Collagen is one of the biggest buzz words in the beauty industry today - and with good reason! We've all heard of it and we all talk about it, but how much do you really know about collagen? Do our bodies create it? Can we eat it? Which supplements give the best results and should you go for a vegan or animal based option?
As with any supplement, it pays to do your homework so you can discern between marketing hype and genuine science backed by real ingredients. To save you spending hours of quality time with Google, we have done the legwork to reveal why you want to take a collagen supplement, why we'd always choose a Vegan option over a Marine or Bovine Collagen supplement, and what sort of results you can expect from a collagen supplement.
Should I be Taking a Collagen Supplement?
If you want dewy, plump, virtually wrinkle free skin, you NEED to be taking a collagen supplement. Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It’s present in everything from your skin, hair and nails to your joints, organs and even your brain! 70% of your skin is made up of collagen fibres. It’s the whole reason your skin looks plump, youthful and wrinkle-free when you are young - it’s the scaffolding that keeps your skin looking firm and taut. The bad news is that with each passing year our collagen production decreases (aren’t the joys of growing old just great!), leading to fine lines, sagging skin and a dull complexion.
You’ll typically lose around 1% of collagen from your body each year from around the age of 25 - although the definitive age differs slightly from person to person. While 25 might sound relatively early to start your anti-aging efforts, it generally works the best. Your mid twenties is where your skin has the highest amount of collagen and to keep those levels high, you’d ideally want to start supplementing before your collagen levels start falling to ensure your collagen levels don’t begin to decline and prevent the onset of fine lines and wrinkles.
If you’re in your 50s or 60s, don’t worry! You can still achieve visible results from a collagen supplement and boost your collagen levels - but keep in mind that it might take a little longer to see results.
Now that we’ve established the importance of collagen, it begs the question: which type of collagen supplement is the right one for me?
Choosing Between Marine, Bovine or Vegan Collagen
Collagen is an animal thing – fish, cows and humans are filled with the stuff. So naturally, you’d think animals are the right source to help top up our own collagen reserves right? Wrong! A huge misconception is the common belief that directly taking collagen from an animal will boost our own collagen for flawless youthful skin!
When you ingest animal collagen, it is not destined to become collagen in your body. The broken down amino acids may become an entirely different protein in your body based on your protein needs. Additionally, the hydrolysed collagen peptides can’t come together themselves to produce the collagen molecule. You’d need specific enzymes such as lysyl oxidase, prolyl hydroxylase and lysyl hydroxylase as well as other proteins to be activated to enable the production and crosslinking of the final stable collagen molecule. The activation of these molecules requires specific nutrients such as copper and zinc and vitamin C to enable collagen synthesis to occur and to keep it stable in your skin. These vitamins and trace minerals can be found in wholefoods and obtaining them from minimally processed, natural sources can significantly improve their bioavailability, absorption and effectiveness.
Additionally, bovine and marine collagen have not been conclusively proven to work (mind blowing seeing that 95% of the collagen supplements out there are based primarily on these ingredients). We use the EU’s Health and Nutritional Claims Register as our gold standard. It’s essentially a list of all the conclusively proven benefits derived from eating certain foods or supplements. And guess what? Animal based collagen is completely absent from this list.
Think about it. Why would you eat animal hooves or fish skin for their collagen when you could simply boost your own collagen through your own body, exactly where you need it, eating foods you actually enjoy? The biological make-up of animals is completely different to humans – just like how replacing our eyes with those of a fish wouldn’t work – eating marine or bovine derived collagen won’t really work as well either! Not to mention, it’s a bit gross.
While some studies do show that animal products could be beneficial in building collagen, the studies don’t indicate that animal products could help protect collagen from environmental pollutants, UV radiation or free radical damage - all of which have been proven to cause collagen degradation and lead to premature aging. On the other hand, plant based superfoods rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, trace minerals and free radical fighting phytonutrients have had over 50 years of research proving that these ingredients not only help build collagen naturally in your skin more effectively (as superfoods have trace elements are minerals that are natural and therefore more bioavailable and more effective in the body), they also help to protect the collagen you have built up from degradation from environmental stressors such as UV radiation, pollution and pesticides.
