Taking ingredients by mouth to improve skin health is becoming ever more popular. And of the most well-known oral skin-care ingredients is collagen.
When taken by mouth, it’s claimed that collagen can improve wrinkles, fine lines, skin elasticity, and general skin health.
But does it work?
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein. This means it’s made up of many amino acids: tiny molecules that form long chains to build up the collagen.
Previously, it was believed that when you take collagen by mouth the collagen does not end up in the skin.
After all, when collagen is taken by mouth, it gets digested in the stomach and gut, where acids and digestive enzymes break down the collagen into its individual components: amino acids.
Amino acids are used everywhere in the body, so they would not explicitly end up in the skin.
However, research has shown that oral collagen can indeed improve skin health and reduce skin wrinkles (R,R,R,R,R).
But how is this possible if oral collagen gets “digested”?
Oral collagen and digestion
It appears that when the collagen is taken, not all the collagen is broken down into its smallest components, the individual amino acids.
In fact, some collagen is broken down into “collagen fragments”, also called collagen peptides.
A peptide is a small fragment of a protein, often made of a chain of a few amino acids to dozens of amino acids.
These collagen peptides can pass the gut wall intact and end up in the blood. There, they can travel to the skin to help it build more collagen.
Studies in which the collagen is labeled, have shown that collagen, when taken orally, end up in the blood (R,R,R,R) and can reach the skin (R,R).
But collagen can improve skin health in another important way – and not even by ending up in the skin!
Indirect effects of oral collagen supplements
The collagen peptides that circulate in the bloodstream have an indirect effect on the skin: they signal to the skin that collagen is being broken down. Sensing these collagen fragments (peptides), the body thinks collagen is being broken down and will induce cells to produce more collagen, especially in the skin.
To enhance these effects of collagen on the skin, producers of oral collagen products have further fragmented, or “cut up” the collagen into smaller peptides. This is called “hydrolyzed collagen”. So if you buy a collagen supplement, make sure you always buy hydrolyzed collagen.
Smaller collagen parts are taken up by the gut better and can also better signal to the body to produce more collagen.
Some collagen supplements even further cut up their collagen into very small peptides, which are only two or three amino acids in length. These are called collagen dipeptides (consisting of two amino acids) or collagen tripeptides (consisting of 3 amino acids).
Some scientists speculate that the shorter the collagen peptides, the better the effect on the skin, but this is still being debated and more studies are necessary.
Fish, pig or cow-derived collagen peptides?
There are also different kinds of collagen peptides derived from bovine, porcine or fish collagen.
Some companies claim that fish collagen is better than bovine collagen.
For example, they claim that fish-derived collagen hydrolysate (peptides) is better than bovine-derived collagen, given fish collagen contains more type I collagen (the most abundant kind of collagen in the body), while bovine collagen is mainly type I and III collagen.
However, this does not really matter given all collagen is broken down into small collagen peptides.
Others claim that for example pig collagen contains more of a specific collagen amino acid, called hydroxyproline, compared to fish collagen, claiming that hydroxyproline is important for inducing collagen production.
However, this sounds all well in theory, but the proof is in the (gelatin) pudding. Currently, there is insufficient scientific evidence to prefer one type of collagen above another.
Which kind of collagen supplements are the best?
More important than whether to use fish, bovine or pig collagen hydrolysates, is making sure you get the collagen that has been scientifically studied and shown to work.
After, when it comes to brands, not all collagen is the same.
Buy collagen peptides from a brand that got its collagen peptides from a manufacturer that has done lots of scientific studies and that produces very high quality collagen peptides, free from possible contaminants.
Examples of such manufacturers are Verisol and Peptan (not sponsored – we don’t accept sponsorships so that we can provide you impartial scientific advice).
These are very esteemed companies that produce high-quality collagen hydrolysate, and have done thorough scientific research demonstrating that their specific collagen peptides work.
Why taking collagen supplements is not enough to reduce wrinkles and skin aging
However, we believe there are even better ways to improve your skin from the inside out.
This is by not using just one substance, but by combining multiple substances that have scientifically shown to improve skin health and reduce wrinkles.
Examples are hyaluronic acid (a component of the material that surrounds the skin cells), glycine (a component of collagen), calcium alpha-ketoglutarate (a substance that can improve collagen synthesis and stem cells in the skin), vitamin C (needed for proper collagen synthesis), and glucosamine (a component of the glue that sticks together our skin cells).
Aside from being able to reduce wrinkles, there’s another very important benefit: all of these substances have also shown to slow down aging and extend lifespan (learn more here).
We combined all of these elements in NOVOS Core, the first science-based supplement targeting the 12 Hallmarks of Youth.