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Are collagen supplements more effective than collagen-based skincare products? Image Credit: Unsplash.com

Collagen gummies, tablets, and supplements are inescapable and they boast to be cure to the inevitable sign of ageing and mature skin. However, instead of investing in anti-ageing creams, people are now opting to spike their smoothies, coffee and juices with collagen, hoping to reach their skin goals. After a few months of constant consumption, people have reportedly seen results including glowing and dewy skin, luscious locks, and stronger nails. Collagen seems to rewind the clock. But is this truly a miracle?

Young women are having collagen lattes to prevent ageing, and older women are consuming collagen pills to subdue the natural effects of ageing. It's not just ageing that can cause collagen to fade away. Smoking, alcohol, sun damage and an overall poor diet can precede the diminishment of collagen.

Despite being the most popular anti-ageing treatment in the beauty and wellness industry, the efficacy of collagen is still being questioned. Let's find out if collagen supplements are a hit or a miss.

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Collagen supplements are the new fad taking over the skincare world because they claim to subdue the signs of ageing. Image Credit: Pexels

What is collagen?

Collagen comprises one-third of the total protein found in humans and accounts for three quarters of the dry weight of skin. Dr Murtuza Bandukwala, a dermatologist at Cosmocare Medical Center explained: "Collagen is the most abundant hard, insoluble, fibrous protein and constitutes around 75 per cent of the protein in the human body. Collagen occurs throughout the body, especially in the skin, bones, muscle and connective tissues. Collagen forms scaffold to provide strength and structure to the tissue and anchor the cells to each other."

It's natural for our bodies to start reducing collagen production. "Aging causes collagen to decrease, and this causes dry, brittle and weak tissues. Menopause, smoking, sunlight, (exposure to UV rays causes the rapid breakdown of collagen), pollution, genetics and autoimmune are some of the reasons for collagen reduction," said Dr Amatus Sumayya, Specialist Dermatologist at Prime Medical Center Zero 6 Mall, Sharjah.

Collagen is the most abundant hard, insoluble, fibrous protein and constitutes around 75 per cent of the protein in the human body.

- Dr Murtuza Bandukwala, a dermatologist at Cosmocare Medical Center

This is where collagen supplements come into the picture to prevent the acceleration of collagen breakdown and escape the natural order of ageing skin. Ageing is a natural and complex biological process and is influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. But since we live in a society where beauty and youth are held as a flag bearer of overall health and wellbeing, we, therefore, find ourselves investing in anti-ageing strategies.

Collagen is one of the most sought after topical and oral preventive measures. But according to Dr Bandukwala, hydrolysed collagen (also known as collagen peptides) is key because they are made up of the same amino acids but is easily absorbed by our bodies. Collagen itself is hard for the body to break down. He said: "Hydrolysed collagen has been pre-broken down making it easier for the body to break down and use the amino acids. This process reduces the amino acids into collagen peptides without damaging them or affecting their benefits. It makes them able to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream for your body to use. When choosing collagen supplements, always look for hydrolyzed collagen in the ingredients."

The three amino acids that make up collagen are: glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. Dr Bandukwala further added: "The collagen molecule shaped like a triple helix that combines with other collagen molecules in the skin to form a mesh-like network in the dermis, which is the middle layer of skin between the epidermis and subcutaneous fat. You can think of it as the ‘glue’ that holds all these things together."

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If you are on the hunt for the perfect collagen based cream or skincare, look for hydrolyzed collagen in the ingredients list. Image Credit: Pexels

Different types of collagen supplements:

Before clicking 'add to cart' a golden latte collagen powder and blueberry flavoured collagen gummies, Dr Bandukwala says that the benefits of collagen depend on the type and quality.

Type I: This type accounts for 90 per cent of your body's collagen, and is made of densely packed fibres. It provides structure to skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage and connective tissues. Gelatin coated capsules and collagen protein powders are made from cow (bovine) collagen which is the source of type I collagen. 

Type II: While all three collagen types are commonly used as supplements, type II collagen is most popularly used in medicine and around the world for several ailments from immune and digestive health to better athletic performance and arthritis and joint pain relief.

Chicken collagen is made mostly of type II collagen. This is the type most commonly used in medicine. This contains chondroitin and glucosamine, natural compounds used for supporting joint mobility and flexibility, along with rare and essential amino acids.

Type III: This type of collagen is often combined with the other two types of collagens in supplement form.

