Is anyone else confused about collagen? There are ingestible elixirs containing it, plus creams and serums that promise to boost our cells’ capacity to produce it. But do any of them actually work? And why do we need more collagen anyway?
The short answer is that collagen is what helps give structure to our bones, muscle and skin. It’s our body’s most abundant protein, but from the age of 25, we become less efficient at making it, so our skin loses its firmness and begins to wrinkle and sag. Sigh.
The wellness industry would have you believe that by popping a pill you’ll emerge anew, with skin as youthful- looking as Jennifer Aniston (who adds a scoop of Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides into her morning coffee daily). And yet, as with all things ‘anti-ageing’, it’s more complicated than that.
There are three main sources of ingestible collagen: bovine, plant-based and marine. Bovine (from cows) is thought to be effective, although to be sure it’s a good-quality source, look out for collagen from grass-fed organic beef. Bone broth, according to Dr Sabine Donnai from Viavi Health, is one of the most gut-friendly ways to absorb collagen.
She recommends asking your local butcher for beef bones and boiling them up, the old-fashioned way. There’s something wholesome about this, a bit like how my grandmother used to boil chicken bones for hours to eke out every last ounce of nutrients for her warming gumbo soup, a recipe she honed during the war.
Not everyone has the time or inclination to do this of course, in which case nutritionist Eve Kalinik tells me Borough Broth Co’s Grass-Fed Organic Beef Bone Broth (from £4.92) is the best pre-made broth and can be ordered online.
Naturally, those who don’t eat meat will prefer plant-based collagen supplements, however they are not a direct source of collagen, which can only be found naturally in fish and animal products. Vegan alternatives are what’s known as ‘collagen promoters’ and will prompt your own cells to produce more of their own supply of collagen.
Vitamin C is one such, and has been shown in studies to improve collagen synthesis, even helping to aid recovery from musculoskeletal injuries when taken orally. When applied topically on the skin it can brighten and firm the complexion.
I’m two months into a three-month course of Ingenious Beauty Ultimate Collagen+ supplements that have been shown in independent clinical trials to reduce wrinkles and improve elasticity.
Endorsed by King’s College London, these harness marine collagen, which co-founder and pharmacist Pupinder Ghatora tells me is the closest to our skin’s own protein structure.
Combined with two other skin heroes – hyaluronic acid and astaxanthin – what’s smart about this particular pill is its cellulose shell, which protects the collagen peptides from being broken down too quickly during the digestion process.
Furthermore, to avoid cross-contamination, they are made on their own production line, which is climate- and light-controlled to maintain the ingredients’ potency and stability.
Ghatora says it takes three full months to reap the benefits and with continuous use, my complexion should be smoother and firmer. But my skin already has more bounce-back, and an Aniston-esque luminosity. There are various ways to get your collagen fix; try one of these fab five for starters.