Eat Pretty, In Depth is a new long-form feature that takes a deep dive into a topic that's important for your beauty and health. If there's a subject you'd like me to explore in depth in the future, contact me at email@example.com.
Collagen & Your Beauty
There’s a collagen craze that’s been building in the beauty world for the past several years, and, in all honesty, it’s not something I’ve been too eager to jump on board with. For one, the word collagen is one I associate with images of unnaturally plumped lips or skin, and animal parts that make me squeamish. And collagen shots, gummies, hot chocolate, and tons of other sweet collagen drinks have totally turned me off too. But the truth is that there’s way more to collagen than injectables and collagen-fortified junk food. And more reasons to consider it than just its skin benefits. Let’s explore.
Collagen is an incredibly important and abundant protein in your body; you'll find it in your skin, muscles, tendons, bones, nails, teeth— even blood vessels. The middle layer of your skin, the one that makes up your skin’s bulk and gives strength to that gorgeous outer layer you see, is primarily made up of collagen. There’s no question, you definitely want this stuff in your body as you age! However, as with most great things, we make less of it as the years pass by.
When collagen starts to degrade (due to natural aging, a diet that's not beauty-friendly, stress, smoking, UV damage and general free radical overload), the skin loses its support and strength— and wrinkles, sagging skin, and loss of volume happens. To mask this trend, you could get a temporary injection of collagen into trouble areas (or use it to plump up lips, cheeks, etc.), but there are risks to that route. You could also opt for LED light treatments to stimulate new collagen production, though these treatments can be costly and they work best with continued use. Collagen supplementation in your diet plays the long game by slowing collagen loss and rebuilding collagen to maintain a youthful complexion, at a much more affordable cost, with benefits beyond skin appearance. I’ve been experimenting with collagen and am seeing skin that looks a bit more hydrated (and I’m actually using less facial oil and moisturizer), and I’ve heard raves from clients and friends who added collagen to their diets and saw healthier-looking skin. From what I can tell, those who see the biggest results already have dry skin, or skin that’s showing early wrinkles. Many of the studies done on collagen show a greater improvement in older women, some post-menopausal, with skin that’s on the dry side; so if you fit into any of these categories, you may stand to benefit the most from adding collagen to your body!
So, what/how/when to supplement collagen? Should we reach for that collagen candy after all? How about collagen pills? Powders?
You have a LOT of choices when it comes to adding collagen into your diet. I have no doubt that these choices will continue to expand rapidly in the years ahead. Just know that some sources of collagen are more proven to be effective than others. At the moment, there’s good evidence that collagen peptides (basically just small proteins that contain a few specific amino acids) improve skin hydration and increase the water absorption capacity of the skin (both of which can lead to a significant visible difference in skin, since better hydrated skin often means plumped, less visible wrinkles), as well as improve skin elasticity. You can readily find collagen peptides in powder form, making it easy to add to smoothies and other foods. Collagen may also improve the appearance of your skin by reducing the depth of visible wrinkles, which is quite exciting for a big range of ages.
If you’re an omnivore, you can choose from collagen peptides sourced from cow, pig, fish, eggs, or chicken. Bovine collagen seems to be the easiest to come by in products on the market today, followed by chicken and fish. Full disclosure: I personally don't eat red meat or pork, and haven’t for 25+ years, so bovine or porcine collagen is not something I desire to add into my diet. I haven’t tried these types of collagen to speak to their effects. However, studies done on several of these collagen types are compelling (usually results showing after 4 to 8 weeks of supplementation). Both Verisol, a brand of bovine and porcine collagen, and BioCell, a brand of chicken collagen, are well-studied for their positive skin effects. The brands Vital Proteins and NeoCell offer some of the highest quality collagen peptide powders on the market.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with marine collagen peptides, as much of the research I’ve found was done with marine collagen and shows that it is quite bioavailable (it appears even more so than bovine or porcine collagen), and is type I collagen, which is the type found abundantly in the skin. I’m a fish-eater, so I feel comfortable with this source. Again, it’s a personal thing. Food is a personal thing. I encourage you to always be very personal with your food choices, and to choose what nourishes and makes you feel best.
