Vegan collagen is the latest buzz ingredient in face creams, but what does it really do for your skin?

With more and more of us trying to make planet-friendly choices, the idea of vegan collagen over collagen derived from fish, cow or pig cartilage is becoming an increasingly appealing one. After all, if the results are the same, why not go for the animal-friendly and more sustainable option?

As we’ve seen in the case of vegan collagen supplements, science has managed to create bio-identical vegan collagen, said to be an exact match for the real thing as it’s made up of the same amino acids found in animal collagen. Similar bio-identical vegan collagens (there are different iterations, depending on the brand) are now being incorporated in vegan collagen and plant-based collagen creams, which promise everything from superior hydration to barrier repair to fewer wrinkles.

But before you spend your money thinking these potions will replace the collagen in your skin to make it look firmer and less lined, let’s have an honest look at what vegan collagen can realistically do for your skin. As with animal-derived collagen creams, it may not be quite what you expect.

Can vegan collagen penetrate skin?

In one word: no. The collagen molecules, whether animal-derived or re-created in a lab from plant-derived amino acids, are way too big to get past the skin barrier. For collagen molecules to stimulate collagen production, they would have to travel to the deep dermis layer of the skin, and that’s simply not going to happen.

What are the benefits of topical vegan collagen?

Topical collagen does have an important skin benefit: it’s supremely hydrating. Like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, both animal and vegan collagen function as an effective humectant, trapping moisture in the skin. They also boost the integrity of skin’s protective barrier, forming a silky film that helps prevent moisture leaking out. Result: temporarily glowier, plumper skin.

But some claim that vegan collagen may have the edge over animal collagen. That’s because vegan collagen compounds are made by combining tiny individual amino acids that can penetrate the skin, where they assist in improving skin function in many ways. Some vegan collagens also have peptides, small chains of amino acids that in the right formulations may somewhat penetrate the skin, where they can help switch on collagen and elastin generation. The proof for this is sketchy, but it’s possible in theory.

Your best bet for revving up that all-important plumping collagen and skin-tightening elastin inside the skin remains to look for the best vitamin C, retinoid, or anti-oxidant complex you can afford. But if you want a brilliant vegan moisturiser that may also promote ‘slow ageing’, check out these cutting-edge vegan collagen creams and serums.

The best vegan collagen creams

Best for very dry skin: MZ Skin The Rich Moisturiser, £150  

A rich, occlusive cream that has a ‘first-of-its-kind bio-identical human collagen’ which in this case appears to be a peptide produced via fermentation that has a firming effect on the skin. There’s a lot of seed oils as well to nourish skin, including vitamin C-rich Sea Buckthorn to work synergistically with the ‘vegan collagen’ peptide, plus antioxidants and gold particles ‘to help reduce lines’.

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Best collagen night cream: Pacifica Vegan Collagen Overnight Recovery Cream, £25 

Features another fermentation-boosted collagen-like peptide that forms a protective layer on skin, conditions and helps preserve elasticity. The nourishing, not-too-heavy cream features vitamin c and anti-inflammatory ingredients as well to calm and aid repair overnight.

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Best for boosting hydration: Pai Vegan Collagen 0.9% Restoring Booster, £19 

Totally honest about its benefits, this light, quenching serum is pitched as a great hydrator that ‘will leave skin seamlessly smooth for a luminous finish’. Boasting a topical collagen ‘copy’ made from soy and corn proteins and teamed with fellow humectant hyaluronic acid, it delivers silkiness and intensive hydration. A great way to super-charge your moisturiser for winter.

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Best for nourishing skin: Algenist Genius Liquid Collagen, £90

Soy, corn and wheat proteins ‘bound together to structurally mimic collagen and create an active vegan collagen’, this silky serum also has an antioxidant and omega fatty acids-rich microalgae oil to replenishing the skin barrier, while niacinamide and peptides keep signs of ageing at bay.

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Best for a stronger skin barrier: SVR Collagen Biotic Cream, £40  

A ‘regenerating bouncy cream’ that has a ‘plant collagen that allows skin to restructure itself’, presumably by creating a protective, moisture-locking environment so skin can function optimally. The light but sumptuous cream also has stabilised vitamin C to help collagen regeneration and probiotics to strengthen the skin barrier some more.

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Best for preventing wrinkles: Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream SPF30, £89

Now 20 years old, this best-selling plumptious cream does not contain a vegan collagen but it is a vegan cream that’s said to rev up collagen production with plant-based actives. Algae extracts are the star performers here, clinically proven to significantly increase hydration and improve elasticity, with the promise of wrinkles diminishing in as little as two weeks. Its SPF30 is a key ingredient for doing so.

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Best budget vegan collagen cream: Q+A Collagen Face Cream, £12

The cream is vegetarian, but the collagen itself is vegan and ‘naturally derived from seaweed’. This is odd because there is no collagen in the plant world. The product does have tripeptide-29, a peptide that consists of three amino acids found in collagen and is thought to strengthen skin’s supportive elements. The super-rich, occlusive cream also has brightening lactic acid and hydration-boosting magnesium PCA. Great for parched winter skin.

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Best for super-dewy skin: Beauty Pie Youthbomb Biologic Collagen Peptide Cream, £175  (£44 for members)

Rich but not heavy, this unscented cream-gel leaves skin glossy thanks to loads of humectant glycerin. Its proprietary ‘peptide amino acid complex’ is vegan and promises to lift, firm and plump. Deeply hydrating and barrier-boosting (there is beeswax, so the cream itself is vegetarian rather than vegan), the formula also has phytoestrogens, which are helpful for collagen-depleted skin.

Use code GTGSENTME to get £10 off Beauty Pie annual membership when you sign up.

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Best hi-tech vegan collagen: FaceGym Active Blast, from £50 for a 7-days supply

Proving that the term ‘vegan collagen’ can be interpreted in multiple ways and comprises very different technologies, this ‘world’s first vegan collagen booster’ is extracted from fermented yeast and “powered by a bio-available peptide chain called ‘basic fibroblast growth factor’”. The active ingredient in these single-use freeze-dried powder doses, which you activate by mixing them with a hydrating serum, is sh-polypeptide 123. It sounds very similar to the one used in the Maryam Zamani cream and is said to perfectly mimic human collagen while being able to penetrate deeper than regular collagen for a noticeable repairing effect that “transforms skin in 28 days”. Fun and intriguing to use, it’s worth remembering that very new technology such as this has not been subjected to long-term clinical studies, so proof is as yet scant.

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