Additionally, there are 4 more problems with animal collagen when it comes to building collagen that (surprise, surprise) aren’t an issue with vegan or plant-based collagen supplements:
1. Presence of Contaminants
Most animal collagen is made from the ground up hooves, hides, bones, and joints of animals (gross, I know!). And to make it all the more unappetising, modern day farming exposes animals to many pesticides and herbicides such as glyphosate which build up in animal bones and then may end up in bovine collagen supplements.
A study conducted by the Consumer Wellness Center, tested eight popular bone broths and bone broth products such as collagen supplements to determine the level of contaminants and overall human safety. The test revealed the presence of antibiotics, drugs, and chemicals in many of the animal-based collagen supplements.
2. Presence of Sugars, Sweeteners and Synthetic Nasties
We established in our first point that the stuff inside dandy animal collagen supplements isn’t all that appetising. So naturally, to make ground up hooves and fish bones a little more palatable, animal collagen providers often have to add sugars, sweeteners and ‘natural’ flavourings to get the supplements down your throat.
However, sugar will result in the glycation of collagen fibres - meaning a sugar molecule will be attached to the end of collagen to produce Advanced Gycation Ends (AGEs). This will disrupt the collagen structure and essentially sentence collagen to be destroyed by enzymes.
Other preservatives as well as flavourings and processed ingredients, also known as ‘fake foods’, have been commonly found to cause inflammation and increase the presence of free radicals in the skin – all of which led to collagen degradation. Additionally, the Cleveland clinic found that beef contains high levels of carnitine that can harden the walls of your capillaries which would reduce nutrient and oxygen supply through the blood to your skin, limiting any collagen building nutrients reaching your skin.
3. Poor Absorption
There is a common myth that consuming animal collagen will allow it to somehow reappear in your skin to make it plumper, firmer and more youthful.
Unfortunately, you usually have very little control over where your body puts things (if only fat relocation was a thing *sigh*). When you eat or drink animal-based collagen, your stomach and small intestine will break down the collagen using enzymes just like any other protein in your diet. These small fragments are generally only up to three amino acids long before your body can absorb them. And most of the time even when you can absorb them your body can’t tell these particular fragments come from collagen — they could be used to make any number of other proteins.
4. Collagen Or Collagen Peptides Aren’t Involved In Your Body’s Collagen Production Process
The collagen industry, unfortunately, has been subject to pseudoscience and a number of hocus pocus claims. We believe in evidence-based research and encourage you to do your homework and check out the actual science before choosing a supplement.
When you ingest animal-based collagen or a collagen peptide supplement, it actually does little to support the way collagen is made naturally by your body. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you want the bouncy, plump and elastic skin of your 20s, you want more of the collagen your body is already great at producing, instead of something found in the insides of an animal.
So, to summarise, animal-based collagen supplements have the following problems
- Potential health issues with evidence of contaminants in some bovine-based supplements
-sweeteners, sugar and flavours used to mask the taste could actually harm your own collagen
- A lack of evidence in either independent scientific studies and no validated results in the EU’s Health and Nutritional Claims Register
- They do very little to support your body’s natural ability to produce collagen.
So How Do Vegan Collagen Alternatives Stack Up?
It’s a big tick of approval from the EU’s Health and Nutritional Claims Register and a huge win for plants. The register conclusively agrees that plant-based nutrients help your skin to produce its own collagen effectively. And it’s not just the EU’s register that confirms the power of plants - a whole host of other scientific studies agree that plant-based nutrients can have a tremendous impact not just to produce collagen but also to protect collagen from environmental stressors.
How Vegan Collagen Supplements Build Collagen?
Plants contain some of the most powerful anti-ageing compounds and are incredibly effective at helping to prevent and reverse the signs of aging. Our Vegan Collagen contains wholefood sourced vitamins, minerals and beauty phytonutrients to help your body build more of its own collagen as well as the trace minerals that help to activate relevant enzymes and metabolic pathways to enable the production and stabilization of collagen in the skin to keep it firm and taut.
The phytonutrients also prevent your own collagen from being degraded by environmental stressors and free radicals activity as well so not only will collagen production increase, but the loss of collagen will also slow down increasing the overall collagen present in your skin.
