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Collagen: Skin's sneaky superhero or just smoothie powder hype?

Dive into the collagen craze! Discover how peptides, smoothies, and skincare collide into this skincare superhero that's taking the beauty world by storm.

Todd Runestad

February 7, 2024

2 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Beauty-from-within has a champion, and its name is collagen.
  • Collagen is unique in the way it leads to more collagen in the body.
  • One reason it cannot legally be declared a proper protein source.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Still, there are some universal truths—among them, smooth, clear, glowing skin. Neither moist and wrinkled, nor dry and flaky, the middle ground of healthy skin features wrinkles at bay, not even wisened crow’s feet about.

Often overlooked as the body’s largest organ, the skin has long been seen as a target for topical applications—lotions, creams, balms, salves.

But consumers definitely see supplements as a way to also improve skin health from the inside-out. And while ceramides may be the current darling of sciency TV commercials, and vitamins like C and E remain stalwarts, the big winner among consumers is clearly collagen. Always marketed by twentysomethings with sterling skin. Do they actually really need skin-health products? Youth—wasted on the young!

The unique aspect of collagen as a nutritional aid is the way it works. Unlike most nutrients, which fill gaps in the body’s cells, tissues, organs and muscles, collagen is different. But it’s not the collagen protein per se, but the pieces of protein, fragments called peptides. These broken pieces of protein get consumed, and the body notices that collagen is broken down. Sensing that, the body kicks into gear to begin producing collagen all by itself. Sneaky!

Related:Which collagen source is best for dietary supplements?

So collagen has hit the big time and at just the right time—when smoothie nation is in full swing, and so what better powder to add to a bunch of fruits but a little protein?

Collagen used to be known as a cheap protein source, but thanks to a compelling list of published research showing specific peptides compel the body to make more endogenous collagen, it now finds itself atop the list of beauty-from-within ingredients.

Specific peptides from leading suppliers have been shown to reduce wrinkles, improve skin elasticity and improve nail health.

Also, collagen is not actually considered a complete protein. Some supplement brands make mention of that not-insignificant detail—that collagen powders do not, technically, count as protein. That’s because collagen contains 19 of the 20 amino acids the body needs, with tryptophan being the missing amino. Now, most people get tryptophan in their normal diets, even without the Thanksgiving turkey. Food sources of tryptophan include bananas, milk, cheese, chicken, peanuts and chocolate. But for labeling purposes, you still should not list collagen as a protein. Beauty? Sure—well, maybe, if you’ve got a researched peptide. Protein—no—well, maybe, if you consider that the average consumer is actually getting that missing tryptophan and so the collagen gets you 95% of the way there. But not for labeling purposes.

Related:Collagen: How to dose, who's your supplier?

For the complete insider’s guide to collagen —market size and growth outlook, which source works best in your supplement formulation, new science that could change your formulation dosage, and more – download the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine, “Collagenation.”

About the Author(s)

Todd Runestad

Content Director, NaturalProductsInsider.com, Natural Products Insider

Todd Runestad has been writing on nutrition science news since 1997. He is content director for NaturalProductsInsider.com and Natural Products Insider digital magazines. Other incarnations: supplements editor for NewHope.com, Delicious Living!, and Natural Foods Merchandiser. Former editor-in-chief of Functional Ingredients magazine and still covers raw material innovations and ingredient science.

Connect with me here on LinkedIn.

Specialty

Todd writes about nutrition science news such as this story on mitochondrial nutrients, innovative ingredients such as this story about 12 trendy new ingredient launches from SupplySide West 2023, and is a judge for the NEXTY awards honoring innovation, integrity and inspiration in natural products including his specialty — dietary supplements. He extensively covered the rise and rise and rise and fall of cannabis hemp CBD. He helps produce in-person events at SupplySide West and SupplySide East trade shows and conferences, including the wildly popular Ingredient Idol game show, as well as Natural Products Expo West and Natural Products Expo East and the NBJ Summit. He was a board member for the Hemp Industries Association.

Education / Past Lives

In previous lives Todd was on the other side of nature from natural products — natural history — as managing editor at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He's sojourned to Burning Man and Mount Everest. He graduated many moons ago from the State University of New York College at Oneonta.

Quotes

"There is not a colds-and-flu season. There is a vitamin D-deficiency season."

"There is no such thing as inclement weather. Only improper attire."

Link answers question, "When taking magnesium, should you also take vitamin D3 2,000 IU?"

"Cannabis is nature's most nearly perfect plant."

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