There are a lot of collagen products appearing on the market within joint supplement formulations as well as supplements that come with the promise of younger looking skin. The latter especially appears in many perfectly-packaged forms from drinks to jellies.
I was intrigued as to whether there was any difference between the supplements on offer, in format, dosage and price. Most importantly though, I wanted to look into the evidence base to find out whether I could expect them to really work.
So, here's everything that I think you should know about collagen, plus reviews of some of your best supplement options...
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein. Like all proteins, it is formed of amino acids.
However, the amino acid profile of collagen is quite unique, consisting of predominantly glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. To put this into perspective, I’ve made comparison, below, to a protein that you will probably be familiar with already: whey protein.
|Amino Acid||Pure Marine Collagen
|Whey Protein Isolate
Collagen’s comparatively low levels of amino acids such as leucine, which triggers protein synthesis, explain why collagen isn’t a protein that you commonly see available as a post-workout shake.
However, that isn’t to say it doesn’t have some really important properties.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in humans, and it helps to maintain the integrity of many tissues (1). The majority (up to 90%) of collagen in the human body is type 1 collagen.
Type 1 collagen is gram for gram stronger than steel, which explains why it is found mostly in fibrous connective tissues such as tendons, ligaments and your skin (2). However, it’s also plentiful in your corneas, cartilage, bones, blood vessels, gut, intervertebral discs and the dentin in your teeth.
There are other kinds of collagen too. For example, Type 2 collagen makes up cartilage and type 3 collagen is found in artery walls, skin, intestines and the uterus.
To demonstrate how prevalent collagen is in the body, this table shows that the primary amino acids that make up collagen are hugely prevalent in the bones and skin of both mammals and fish.
|Average amino acid compositions per 100g|
|Amino Acid||Skin - Mammals||Skin - Fish||Bones - Mammals||Bones - Fish|
Data in table from the Journal of Archaeological Science
Collagen and your skin
Within your skin, collagen is responsible for firmness, elasticity, hydration, and the production of new skin cells.
Simply, the more collagen you have, the healthier your skin is and the more youthful it appears.
Collagen and your gut
Collagen is also said to aid gut health.
Due to it’s high glycine content, collagen stimulates stomach acid production, which promotes better digestion of food.
Plus, gelatin (the cooked form of collagen), is a hydrophilic colloid. This means that is draws digestive secretions toward the mass of food to aid digestion, while simultaneously drawing it away from the stomach walls where it can can cause irritation.
Note: Due to an existing medical condition, I suffer quite badly from heartburn, and when trialling collagen products I actually did find the frequency/severity that I suffered with it to increase. I’m not saying that you will get heartburn if you take collagen supplements! That’s just a little anecdote that demonstrates that collagen really does affect your digestive system, and in people with no stomach issues, it will likely be beneficial.
Collagen and gelatin also contain glutamine, an amino acid that can help to improve intestinal integrity by repairing damaged gut lining (3).
I personally supplement with glutamine separately and will have a guide on this for you in the near future!
Collagen and your bones, joints and connective tissues
As collagen provides strength to various structures within your body, it’s easy to understand why it plays such a large role in maintaining the integrity of your bones, joints and other connective tissues.
However, despite its huge importance, collagen depletes substantially with age (4).
There are a number of other factors that can accelerate your body's depletion of collagen too.
Factors that reduce collagen
We already know how hideously awful smoking is, so I won’t go into detail about how that damages collagen and elastin in your skin and throughout your body. Likewise, stress and pollution also put your body under damaging oxidative stress.
There are two other factors that affect us all that are definitely worthy of mention:
High sugar consumption
A diet high in sugar can cause an accelerated rate of glycation within the body to form AGEs (Advanced Glycation Endproducts).
Glycation is a process whereby sugars bind with proteins in a haphazard way, without the involvement of a controlling enzyme, impairing the functioning of biomolecules. Glycation makes cells stiffer, less flexible and more prone to damage.
Collagen typically has a low biological turnover in the body; bone collagen has a half life of around 1-2 years, while for skin collagen this is around 10 years (5).
These relatively long turnover periods explain why collagen is particularly susceptible to damage through glycation and why your skin is most likely to be the giveaway of a sugar-loaded diet.
Exposure to UV light (sunlight) also leads to degradation of collagen. The breakdown of collagen chains means that your skin loses its integrity.
While there is no way to prevent intrinsic ageing and the natural breakdown of collagen as you get older, take every opportunity now to minimise your risk of collagen breakdown by eating a healthy diet, protecting your skin against UV light, and scrapping disgusting habits such as smoking.