The Cleveland Clinic has identified that to boost your collagen and support your body’s natural collagen production processes you need three nutrients: Vitamin C, Zinc and Copper – and if you’ve noticed, they can all be found in plants!
Your body is unable to produce vitamin C, making dietary sources of vitamin C critical for supporting skin health and vitality. Vitamin C has been proven to be the most important compound in supporting your body’s natural production of collagen, as it is the precursor molecule that is used to produce collagen.
It's also been found to help prevent and treat ultraviolet (UV)-induced photodamage, the leading cause of premature ageing. Our plant-based Vegan Collagen supplement contains over 75% of your daily vitamin C requirement sourced entirely from plants - unlike other supplements which contain synthetically manufactured vitamin C.
When you consume vitamins from whole foods, they are much better absorbed by the body because they are consumed in tandem with other vitamins and minerals also present in the wholefood. For example, broccoli is high in vitamin c as well as iron and zinc which help to improve it’s absorption as well as help each other function in the production of collagen and to maintain the general health of the body.
This mineral supports healthy collagen production by activating proteins essential for collagen synthesis. It activates a protein called collagenase that allows your cells to remodel collagen. Zinc also helps maintain the integrity of cell membranes to retain water in your skin required for collagen synthesis and prevents collagen degradation. Chickpeas and sunflower seeds are our favourite sources of plant-based zinc (and are also found in our Vegan Collagen supplement).
Other than giving your jewellery that beautiful rose gold finish, copper is essential for collagen production. It activates an enzyme called lysyl oxidase that is responsible for cross-linking collagen fibres with other supportive fibres to support your tissues and essentially hold your skin up. Copper also increases proliferation of fibroblasts, a type of skin cell that produces collagen and activates the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase which helps protect collagen from free radical damage. Sunflower seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of copper (and are also found in our Vegan Collagen supplement).
How Plants Give You More Anti-ageing Power Than Just Collagen
You know the whole ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’? Although not strictly true, apples, among strawberries and raspberries, are a great source of quercetin that has been proven to slow-down the ageing process by fighting free radicals, reducing inflammation and potentially reducing a natural cellular ageing process known as senescence. So, an apple a day may actually help keep the wrinkles away!
Another powerful antioxidant, this particular flavonoid is packed within the juicy insides of citrus fruits as well as the aforementioned apple, figs and green tea. Studies have shown that Rutin significantly increased skin elasticity, reduced the depth and number of wrinkles, reduced skin sagging and even reduced the markers of ageing related to collagen destruction. Additionally, in those suffering from arthritis, daily rutin administration significantly helped reduce inflammation and consequent pain from arthritis!
3. Ellagic Acid
A fan favourite at Raw beauty Lab HQ, ellagic acid is revered for its impact on treating wrinkles and inflammation. A 2010 study examined the protective effects of ellagic acid on collagen and inflammatory responses. Results showed ellagic acid prevented inflammation in the skin and the consequent collagen breakdown that results in wrinkles. Swap out your sugary desserts for a bowl full of raspberries and strawberries to get in your daily dose of ellagic acid. Or get an even stronger helping of ellagic acid with a single scoop of the Raw Beauty Lab vegan collagen, packed with raspberries strawberries, baobab, camu camu and and pink dragonfruit, all incredible sources of ellagic acid!
Otherwise known as edible retinol – yup, the same thing you see scribbled on the front of your favourite anti-aging serum. Skincare with retinol can only work on the uppermost layers of your skin. Carotenoids however, are converted into anti-ageing retinol (vitamin A) by your body and helps to stimulate the production of new collagen producing skin cells in your dermis (where most of your collagen lives). Without it, skin can become overly dry. Carotenoids have also been shown to help prevent cell damage as well as premature skin aging.
Lycopene has been praised for its ability to strengthen and smooth skin by inhibiting the activity of enzymes involved in the breakdown of collagen in the skin. Protecting collagen fibres helps ensure the firmness and elasticity of your skin and prevent wrinkling. Lycopene has also been celebrated more recently for its ability to help protect your skin from harmful UVA/UVB radiation from the sun. Ensure your diet is full of tomatoes, carrots and watermelon during the summer months to protect your skin from the sun!