Traditionally collagen is sourced from animals’ bones and skin but recent developments in the wellness and health industry have created a collagen supplement that is made from modified yeast and bacteria.

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According to Bandukwala, the benefits of collagen depend on the type and quality. Image Credit: Pexels.

Bottom line: does collagen live up to the hype?

A clinical study done in 2016, demonstrated that the use of two major collagen peptides, prolyl-hydroxyproline (Pro-Hyp) and hydroxypropyl-glycine (Hyp-Gly) led to improvement in facial skin moisture, elasticity, wrinkles and roughness. Oral collagen peptides have a beneficial impact on skin hydration and boost collagen production.

But it's important to be cognizant of clinical studies on collagen because many of these are funded by interested parties (skincare companies), which therefore there might be bias in results.

Despite the abundance of collagen creams and serums dominating the shelves of every cosmetic and beauty store, it's not a miracle elixir. Dr Bandukwala says that topical collagen fails to penetrate the deeper layers of the skin. "Topically applied collagen skincare products such as creams, lotions, and serum often fail to reach the deeper layers of the skin to causally and lastingly influence the skin’s ageing processes.

"Cosmetic lotions and creams that claim to increase collagen level are unlikely to do so as collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin,' said Dr Sumayya.

Results from clinical studies have shown that oral collagen supplements aid in wound healing, increase skin hydration, elasticity and dermal collagen density.

Collagen supplements do take months or a year to see the results. If you're looking for instant gratification and immediately look a few years younger, fillers are the answer, but they might cost a pretty penny.

Cosmetic lotions and creams that claim to increase collagen level are unlikely to do so as collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed through the skin

- Dr Amatus Sumayya, Specialist Dermatologist at Prime Medical Center Zero 6 Mall, Sharjah
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If you are saving money to buy a luxurious collagen-based cream, buying a collagen-based supplement or tablet is a more practical option. Image Credit: Pexels

Dr Bandukwala says that the claims made by collagen supplements are ambiguous and unsubstantiated because it does not come under FDA preview (the US-based Food and Drug Administration)."Most of these are considered as a food supplement so doesn't come under FDA preview. To address this knowledge gap, clinical studies regarding the potential effects of collagen-based dietary supplements on the skin are being done," he said.

Dr Bandukwala referenced two studies demonstrating the efficacy of oral collagen supplements.

"Eleven studies with a total of 805 patients were included for review. Most studies used collagen hydrolysate (collagen peptides), 2.5g to 10g, for 8 to 24 weeks, for the treatment of pressure ulcers, xerosis, skin ageing, and cellulite. Few studies used collagen tripeptide (similar to Type I collagen), 3g for 4 to 12 weeks, with notable improvement in skin elasticity and hydration.”

Does collagen have any potential side effects?

Collagen is generally safe to consume and does not have any notable side effects. "In general, the sides effects of collagen supplements are mild. In rare cases, it can cause diarrhoea, a general feeling of heaviness in the stomach, rashes. It is not advised for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers because there are no studies done for their safety profile," said Dr Sumayya.

Dr Bandukwala said: "Collagen supplements may lead to side effects, such as a bad taste in the mouth, heartburn and fullness. If you have allergies, make sure to purchase supplements that aren't made from collagen sources you're allergic to."

Main takeaway

One of the fundamental rules of skincare is to wear sunscreen and avoid sun exposure, and sun damage causes the rapid degradation of collagen. But topical and oral supplements won't have any impact if there are no changes in your diet and lifestyle. If you want to delay the signs of ageing, Dr Sumayya suggests incorporating foods that support collagen formation:

Eat these foods to prevent aging
Proline: Egg whites, meat, cheese, soy and cabbage
Anthocyanidins: Berries and cherries
Vitamin C: Oranges, strawberries, broccoli
Copper: Shellfish, nuts, red meat
Vitamin A: Carrots, sweet potatoes, dried apricots, spinach, red peppers.
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If you want to delay the signs of ageing, digesting collagen-based supplements won't do the trick. You also have to incorporate healthy foods rich in vitamins and minerals. Image Credit: Pexels.

Most collagen capsules and powders contain boosters or added vitamins minerals and plant extracts, vitamin c, zinc and hyaluronic acid that help to stimulate collagen production. However, there is a lot of conflicting evidence of oral collagen supplants. But, collagen is mostly harmless and doesn't have any adverse side effects.