Curious about collagen? The protein powerhouse — from collagen supplements to collagen boosting skincare — is making waves in the worlds of wellness, beauty and beyond.  Touted by some as a miracle worker, the benefits of collagen are believed to strengthen nails, skin, hair and improve overall health. 

As collagen products on the market are typically sourced from animals — think bone broth and collagen protein powders — you may have already ruled it out if you're following a plant-based diet. However, there are some vegan collagen alternatives to be found. Personal care products and plant-based supplements on the market make it possible to try collagen products without straying from a vegan lifestyle. Before you go out and stock your shelves with plant-based collagen, VEGAMOUR asked medical and experts to weigh in.

What Is Collagen Made Of? 

“Collagen is the most common protein within the human body. Collagen is found from head to toe, in our bones, muscles, skin, connective tissues and tendons. Collagen is an important component in muscles and provides strength and smoothness to our skin,” said ophthalmic and facial plastic surgeon Dr. Brian Brazzo. “Collagen is synthesized in our body from amino acid.”

There are 20 different types of amino acids that act as the building blocks of collagen production; 11 of these nonessential amino acids can be manufactured within the body. The remaining amino acids are taken into our bodies via food sources. When these foods are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, they are then distributed to the tissues that need them and rebuilt into proteins that the body requires.

Is Collagen Vegan?

No, collagen is not vegan since it is primarily sourced from animals. However, marine collagen, plant collagen and vegan collagen alternatives do exist — you might just have to search for them.

The most common animal sources of foods high in collagen include:

  • Cows
  • Pigs
  • Chicken
  • Fish

Vegetarians and vegans can integrate plant-based foods that are collagen boosting, such as:

  • Citrus fruits rich in vitamin C
  • Berries
  • Bell peppers
  • Soy products

Learn: Can Vegan Diets Lead to Hair Loss?

Vegan Alternatives to Traditional Collagen Supplements

If you're following a plant-based diet, you might want to consider taking a supplement to boost your collagen.

You can choose from collagen boosters that are completely plant-based, such as:

These collagen boosters are typically made from genetically engineered yeast or synthetic materials instead of animal products.

"There may also be benefits to using synthetic sources of collagen over natural collagen," said Dr. Brazzo. "These benefits include a higher safety profile, lower risk of allergies and potentially at a lower cost to consumers." However, as these products are new on the market, there is limited science-backed research to support these ideas.

According to Dr. Bazzo, taking supplements, perhaps including vegan collagen supplements, that are packed with essential amino acids are helpful and typically have little to no side effects. If you're concerned that you are lacking the nutrients that are essential for healthy skin and hair wellness, consider adopting a holistic approach to your lifestyle.

These practices include eating a nutrient-rich diet, including foods that help with hair growth and have an adequate intake of protein, amino acids and other essential vitamins and minerals. Regular movement and exercise combined with nutritional supplements are other keys to whole-body health. One plant-based supplement to try: 100% vegan GRO Biotin Gummies for Hair. These gelatin-free supplements are packed with nutrients such as vitamin C, A and E, which help neutralize follicle-damaging free radicals.

Also: Here's How Gut Health and Hair Loss Are Related

The Effects of Aging on Collagen Production

"Collagen fibers are arranged in rows or sheets in the skin. This creates the appearance of volume, strength and smoothness. These collagen fibers, however, break down faster and do not maintain the same consistency as we grow older," said Dr. Bazzo. "This may lead to wrinkles and or skin that appears to look thin."

Collagen is also a main component in the health of our hair. And, as we age, the subsequent collagen decrease can cause dry, brittle hair and potential hair loss. While there is no way to stop growing older, there are ways to combat its impact on our hair.

Adding a product such as GRO+ Advanced Hair Foam to your routine can help. The mousse-like texture foam is plant-based, and it includes the added benefit of microencapsulated, full-spectrum CBD. It's also cruelty-free and made of clean ingredients. Apply it to towel-dried hair, completely covering the scalp to build instant body and texture while deeply penetrating the scalp to support thicker, fuller-looking hair.