Another factor to consider when choosing a collagen supplement is establishing how you want to support your body with it. As I mentioned earlier, collagen is present all over the body, but each region (i.e. the skin, the gut, the joints etc) have a slightly different version of collagen specialised for its specific function. Understanding your primary reason for taking collagen will help you determine the source of collagen you choose, to ensure that you reap the benefits best suited for your body!
What Type of Collagen Do You Really need?
Although it’s referred to as a single protein, there are actually 16 types of collagen present in the human body - but thankfully, 85% of the collagen is made up of type I, II and III. Each type of collagen has a different function in the body - understanding their functions will help you understand what type of collagen you need and the best source you can find them from.
Type I is largely present in your skin, hair, nails, tendons, bones, ligaments, and in the lining of your gut and in your teeth. This form of collagen contributes to maintaining healthy plump skin and keeping wrinkles at bay. It’s also great for maintaining thick, shiny, shampoo commercial worthy hair (a mandatory flick of your hair is completely justified here). Type I collagen is best sourced from vegan, marine or bovine collagen sources.
Found mostly in the cartilage around your body and in the back of your eyeball, type II collagen helps your joints and tissues bear mechanical stress and absorb shock. It also helps to prevent abrasion between bones at joints such as your knees, elbows and wrists, enabling the bones to move smoothly and stopping you from sounding like a clacketing keyboard every time you move (believe me I’m grateful for it too). You’ll enjoy joint benefits from both vegan or marine collagen sources.
Type III collagen can also be found in your skin. It also makes up a large part of your gut and blood vessels and is the protein used to build your muscles. The functions of type I and type III collagen are relatively similar in the body, although the prevalence of type III collagen in the hair and skin ranks second to type I collagen. Type III collagen is best sourced from vegan or bovine collagen sources.
So you now know the type of collagen you need, as well as where you can find it (you’re welcome!); if you’re using collagen to keep wrinkles at bay, you’re probably thinking why take a supplement at all when I can apply my collagen boosting serum directly onto my skin where I need it? While you’d think (or have been made to believe by marketing and pseudoscience) that this would be the best way to prevent wrinkles, collagen creams are more so a band-aid to the issue instead of providing a long term anti-aging solution.
Collagen Creams or Collagen supplements?
Skincare may seem like the convenient and more obvious way to build collagen (because the cream is going directly onto your skin). However, the effects of topical creams on collagen production is relatively limited because the collagen molecule is too big to be able to get through your skin cells and into the dermis where it helps to hold your skin up. Ingesting the building blocks for collagen production is much more effective to reach the deeper dermal layers of the skin where they'd work to build collagen that would hold your skin cells up.
Topical treatments only work on the uppermost layers of your skin. They can’t penetrate deep enough into your skin where collagen is produced, so they won’t be able to actually increase your collagen production. A lot of these serums are actually glorified moisturisers and just help to deeply hydrate the surface of your skin so your skin cells sit flatter making your skin appear less textured and plumper.
In any case, what you put IN to your skin (i.e. what you eat), has a much bigger impact on how youthful your skin remains than what you put ON your skin, and this has been conclusively proven with scientific research over the past 2 decades - but of course, the skincare industry would be reluctant to share this information.
Natural ingredients in skincare are currently in the limelight, but there is almost no mention of the transformative effect dietary nutrients can have on keeping your skin looking youthful. Having a consistent skin care routine is important to maintaining the health of your protective skin barrier. But to see really transformative results, you need to take the inside route to build up your collagen.
While building new collagen molecules through dietary supplementation should be the primary focus in our anti-aging efforts, it’s equally important to protect your collagen from degradation. Even if your body is producing large volumes of collagen, if you are losing collagen just as quickly, your results may not be as effective. So how do you protect collagen from breaking down?
Protect Existing Collagen and Ward off Premature Ageing With These Lifestyle Hacks
Protecting collagen is just as important as promoting collagen production. It’s really important to make small changes in your daily habits and lifestyle to help you preserve and protect your existing collagen that you already have and give you better longer lasting results.
What Results Will I See from Taking a Collagen Supplement?