Increasing collagen through food
Your body synthesises collagen itself, but given the factors above, you may be interested to know how your diet can improve your body’s collagen production, or supplement it altogether.
Vitamin C for collagen synthesis
I was really interested to know that the process of collagen formation is heavily dependent on vitamin C. This makes perfect sense when you consider that scurvy (caused by a severe vitamin C deficiency) prevents the formation of connective tissue; wounds don’t heal and gums deteriorate.
So, ensure your diet is high in vitamin C from a variety of fruits and vegetables.
I also love the tasty chewable Vitamin C from Healthspan, which I take daily.
Bone broth has become super-trendy along with paleo lifestyle becoming more mainstream. It is essentially just stock, made by boiling meat bones - nothing new here!
Through the process, nutrients from the bones break down into the liquid, making them really digestible. One such nutrient, is collagen.
Traditional diets, and diets from other cultures, tend to be higher in collagen than the modern diet as they would make use of more part of the animal (from nose to tail…) including the connective tissues.
As well as being present in bone broths, gelatin can be bought in granules or as gelatin leaves, which can be used to make jelly-like foods.
I am a huge lover of jelly. While I have been known to snack on raw jelly cubes, I’m keen to start making my own jelly with a lower sugar content in order to reap the benefits.
So, while gelatin is the cooked and more easily digestible form of collagen, more intensive processing will leave you with hydrolysed collagen (also called collagen hydrolysate).
Hydrolysed collagen (you can read about hydrolysed protein in my guide to protein supplements) has been broken down more than gelatin, making it easier to digest, although the amino acid profile should be the same.
It also has a few other properties different than gelatin:
- Gelatin will only dissolve in hot water, whereas hydrolysed collagen will dissolve in cold.
- Gelatin will cause liquids to gel, whereas hydrolysed collagen will not, making hydrolysed collagen ideal for use in collagen supplements.
Despite collagen’s importance, I couldn’t find explicit dosing guidelines for collagen supplementation as there simply isn’t a lot of literature on collagen as a supplement (hence I’m putting together this guide!).
However, it seems to be generally suggested that hydrolysed collagen can be taken in dosages of up to 10g when the focus is predominantly on skin health (6).
I’ve yet to find a supplement that contains this much collagen in a single serving, but here are the ones that I have tried and reviewed:
Skinade* is an ‘anti-aging collagen drink’ aimed at improving your skin.
The liquid formula of Skinade offers an advantage in terms of absorption rates. Skinade claim that 90% to 95% of the collagen and essential ingredients in the drink are absorbed by the body.
The drink is available in 150ml bottles or in 15ml travel size sachet, which require diluting.
Ingredients + Dosage
Skinade has an impressive 7000mg of collagen per 150ml drink - the highest quantity that I have seen for a single serving. The collagen is from a marine source.
The drink also contains:
- Vitamin C (180mg), as discussed above B vitamin complex, which contributes to the maintenance of healthy skin
- Flaxseed oil for omegas 3 and 6, which we all know are great for your skin
- MSM, a form of organic sulphur found in all living organisms. It helps collagen and keratin formation, improves skin elasticity and inhibits cross-linking of collagen cells (that haphazard binding that I mentioned earlier)
- L-lysine, an amino acid that is key to rebuilding the collagen matrix
Here’s the full ingredients list:
Water, Hydrolysed Marine Collagen, Concentrated Grape Juice, Methylsulphonylmethane (MSM), Citric Acid, Natural Flavourings, Calcium Ascorbate, Vitamin B Complex (B3, B5, B6, B1, B2, B7, B9, B12), L-lysine, Preservative: Potassium Sorbate, Organic Flax Seed Oil, Sweetener: Sucralose
The flavour claims to be mangosteen and peach.
I personally just think it tastes like a cheap tropical squash that you would buy at a supermarket.
A 30-day course of Skinade is £99; that’s £3.30 per drink.
Gold Collagen review
Gold Collagen* is a brand with three collagen-based drinks within their anti-aging range, aimed at improving skin, hair and nails.
Pure Gold Collagen for early signs of aging, Active Gold Collagen for active and busy lives, and Gold Collagen Forte for advanced signs of aging. I tried Pure Gold Collagen, which I felt was the ‘staple’ product within the range.
Like other liquid formulations, Gold Collagen products are readily absorbed into the body.
Ingredients + Dosage
Pure Gold Collagen contains 5000mg of collagen per 50ml drink from marine sources.