Beyond the promise of improved skin hydration and less noticeable wrinkles, one of the benefits that has led me to incorporate collagen into my diet is its ability to heal and seal the gut lining, which is a need that many of us (especially those with skin issues) have. Any food that supports digestive health is a major beauty food in my eyes! For additional gut benefits, bone broth delivers collagen and an array of health-supporting nutrients, and is worth a look if gut health and nourishment is your primary concern. Organic chicken broth is something I have chosen to put into my diet now and then postpartum, and it’s a fantastic source of collagen and beauty minerals that nourish your skin and heal your gut, if needed. Other collagen benefits that have been studied or are being researched include nail and hair strengthening, reducing cellulite, as well as reducing joint pain.
Sadly, collagen does not exist in plants, so there’s no comparable vegan or vegetarian collagen alternative to collagen peptides and bone broth, even though I’ve heard recipes like ‘vegan bone broth’ being touted. I think the idea of vegan bone broth is a great one, as broth is an incredibly nutrient-dense, healing food, but it’s not actually not ‘bone’ broth so choosing it for collagen-building will not yield the same results. For vegans who want to build and preserve collagen, I recommend eating plenty of collagen-building nutrients (see below) from whole foods, filling your plate with antioxidant-rich foods to fight free radical damage to collagen, and cutting down on inflammatory foods like sugar that break down collagen prematurely (this approach is helpful to anyone). There are also a few plant-based collagen-building supplements on the market; like this vegan and gluten-free supplement from Reservage that combines several components of collagen, including vitamin C, amino acids and silica, that may be of interest to vegans and vegetarians.
How Much Collagen do I Need?
One other thing to note about collagen supplementation is serving size. If you’re using collagen, or you intend to, check out how many grams you’re getting in each serving. 2.5 to 5 grams of collagen is a dose range that has been studied often and shown to produce results, whereas I find that brands routinely offer you scoops in the 5 to 15 gram range, and often recommend you taken them multiple times a day. Basically, you can buy a really high-quality collagen product and stretch your money by dialing down the daily serving size— and still see results. Also note that collagen is high in protein, so it may be helpful if you’re looking for beauty-friendly protein sources to add to your diet, and you may also want to cut down slightly on other protein in a smoothie, for example, if you’re going to be adding protein from collagen.
Another exciting thing to note is that some of the studies done on collagen supplementation show that some of the skin benefits like elasticity and moisture continue for weeks after stopping the collagen supplement. Basically, this could indicate that you’re making a real change to your skin because you’re providing your body with the building blocks it needs to make more, or better, collagen than you were before.
Collagen Supportive Nutrition
Regardless of your chosen diet, it helps to fill your meals with components of collagen (like high-quality protein, silicon, sulfur) and the beauty nutrients that support collagen production (like vitamin C and zinc). Here's where to find them:
- Vitamin C. (strawberries, leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, colorful raw peppers, citrus, kiwi) An essential cofactor in collagen synthesis.
- Protein. Specifically the amino acids glycine, lysine and proline (pastured eggs, bone broth, legumes). Other top beauty proteins come from plant sources like quinoa, sea vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, hemp and pea protein, lentils and tempeh, as well as animal sources like wild salmon and sardines.
- Vitamin A. Key for collagen regeneration. (Leafy greens, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, pastured eggs)
- Lycopene. Supports collagen synthesis. (Tomatoes, watermelon, red peppers, sweet potatoes)
- Sulfur. An important component of collagen. (Arugula, garlic, cabbage, pastured eggs, and radishes)
- Silicon. Collagen contains lots of silicon. (Cucumbers, celery, radishes, red cabbage)
- Zinc. Essential to the collagen formation process. (Pumpkin seeds, cashews and oysters)
- Manganese. Required for collagen production. (Hazelnuts, teff, amaranth, black and white beans)
- Copper. Helps develop collagen. (Sunflower seeds, oysters, shiitake mushrooms, almonds, lentils, asparagus)
- Anthocyanidins. Bioflavonoids that protect and strengthen collagen. (Blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, eggplant, red cabbage, red onions)
- Omega-3s. Maintain healthy cell membranes. (Flax seed, chia seed, wild salmon, walnuts)
*For collagen recipe inspiration, you can download the free NeoCell & Delicious Living Collagen Kitchen ebook (I contributed the delicious Blueberry Cashew Collagen Smoothie recipe!).
To win a 10 g tub of Vital Proteins Marine Collagen AND a 10 g box of Vital Proteins Marine Collagen individual travel-size sticks (both sourced from wild caught red snapper) [a $97 value], Leave a comment on either this post, or my Instagram post featuring these Vital Proteins products by the end of the day on May 3rd. Winner will be chosen at random.