1. Tighter Plumper Skin and Stronger, Thicker Hair and Nail Growth
70-80% of your skin is made of collagen and works as the scaffolding holding your skin together. Building up your collagen can help make your skin plumper and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Additionally, dry skin can cause creases and wrinkles to look much more apparent in the skin. As collagen is largely made up of water, it can help to build up your skin’s moisture barrier, keeping your skin hydrated and full of glow! Collagen also helps provide some the amino acids required to produce keratin, the protein that makes up 90% of your hair and nails and functions as an antioxidant to protect hair follicles from damage, reducing hair fall.
2. Greater Protection From Environmental Stressors
While building collagen is great, protecting your existing collagen is also incredibly important and preservation is the key when it comes to increasing your overall collagen levels. The vitamins and minerals required for collagen production also protect collagen all over your body. Vitamin C, the precursor for collagen, is a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals and help reduce inflammation in the skin, gut and joints - one of the major causes of collagen degradation. Other minerals such as zinc, required to activate enzymes for collagen production also help to protect your skin from UV radiation - the leading cause of premature aging as it causes collagen degradation.
3. Healthier Joints
Collagen in the main component of cartilage, the gelatinous cushioning that stops your bones rubbing against each other. Your joints have the ability to produce their own collagen, but just like the collagen in your skin, with age, your ability to produce collagen declines due to a lack of nutrients and moisture. The lack of collagen increases inflammation around the joints, potentially increasing pain and swelling. Supplementing with a collagen builder can help give your joints the ingredients they need to produce collagen. Additionally, collagen supports the health of your bones by increasing bone and mineral density and reducing the incidence of brittle bones.
4. Stronger Immune System
In the age of covid-19, this point stands for itself. Vitamin C, the precursor for collagen can help improve the efficiency of your body’s immune response. Vitamin C encourages the production of white blood cells and enables them to work more effectively to carry out a faster and more controlled reaction to a pathogen. Vitamin C also increased blood antioxidant levels by up to 30%, improving the first line of defense against infection and reducing unnecessary inflammatory responses that could harm and weaken your body.
5. Smoother Digestion
Collagen makes up a large part of your digestive tract - so a lack of collagen can result in inefficient digestion causing lethargy, bloating, and generally making you feel sluggish. Helping your body produce collagen can help build up a more robust gut lining to ensure better digestion and absorption of nutrients from your food as well as reducing any potential inflammation and pain caused by abrasion of food against a weak gut wall.
6. Better Sleep for Better skin
Getting your 7 hrs of quality shut eye every night can work wonders not just for your skin but for your general health. The glycine required for collagen production is an amino acid with many talents - several studies have shown that taking glycine about 2-4 hrs before bed can reduce insomnia and increase the quality and depth of sleep.
Your night time slumber is when your skin repairs itself and is when it builds collagen up the most so having a deep restful sleep can help your body build collagen faster. Sunflower seeds (found in our vegan collagen) is one of the best sources of plant based glycine. This ensures that your body not only gets the building blocks to produce collagen, but you also get a generous dose of raw glycine from superfoods to help you sleep better, which will enable your skin to produce more collagen and repair any fine lines.
How Long Until I See Results?
The fruits (no pun intended) of your labour as you strive for firm, plump and glowing skin will take time to show results. New, healthy, collagen filled skin is produced in your dermis (the lower layer of your skin), so it will take time for you to witness a noticeable difference on the skin's surface. The normal skin cycle (how long it takes for new skin cells to travel up to the uppermost layer of your skin) increases with age *sigh*.
Individuals in the 25-30 age group have a skin cycle of about 28 days, increasing to anywhere between 45 and 60 days in your 40s’ and 50’s and can further increase to between 60 - 90 days after the age of 60.
So although those plant based antioxidants may be working their magic from the day you start supplementing, it may be difficult to notice an immediate difference in your skin, hair and nails (also stemming from our dermis and therefore following the same skin cycle). However, the best results are seen when you are consistent, so ensuring you are religiously taking your collagen supplement and including a range of plant based phytonutrients into your daily diet will help you achieve incredible, long lasting results.
The good news is that you may notice an improvement in the health of your gut much sooner. The fibre content in a plant based collagen supplement will help get things chugging in your gut, ensuring your body’s toxins and waste products are being removed faster, keeping your insides squeaky clean (not literally, but you know what I mean!).