Other key ingredients include:
- Vitamin C (80mg), as discussed above Zinc, which contributes to the maintenance of normal skin, hair and nails
- Biotin (aka Vitamin B7), which contributes to the maintenance of normal skin and hair
- Copper and Vitamin E which can help protect against aging oxidative stress
Here’s the full ingredients list:
Water, Hydrolysed Collagen (from fish), Acidity Regulator: Citric Acid; Soybean polysaccharide (soy), Flavouring, Acidity Regulator: Malic Acid; Antioxidant: Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C); Hyaluronic Acid, Borage Seed Oil (Borago Officinalis) (Solvent: Glycerol, Emulsifier: Soy Lecithin, D-α-Tocopherol (vitamin E), Sweetener: Sucralose; N-acetylglucosamine, Sweetener: Stevia; Zinc, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (vitamin B6), Piper Nigrum (Bioperine®), Copper, Biotin
Gold Collagen claim that this drink tastes like peach, and I agree - kind of like Haribo peaches.
Pure Gold Collagen becomes less expensive per bottle as you buy more, with options to buy 10, 30 or 90 at a time from their website. A 30 day supply is currently £71.98; that’s £2.39 per drink.
help: beautify skin review
Ingredients + Dosage
Each sachet is 5g, and the recommended serving is 2 sachets per day. This contains 1000mg hydrolysed marine collagen.
Other ingredients include:
- Vitamin C (60mg)
- Aloe Vera 200:1 High Extract (5mg)
- Resveratrol (2mg), a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that helps to fight free radical damage caused by the ageing process and environmental factors
- CoEnzymeQ10 (1000mg), which has energising and anti-oxidative properties
Here’s the full ingredients list:
Water, Marine Collagen, Apple Juice, Konjac Gum, Citric Acid, Natural Apple Flavour, Carob Bean Gum, Potassium Chloride, Xanthan Gum, Calcium Gluconate, Sucralose, CoEnzyme Q10, Inulin, Aloe Vera Extract, Potassium Sorbate, Resveratrol, Vitamin C
The sachets are filled with apple flavour jelly, which is honestly quite delicious.
I am a big fan of anything jelly/candy-like so these definitely get my vote for taste and texture.
A 14 sachet box is £22.94. Based on the recommended two sachets a day this is a week’s supply, costing you £3.27 a day. (I sometimes take just one a day).
Love Life Supplements Collagen
You may remember that I previously reviewed an awesome protein powder from Love Life Supplements - Primal Power. Well, I’ve heard that their brand new formulation will soon be released, including 5g of collagen per serving. I’m super-excited about this so watch this space for more info!
In the meantime, if you prefer a tablet-based option for your supplements, Love Life Supplements offer simple collagen-only capsules.
Ingredients + Dosage
The capsules contain 1800mg of collagen per 3 capsules and the ingredients list is purely bovine collagen within a gelatin (bovine) shell.
£9.95 for 60 capsules make this a really easy and affordable option.
I have taken a variety of the reviewed supplements on and off. However, I have very unpredictable skin that seems to be affected by so many variables that I can’t say with any certainty whether collagen supplements have made any improvements to it.
That said, because I understand the immense importance of proteins and the role of amino acids in our bodies, I truly believe that supplementing with collagen/gelatin will be of benefit.
More broadly, I really do believe that supplementation is a the ‘new generation skincare solution’ that brands claim. I think that vital nutrients are too often neglected as part of a skincare routine and that people are too easily fooled into thinking that various nutrients are capable of penetrating your skin in order to be of benefit, when they aren’t.
While science backs up the role of collagen as a supplement, and collagen supplements (particularly the highly-marketable drinks) have studies behind them, I am a little more dubious of time-specific claims (such as more uniform, radiant skin in 10-14 days) - but that’s just me.
Of the supplements that I’ve reviewed above, I have a favourite. In terms of formulation, I think that Skinade is has a winning blend. However, it’s not much use if you don’t actually stick to taking it, and I have to admit that I just don’t enjoy consuming this drink format and don’t particularly like the taste.
Therefore, help: beautify skin is actually my favourite product by a mile. Despite the lower dosages of the key ingredients, I actually look forward to having my daily dose. It feels like a treat to take it, so I will often grab one of these instead of reaching for candy. Importantly, enjoying it means I’m more likely to be consistent with my supplementation, which counts for A LOT.
If you have taken any collagen supplements, I’d love to know whether you found them to make a difference to your skin, or anything else!