Beauty Benefits of Collagen

“Think of it as the glue that holds your body together. Simply put, human collagen is a protein that makes up the structure of our connective tissues — our skin, hair and nails — comprising up 70% of the protein in our skin, ” said Bobbi Brown, beauty expert and founder of EVOLUTION_18. “Without collagen, our hair will lose that bouncy quality, our skin will sag and our nails can become weak and brittle. The amino acids in collagen peptide are also linked to better gut health and improved digestion."

While taking supplements may help, they shouldn't be considered a substitute for maintaining a balanced diet packed with fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C.

"These vitamins can make a real difference to your skin and your health," said Brown. "They act as an extension of a holistic lifestyle, making sure we look and feel our best every day.”

Try It: GRO+ Advanced Hair Care Gummies

Plump It Up

Healthy levels of collagen production are integral for supporting our blood vessels, skeletal structure, connective tissues and hair. And, as collagen is one of the major proteins in the body, it is important for our largest organ: Skin health.

“Utilizing collagen in skincare aids in improving skin elasticity, reducing visible wrinkles and increases blood flow to the skin,” said Melissa Manetakis, Director of Education at Mario Badescu Skin Care Inc.

Utilizing extracted collagen plant and/or fruit stem cells in skincare may potentially help to stimulate the body's natural collagen production, healing skin topically, repairing sun damage and combating skin inflammation. Some beauty experts believe this leads to improved elasticity in the skin, making it appear to look plumper, brighter and more hydrated.

“If you are vegan/vegetarian and not interested in consuming animal-sourced collagen, you can boost the production of collagen by stocking up on the co-factors,” said Danielle Gronich, clinical esthetician, acne specialist/owner of the San Diego Acne Clinic and co-founder of CLEARSTEM Skincare As collagen is a large molecule, it will absorb water and help to moisturize the skin.

Gronich recommends the following vitamins:

  • L-Lysine
  • MSM (Sulfur)
  • Silica

NEW: Vegan Shampoo From VEGAMOUR

Spotlight on Skin

"Collagen is critical to skin in terms of elasticity and structure. As we start to lose collagen (stop collagen production with age), we notice loosening and sagging of the skin," said Dr. Michelle Henry of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan. "Collagen peptides help to stimulate collagen production — they are smaller molecules so they can penetrate the skin, and then they are quite effective."

There is some research that suggests that applying products with collagen protein directly to the skin may be more effective than taking an oral collagen supplement.

"When we take it orally, there are small-scale studies showing it may have improvement, however it is not as effective orally as topically," said Dr. Henry. "The most effective treatment is probably lasers or any types of devices that create microtrauma because the skin’s natural response is to create collagen."

Also: Biotin vs. Collagen — What's the Difference?

Not Enough Evidence for Collagen Supplements

The hype around collagen supplements are grown tremendously in the last few years. But there isn't a whole lot of actual evidence to support it, according to Dr. Lina Kennedy, board-certified dermatologist based in Corona Del Mar, California. There have been no randomized control trials completed around collagen supplements to date.

"Another issue with the data is many of these studies are funded by the same companies that produce the collagen products, so there can be a conflict of interest," said Dr. Kennedy. "A lot of the reported benefits rely on subjective measurements, like visual improvement and patient satisfaction. We need better quality studies to take place."

Deep Dive: Do Collagen Supplements Really Work?

The Jury Is Still Out on Collagen

While there are lots of people who swear by collagen supplements, there are just as many people who are questioning the validity. There's no denying that collagen is an important part of the body's process in keeping skin and hair healthy, but whether collagen supplements are the answer is still up for debate. Most notably, there is a substantial lack of scientific studies on the subject.

Additionally, if you eat a plant-based diet (or just don't like the idea of adding collagen to your smoothie), then traditional collagen powders are not for you and that's OK. There are plant-based options available for those curious about the potential benefits and plenty of other nutrient-packed vegan hair supplements available. Your best bet: Practice a lifestyle that focused on holistic health and overall wellness rather than relying solely on supplements.

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Photo credit: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

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