Additionally, the plethora of trace minerals, wholefood sourced vitamins and protein in plants will help to improve your energy levels sooner as well. Plant based foods such as inulin, baobab and sunflower seeds (all found in Raw Beauty Lab's vegan collagen) are loaded with omega-3, healthy fats and proteins as well as high fibre carbohydrates that will help to increase your energy levels without the steep crash that follows a portion of fries or glazed doughnuts.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that our bodies are all beautifully unique and so there is no set standard as to when your skin and body will respond to collagen. However, based on previous research and from reviews sent in from our lovely Raw Beauty Community, I’ve put together a loose results timeline above for when you can see results.
What Impact Does Marine, Bovine and Vegan Collagen Have on the Environment?
With climate change curbing the future of our planet, it’s important to give some thought to how our purchases are affecting the environment. The production of all collagen supplements does require some processing, but their impact on the environment varies depending on how each product is processed.
Bovine collagen requires, as you can imagine, a greater deal of industrial processing from the rearing and production of beef right up through to the extraction and processing of collagen from their bones and cartilage to produce dandy peptides and powders you can include in your morning coffee. Livestock production accounts for 14.5% of all human-induced green-house gas emissions, with beef contributing to 41% of those emissions.
Additionally, over 25% of the world’s entire land is used to graze or grow food for industrially farmed animals - land that is usually obtained by deliberately clearing forests. Not to mention the demineralisation and hydrolysis processes of extracting gelatin and breaking it down into collagen peptides requires high heat and temperatures, all which require energy produced by burning fuels, leading to global warming. It is estimated that the carbon emissions of bovine collagen production is 28.73 CO2 eg/Kg.
Marine collagen, although better than bovine collagen in terms of their production process, still has its limitations in terms of sustainability. While marine collagen utilises the ‘waste’ products of the fishing industry by extracting collagen from the skin and bones of discarded fish bits, the extraction and hydrolysis of the collagen still requires energy produced by burning fuels. It is estimated that the carbon emissions of marine collagen production is 4.41 CO2 eg/Kg. This number may be significantly smaller in comparison to bovine collagen, but the impact of fishing on sea life,and consequently on the planet, is far more debilitating.
A large number of fisheries, despite being accredited by the Marine Stewardship council (MSC), still practice unethical fishing methods, causing over 300,000 dolphins, whales, sharks and other marine wildlife to be caught and killed by bycatch every year. Not only does this endanger marine wildlife, but these animals are essential for fertilising sea plankton which are important for absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing the effects of climate change.
Vegan collagen is the most environmentally friendly form of collagen as it is sourced entirely from wholefood plant based sources and therefore requires minimal processing. The estimated carbon emissions from vegan collagen production is 0.5 CO2 eg/Kg.
While the sourcing and shipping of ingredients used to make vegan collagen are the main driver of carbon emissions from vegan collagen, if companies ensure that they source their products as locally as possible and keep their production factories in the countries they sell to, the carbon emissions can be significantly reduced. That is why we try to source most of our ingredients within the EU and have our factories based in the UK to reduce carbon emissions released through air travel.
Now that you’ve understood a little more about the sourcing and production of different types of collagen, you can align your choice of product to your ethical and environmental principles.
And that’s all from me! I hope you have found this article useful and you’ve learnt something you can whip out at your next anti-aging conversation. Plants are ridiculously powerful in their ability to heal your body and reverse the clock on your skin, but getting in your daily helping of beauty foods can be difficult.
Lucky for you, we have packed all this goodness into half a tablespoon that you can enjoy effortlessly every day! Anti-aging has never felt or tasted so good! Don’t believe me? See for yourself with all the wonderful women that swear by their vegan collagen!
Understanding the similarities and differences and the specific mechanisms of how animal and plant-based collagen builders work can be a bit daunting. But don’t worry, we’ve directly compared how each of these supplements work and indicated how they can benefit you so that you can choose the right type of collagen builder to get the results you want. Find out more about how to choose a collagen supplement here.
If I have convinced you on the importance of educating yourself of the perks and pitfalls of the collagen industry and the power of nutricosmetics, then what are you waiting for? Check out the UK’s #1st vegan collagen supplement above and enjoy cruelty free collagen to reveal your best looking and feeling self! Good for you, good for the planet! I can’t wait to see your results!
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