There’s a rising market for collagen supplements, claiming to improve skin quality or reduce the appearance of wrinkles deep within the skin. As collagen is the scaffolding for our skin, of course, we want to believe it. We’re all on the hunt for any anti-ageing miracle that will slow visible signs of ageing and boost collagen in our skin.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a very large and complex protein molecule. It is continually produced by skin cells to help maintain a firm and youthful appearance, but this slows as we age. Other external factors, such as UV and IR light, pollutants and dietary deficiency can destroy and damage collagen production.
In my opinion, as a scientist, there is not enough evidence to support the claims. Sadly, the collagen supplement trend is based on pseudoscience! Collagen supplements do not directly promote great skin. Collagen is an important protein and a vital element of skin health and anti-ageing, but… the strong acids in our stomach exist to break down protein and peptides. The aim of protein digestion is to break down what we eat into the tiny building blocks so the body can absorb and use it. So, as an ingredient in powder supplements, it is a very expensive way to simply add high-quality protein into your diet.
When the collagen protein reaches the stomach, it is broken down into amino acids, the building blocks of protein, so that it can be digested through the small intestine and into the bloodstream. Once broken down, the collagen does not reform on the other side of the digestive tract, so it will never reach your cells as the collagen it started out as in your pill or powder.
Collagen supplements are simply a protein source
Protein is vital to making the proteins in our body. There are over 10,000 different proteins our bodies make from the building block amino acids that come from proteins in our food. So often, many of us are simply lacking in good protein sources. Examples of vital proteins include our hormones, haemoglobin which carries oxygen in the blood, muscle proteins, immunoglobulins to protect us from foreign invaders, enzymes that aid all the chemical reactions in our body, keratin in hair and nails, and collagen, which is found in skin and all over the body.
When we start adding an expensive collagen supplement to our diet, we may see an improvement in our skin and stronger hair, but it isn’t specifically the collagen, it is the increased general protein source that the collagen provides, that then gets broken down into amino acids just like all the other protein sources in food. Unfortunately, this ingredient simply does not live up to the hype! There is not enough scientific evidence to prove that taking collagen supplements or applying topical collagen in your skincare will make a real, long-term difference to your skin.