamin C for collagen production and to regulate the balance of collagen and elastin.” That explains why we’re seeing so many vitamin C products in skincare regimes these days.
How do collagen supplements work?
While we should be eating a diet rich in protein to help boost our collagen production naturally, taking a supplement to assist further collagen production can be beneficial for the skin.
Consistently taking collagen supplements has been found to regulate skin function and can be helpful when it comes to treating ageing skin, explains Jess. This is especially true of marine collagen.
“Collagen works in two ways in the skin. Firstly, it supplies the building blocks for collagen and elastin production. Secondly, it holds together the cells in the connective tissue in the skin to produce collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid,” Jess tells us.
“Marine collagen has an anti-aging effect on human skin, demonstrated through a recent clinical trial revealing a significant increase in skin elasticity in a group of women aged 35-55 years. The same group of scientists also demonstrated a substantial reduction in skin wrinkles after daily consumption of collagen hydrolysate.”
What are the benefits of collagen supplements?
Jess points out that marine collagen has been proved to have more benefits because it’s absorbed up to 1.5 times more efficiently into the body, which means that it is more bioavailable than bovine or porcine types. “As it is absorbed more efficiently and enters the bloodstream faster, it is considered a superior form of collagen.”
Multiple studies have researched the impact of marine collagen peptides and their anti-ageing effects. “Marine collagen has been shown to support human skin elasticity, increase skin hydration, reduce wrinkles and support the musculoskeletal system.”
Are collagen supplements good for more than just your skin?
Yes! Collagen has more benefits than just its effects on skin physiology, explains Jess. "It can also protect hair against chemical damages and help to support the musculoskeletal system. In a study, marine collagen was found to increase the level of skin moisture, and the same collagen was able to penetrate and spread into the fibres of hair cells."
And in good news for fitness lovers, Jess tells us that collagen has great muscular benefits as well. "Collagen’s protective effects on muscles were demonstrated through a study that showed that the combination of resistance exercise and collagen supplementation improved body composition, increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass compared to placebo in older men with sarcopenia. Muscle strength was also enhanced after collagen intake."
So how long do you have to wait to see results?
Like all things, results vary from person to person, explains Jess. However, “a study was conducted in which marine collagen peptides were shown to increase the skin moisture level by 12% in a period of 8 weeks and the collagen density in the skin also increased. And results were generally maintained after 12 weeks."
That doesn't mean that you can stop taking the supplements and expect to maintain your results after 12 weeks. The key to seeing results and actually maintaining them, like with all skincare and wellness, is consistency. Like you would routinely apply your skincare routine, you need to routinely take supplements to see any real changes and benefits.
Are there any side effects?
Short answer: no. “Collagen supplements are not commonly known to have side effects, says Jess. “However, always ensure that you’re guided by your health professional to assess if taking a collagen supplement is suitable for your individual needs. Individual results and effects of supplements do vary.”