Whether it’s a miracle cream or trip to the dermatologist’s office, collagen-enhanced products and treatments have always promised to transform your skin from drab to fab like Kerry Washington, Issa Rae and Tracee Ellis Ross, owning the red carpet at the NAACP Image Awards. Their flawless complexions are pretty epic. What some smart beauty execs have recognized is that these ladies need to be the faces of major brands from Neutrogena to L’Oreal Paris (one of my favorite moments of 2017 has to be when an Insecure, Awkward Black Girl became a Covergirl).
But maybe a few superfood endorsements and partnerships are next (if that hasn’t already happened). The health food industry literally has us all atwitter with what seems like a social media takeover of influencers and experts promoting collagen products for your diet from vitamin supplements to powders you can add to just about anything you’re eating (even that stack of pancakes). Lately, the discovery feed of my Instagram account has been filled with beauty and wellness bloggers touting taste-free Vital Proteins collagen powders. (This may have something to do with the fact that I “Instagram-storied” my way through the Whole30 and Vital Proteins has been a sponsor of the meal plan.)
As Melissa Hartwig of the Whole30 notes, “collagen is the most abundant source of protein in your body.” It’s the glue that builds elasticity and makes your skin look pretty and flawless. But as we age, collagen production begins to tank which can enhance the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, limp hair, and brittle nails. Internally, we also need collagen to help promote joint and tissue health and keep our bones, blood vessels, and digestive system in check.
Clean food expert and author Mareya Ibrahim says to look for collagen food replacement products like flavored bone broth powders from Paleo Pro, and Ancient Nutrition along with “heat-and-sip” organic drink mixtures from Bru which contain anti-inflammatories like healthy greens, turmeric, and beets.
“I love the flavors, the consistency and the fact they are made with quality ingredients and low or zero sugar; all grass-fed, no gluten, no sodium, non-GMO,” says Ibrahim who is also pretty spot-on when it comes to being a food trend forecaster. “[For products like Bru] I love the fact that you can get a great tasting broth with added nutrients . . . and you can enjoy it cold or hot in a convenient, portable container.”
Collagen powders are also being used as flour substitutes or added ingredients to morning breakfast treats like waffles, pancakes, smoothies, and coffee. “Collagen is only getting bigger right now with the idea of how it can [also] help heal your gut,” says The Diet Detox author Brooke Alpert. “I love recommending collagen as a protein option. It’s often very mild in taste and doesn’t cause any stomach disruptions like some other protein powders . . . I always like the science behind any product. That’s why I prefer Reserveage’s collagen powder. Not only is it basically tasteless and odorless, that’s a big one for me, but the studies show that it actually ends up in your skin.”
If you are not seeing any benefits, it may be because you’re sabotaging your results with unhealthy food habits. “Nothing is a miracle pill or product. You can have all the collagen you can eat and drink all these amazing beverages, but they certainly aren’t going to combat a terrible diet,” warns Alpert.
While a 2015 collagen peptide study showed a significant increase in skin hydration (after two months of intake), some experts caution there’s still a dearth of placebo-controlled studies to prove benefits are more than skin deep. “Despite health claims, there is insufficient reliable evidence to identify if using collagen is helpful in treating arthritis pain or supporting the skin,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Ginger Hultin who is also an online coach for Arivale. “There have been some studies that show improvements in participant rating of joint pain and tenderness, but no actual improvement in X-ray images of joints. Other studies show conflicting data, with some participants reporting improvements and others not.”
Both Alpert and Hultin agree that guaranteed ways to consume collagen are through natural foods like bone broth and other nutrient-dense items. “There are nutrients required for the body to make its own collagen, namely vitamin C. Foods like dark leafy greens, citrus, bell pepper, strawberries, blueberries, and tomatoes are all supportive of collagen production and skin health. I do think that eating healthfully, getting enough protein and fresh produce for your nutrients, is going to offer the benefits people are seeking from collagen supplementation,” says Hultin.
The good news is there haven’t been any studies that have shown trying collagen supplements, or beauty elixirs will hurt you. So if you feel like the proof is in your reflection, feel free to slather on a Mario Badescu Super Collagen Mask while kicking back with some Nourish & Bloom “Beauty Blend” Chews.
Photo Credit: Sebastiana