What is collagen and why is it so popular in the beauty industry?

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What is collagen and why is it so popular in the beauty industry?

This article is more than 1 year old

The protein gives our bodies elasticity and resilience, and there’s always a market for products promising to turn back the clock

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It makes up 60% of our cartilage and accounts for 70 to 80% of the dry weight of skin, also featuring in other connective tissues such as tendons, muscles and bones.

It gives our bodies elasticity and resilience, but its production slows down as we age, leading to more aches and pains and making us look older and more wrinkly. Factors such as sun exposure and smoking, along with chronic stress, lack of sleep or exercise, can speed its decline.

The desire to mitigate these ageing effects has contributed to a global industry estimated to be worth $4bn (£3.32bn) in 2022. There are 28 different types of collagen, and collagen products range from texture-enhancing food additives and meat casings to health supplements and beauty products.

Collagen can be sourced from pigs, chicken and fish – but collagen from cows makes up 34% of the market. Grand View Research attributes this to “the high availability of cattle and lower prices”.

For anyone lamenting the loss of suppleness in their skin, a nicely packaged cream loaded with collagen might seem worth a try, but it’s unlikely the ingredient will be effective in this form.

Topical collagen would need to penetrate deep beneath the skin’s surface to be useful, but its fibres are too large to get through the outer layer. Despite the science, however, it remains a popular product at beauty counters, with all the big brands including it in their ranges.

Collagen types I, II and III are the most important in skin and musculoskeletal health. They can be found in a rapidly expanding range of oral supplements, usually in capsules or as loose powder, in forms that are broken down and easy to digest, known as “hydrolised collagen” or “collagen peptides”.

US actor Jennifer Aniston, who calls collagen “the glue that holds everything together”, is chief creative officer of Vital Proteins, a brand whose collagen powder she says she has been using for years. But the Guardian investigation has revealed that this Nestle-owned company’s supply chain is linked to farms involved in deforestation.

Deforested land in Brazil
Global craze for collagen linked to Brazilian deforestation

While there are promising studies associating taking collagen orally with improved joint and skin health, Harvard School of Public Health cautions potential conflicts of interest exist as most if not all of the research is either funded by the industry or carried out by scientists affiliated with it.

Collagen has long been injected into the skin to fill wrinkles and plump lips. However, it has now largely been replaced by hyaluronic acid fillers which, unlike collagen, break down after a few months and carry less risk of an allergic reaction.

There are supplements labelled “vegan collagen” that don’t contain actual collagen. What they mean is that they are vegan alternatives that contain vitamins and minerals that may help jumpstart our own collagen production, or the same amino acids found in collagen, from plant sources.

Reference: the Guardian:  

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