Beauty starts within

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On a trip to Vietnam, almost a decade ago, I was gifted a small jar of liquid collagen. I had no idea what it was, but having been told it would keep me “young and beautiful”, I graciously accepted the gift and began dabbing it on my face. I was then told that it derived from fish and was to be consumed, not worn. Oops!

These days, it’s unlikely I’d have made such an embarrassing faux pas. Collagen has reached superfood status and can now be found in various forms in pharmacies, health food stores and supermarkets. From powders and supplements to drinks and even frozen meals, brands are working to make collagen more accessible than ever.

Countless influencers tout its benefits: aiding post-workout recovery, beautifying skin, and much more, they say. Actress Jennifer Aniston is so passionate about it that she recently joined the leading US collagen brand, Vital Proteins, as Chief Creative Officer and ambassador.

So what exactly is collagen and what role does it play in the world of beauty?

Understanding collagen

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, says Nestlé Health Science Medical Affairs Manager and Accredited Practising Dietitian Fiona Justice.

“It provides the structural framework that holds everything together, helping to support your health and integrity of your body’s tissues, especially in muscles, tendons, bones, joints and skin,” she said.

Collagen gives tissue its strong and elastic qualities, yet has the ability to stretch, says Deanna Mascioli, a naturopath at natural health company Wanderlust, adding that different areas of the body contain different types of collagen.

While these types of collagens serve different purposes, the body won’t differentiate them.

“Essentially, the collagen you ingest breaks down into individual amino acid structures, which happens with all types of protein,” Ms Mascioli said. “These amino acids form a ‘pool’, and your body uses them for any function that requires protein.”

Collagen and beauty

Collagen forms the basis of skin, hair and nails, so it’s no wonder it plays a huge role in the health and appearance of these parts.

“Most of our skin – about 70 per cent – consists of collagen, from the dermis all the way through to the epidermis and its subcutaneous layer, so it makes up a pretty large part of the body,” Ms Mascioli said. “Research has shown that 2.5g of hydrolysed collagen daily improved the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”

Studies have also shown that collagen helps decrease the appearance of cellulite, adds Ms Mellor.

“In my own experience, my stomach bounced back to normal less than a day after giving birth to my second child, and I credit my skin elasticity to taking collagen in the lead-up to and during my pregnancy,” she said.

Meanwhile, hair is made of keratin, a protein that needs amino acids, primarily proline, to build.

“Collagen contains proline,” Ms Mascioli said. “Putting the pieces together, consuming proline-abundant collagen would provide your body with the building blocks necessary to create strong and healthy hair.”

Supporting collagen production

A variety of foods contain or support the production of collagen in the body, including fish, chicken, egg whites, leafy greens, nuts, garlic, avocadoes and fruits such as citrus and berries, says Ally Mellor, founder of health food company Locako.

“Collagen supplements and snacks are a quick and easy way to up daily collagen intake –  from a scoop in a morning smoothie to healthy collagen treats or a collagen snack bar on the go,” she said.

Collagen powders can be added to smoothies, cold drinks and even food recipes, adds Ms Justice.

“Each Vital Proteins product provides approximately 10g collagen per recommended serving,” she said. “The unflavoured Vital Proteins varieties offer an easy addition to dinner recipes, as you can cook and bake using collagen peptides, and it doesn’t affect the structure of the peptides.”

The process of collagen production requires nutritional cofactors such as zinc and vitamin C, says Ms Mascioli.

“Zinc serves as a co-factor for collagen production, as it activates proteins for collagen synthesis – like collagenase, which is the enzyme involved in wound healing,” she said. “Vitamin C stimulates collagen production by playing an important role in the physiological processes involved in collagen production.”

Ms Mascioli recommends embracing the power of plants to support collagen production with Wanderlust’s Collagen Booster: “Simply add two and a half teaspoons of powder into water, juice, smoothie or bliss ball and enjoy!”

Guiding selection

When helping customers find a collagen product, it’s important to understand their needs before recommending a product.

“It’s about asking the right questions to understand lifestyle choices and wellness goals,” Ms Justice said.

Some of the questions you might ask, to understand which collagen product is right for a customer, include:

  • Would you like a product that’s unflavoured and can mix easily into foods?
  • Would you like a collagen brand product that provides about 10g, which is supported by the scientific literature on the amount of hydrolysed collagen needed for the benefits to support skin and joint health?
  • Would you like a single-ingredient collagen product or one with multiple ingredients?
  • Would you like a hydrolysed form of collagen source, which is easily digested?
  • What is your preferred source of collagen: bovine or marine?
  • Do you want an indulgent experience with a creamer that adds flavour to your beverage, or an unflavoured single-ingredient collagen product?

Ms Mascioli’s advice is to look at labels.

“It’s super important to know what you’re actually consuming, especially in an overpopulated market,” she said. “There are products that contain collagen itself – generally these are marine, or animal based. However, if you’re wanting a plant-based natural option, supporting your body’s natural collagen may be the way to go.”

This feature was originally published in the July issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants e-magazine. To read the feature in full as it appears in the e-magazine, click here