Does vegan collagen actually work?

Plant-based lifestyles are becoming increasingly popular, and many health-conscious consumers are looking for vegan and cruelty-free products. A recent trend in the beauty industry is dietary supplements and skin care products containing “vegan collagen”.

There are many grandiose claims for vegan collagen products, including a more youthful appearance, reduced wrinkles, stronger hair, and healthier joints. But does “vegan collagen” deliver what it promises? And can collagen really be plant-based?

collagen is a structural protein found in the skin, bones, joints and muscles of animals. It gives strength and elasticity to our tissues, protects our internal organs and helps us move without pain. Studies (opens in a new tab) have shown that consuming hydrolyzed collagen can be effective in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and improving skin hydration. But since collagen doesn’t exist in the plant world, you might be wondering what “vegan collagen” actually means and whether it can provide similar benefits. We asked the experts.

Can collagen be vegan?

All the experts consulted by Live Science agree: collagen can’t be vegan. “There is no natural source of collagen, it can only be found in animals or artificially synthesized in bacteria,” says Kevin Herbert, medical physicist for 28 days of skin (opens in a new tab). “Vegan collagen is normally a marketing term for plant-based ingredients that help your own collagen production, also known as ‘collagen promoters’.”

These ingredients, he says, include amino acids, ceramides, minerals (like copper), and antioxidants like vitamin C that help fuel collagen production.

“Copper and vitamin C are essential components for collagen production,” he adds. “Other ingredients like silica also help catalyze collagen production.”

Pupinder Ghatora, pharmacist and CEO of Ingenious (opens in a new tab), agrees, noting that some brands selling vegan collagen products can mislead their customers. “Vegan collagen doesn’t exist, that structure doesn’t exist in the plant genome,” he says. “These products simply contain the amino acids that make up the structure of collagen, you can compare this to being given building blocks and producing a structure – each individual will produce a different structure. There is very little chance that the ” blocks” of amino acids given in these brands become a molecule of collagen.

picture shows vegan collagen powder

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Yet collagen made from genetically modified yeast and bacteria could be considered vegan because it does not involve animal cruelty. This technique is relatively new, but thanks to recent advances, using microbes to produce vegan collagen may soon become more common.

Scientists are particularly interested in using Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. Studies (opens in a new tab) showed that this particular strain of bacteria can produce enough collagen to be commercially viable.

“Even though it is made entirely from non-animal sources, its structure matches human collagen and may well turn out to be a more sustainable way to produce collagen supplements,” says Sarah Carolides, nutritionist at Zooki (opens in a new tab).

But experts urge patience. “This science is still in its infancy and not yet widely available outside of the lab – so collagen produced this way is not yet something you’ll find on your local supermarket shelf,” says Kevin Herbert. It also points out potential issues with the language used to describe these products. “The question is whether using microbes to produce collagen is ‘vegan’,” he says.

Does vegan collagen actually work?

To date, there are no peer-reviewed studies on the effects of microbial collagen on skin health and appearance. Moreover, the opinions of experts are divided.

“It’s not entirely clear that animal collagen supplements really work – although there is preliminary data that suggests improved skin elasticity and hydration – so I’m not sure. vegan collagen supplements,” says Dr. Julia Tzu, dermatologist, founder and medical director. of Wall Street Dermatology (opens in a new tab). “At this point, true vegan collagen supplements are not widely available and are primarily vegan collagen promoters, the efficacy of which also lacks solid data.”

On the other hand, dietary experts point out that vegan collagen boosters may still provide some benefits. “Our body makes its own collagen, but production can decline from around age 25,” says nutritionist Shona Wilkinson at NutriGums (opens in a new tab). “Anything we can do to help this collagen production will be beneficial. This includes getting enough protein and nutrients into our body to help in the manufacture of collagen.

Two oranges in half casting a shadow on a white surface.

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There are studies (opens in a new tab) showing that vitamin C, the main ingredient in many vegan collagen boosters, can increase collagen production, speed bone healing, and reduce free radical levels in the body. Free radicals have the ability to damage skin tissue and accelerate the aging process, so taking antioxidants can protect your skin from the negative effects of oxidative stress. Another common ingredient in these products, collagen peptides, also aid in collagen synthesis. Additionally, other common compounds like copper and silica may contribute to better skin health and a more youthful appearance.

So do vegan collagen promoters actually work? “What you define as ‘working’ is quite subjective,” says Kevin Herbert. “If you mean ‘does vegan collagen help increase collagen levels in your body?’ then the answer is yes, but no more than other supplements would.So if you assume that each ingredient in a “vegan collagen” supplement has the power to help support our natural collagen production , then it stands to reason that combining them into one capsule will produce a similar result.

Vegan collagen: topical vs ingested

Considering that collagen products can benefit our skin, is it better to ingest them with food sources or apply them topically?

Herbert doubts that skin care products containing collagen particles help stimulate collagen production. “Collagen is a long and very large molecule like Linguine pasta,” he says. “Our skin is designed to keep pollutants and bacteria out of our bodies and to keep water from evaporating from our bodies. This means it is a very effective barrier to keep out large molecules like collagen from penetrating through our skin layers and into the bloodstream, where the blocks that make up collagen must eventually reach to help the body fuel collagen production.

Wilkinson agrees. “There are doubts about whether collagen can be absorbed through the skin,” she says. “Topical collagen has been shown to hydrate the skin, but not to stimulate collagen production or provide a source of collagen for the body,” she says.

Young woman in bathroom applying face cream

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At the same time, collagen ingestion can also prove problematic. “Collagen needs to be digested and broken down into its building blocks – amino acids – before it can be used in our bodies,” Herbert explains. Since our body uses amino acids according to its current individual needs, in many cases they cannot be used for collagen production.

Would vegan collagen promoters, products that do not contain collagen particles, behave the same way? “Both formulations have their place in skin health,” says Ghatora. “Collagen peptides themselves are too large in most cases to pass through the skin, so creams containing collagen topically probably have little benefit. However, for moisturizing the skin, topicals are excellent.

Still, he advises to always choose skincare products that have been independently clinically proven. “Most brands use data from their active ingredient suppliers. Once formulated into a final product, the behavior of said active may not replicate what is shown in the active ingredient supplier’s testing. Therefore, it is essential that you check to see if a supplement has undergone an independent clinical trial looking specifically at its formulation.

Animal collagen vs vegan collagen

Expert opinions are mixed, but they tend to favor animal collagen over vegan collagen promoters.

“The only type of collagen available is of animal, bovine or marine origin,” explains Pupinder Ghatora. “In my opinion and based on our research, marine collagen peptides are of higher quality and more effective, especially when protected. An effective collagen supplement should be marine sourced, protected from stomach action, and independently clinically proven.

Herbert adds, “Vegan collagen supplements cannot supply the body with actual collagen, and they are generally less effective than animal-derived collagens at building collagen, like-for-like.”

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