Collagen supplements are wildly popular, but how do you choose the collagen tablets, drink, collagen powder that’s best for you? We’re here to help.
It’s safe to say the concept of ‘inside out’ skincare is one that most people can see the point of these days, and the easiest way to do it, it seems, it popping the best collagen supplements whether that’s a collagen capsule, drink or powder daily. It will soon result in plumper, smoother, more collagen-rich skin, surely?
What are the benefits of collagen supplements and will collagen make a noticeable difference?
Well, it might and it might not. Despite their popularity and much-touted clinical trials, conclusive, large-scale trials and proof that taking collagen supplements will make a difference to skin, hair or nails are simply not yet available, explains this recent blog from Harvard Medical School.
But that doesn’t stop countless people enthusiastically reporting the benefits of collagen and investing in these pricey potions, and doctors such as Sophie Shotter noticing positive changes, saying “I’ve given it to many, many patients, with excellent results.”
As collagen is the most plentiful structural protein in the body, present not only in skin but in cartilage, tendons, bone and connective tissues as well, collagen supplements are also finding favour with exercise fiends and those needing support for joint issues. GTG’s Kerry Potter writes here about how taking the marine collagen supplement Kollo significantly improved her joint pain.
How do you choose a collagen supplement that works?
Ingestible collagen comes in the form of collagen peptides, or hydrolysed collagen, which are micronized fragments of the protein obtained from the skin and cartilage of fish, cows, pigs or sometimes chickens - the jury appears to be out on which source is best (vegan ‘collagen’ also exists, more on that later). Once absorbed into the bloodstream, these signal to the body to upregulate its collagen production. For all the detail on this, read our feature on collagen burn rate.
But this is not as straightforward as it seems. Collagen peptides are delicate and many (or most) don’t survive the acidic stomach environment. To get to the blood, they have to make it to the small intestine intact, which is a bit like getting onto the beaches on D-Day. On top of that, once they do get through, they are sent to where your body needs them most. That is not always the skin (let alone the hair or nails) – and you get no say in it.
The good news is that there are ways to improve the chances of a significant amount of collagen peptides ‘getting through’, alongside other hacks for making sure your body switches on its collagen production.
These are the things to look for when buying in your collagen supplement.
- 10g (or 10,000mg) of collagen peptides
In the most reliable studies available, this was the amount of peptides per daily serving that over time made a visible difference to skin (as well as hair and nails). It has also been shown to be the active dose for keeping joints supple and lubricated. A lot of collagen supplements do not contain this amount. In powder form, that’s usually two tablespoons.
- An advanced delivery system
The 10g mega dose of peptides is that high so as to ensure that at least some of them survive the killing fields of your innards. But there is a way to get all of them into the blood: by putting them in a protective capsule that only dissolves in the small intestine. This also means that a far smaller amount of collagen peptides is needed to get results. These ‘enteric capsules’ are as yet only produced and employed by the Ingenious Beauty brand.
- Low Dalton weight collagen i.e ultra-small fragments
For the peptides to be effectively absorbed by the blood, they need to be as tiny as possible. Pretty much every collagen supplement on the market is ‘hydrolysed collagen’ which means it’s been broken down into small fragments (peptides) through a process involving water. The crucial thing to know is exactly how small these peptides are.
Their molecular size is measured in ‘Daltons’ or ‘Dalton weight’ and should be under 6000 Daltons (for comparison, a whole collagen molecule is 300,000 Daltons). But the most effective ones are as small as 2000D . A make of collagen called Peptan, which supplies collagen brands such as Ingenious and others, is this small.
- Collagen co-factors
Another way to boost collagen production or 'collagen lay-down' is through supplementing with ingredients that provide nutrients essential for the generation of the molecule. It's sort of like putting petrol in your car.
Some important ones are vitamins C and E, MSM, magnesium, selenium, zinc, amino acids – there are a lot. Most doctor-recommended collagen supplements come with these, as they show the best results in trials. Of course, this does mean that we cannot be sure whether their success is down to the collagen peptides or the co-factors! (Side note: you can also buy collagen such as Avea Collagen Activator, £62.10, which provide just co-factors to boost collagen lay-down).
Does vegan collagen work?
Collagen is an animal protein, it does not exist in the plant world. Yet there are many vegan collagen supplements now, so how is that possible? Find the skinny on what is vegan collagen here. In short, boffins have created plant-based ‘collagen copies’ by extracting all or many of the amino acids that make up collagen from botanical sources and combining them into a ‘bio-identical collagen’, said to work as a ‘messenger molecule’ signalling to your body that you need to make more collagen, in the same way that collagen peptides do.
Some very small studies have shown proof of this, and fans say it absorbs far better than hydrolysed collagen and can even bypass the digestive system; this makes brands confident that you need less of it than the whopping 10g of collagen peptides required for those to work. It’s not clear, however, what a good active dose might be. The study-backed makes of vegan collagen that brands buy in to use in their products are Vecollal and Vollagen.
What type of collagen supplement is best?
How you take your collagen is really down to preference. A few handy things to know:
- Collagen tablets contain a significantly lower concentration of peptides than powders or drinks; it’s simply a matter of space.
- Collagen drinks often packaged in handy small sachets, they can be quite slimy in consistency (vegan collagens don’t have this problem) and overly sweet to disguise to what can be the somewhat unpleasant, sometimes fishy, taste of collagen. But they can easily contain 10g of peptides and can also be added to water to dilute the taste and texture.
- Collagen powders can also make for a slimy drink – but this tends to be particularly when the product contains hyaluronic acid as well. One or two big scoops can give you 10g. Some can be used in hot drinks but some powders risk deteriorating in the heat – check the instructions. In any case, let your drink cool down slightly before adding the powder. Or add to porridge, yogurt or smoothies.
The best collagen supplements for every taste and purpose
Best collagen drink for menopause: Revive Collagen Menopause Max, £46.99 for 14 days
Revive does a range of liquid marine collagens in single-dose sachets, and this is one of three new ones targeted at that fashionable new demographic, peri- and menopausal women – who of course lose collagen by the bucketload. The most potent and complete of the three, this has the full 10g of collagen peptides (Menopause Sleep has is 7.5g and Perimenopause has is 5g), and a phalanx of added nutrients (probiotics, B vitamins, mushrooms) and co-factors (vitamin C, zinc, selenium, and more) to give put-upon bodies all the support they need. And it has a pleasant, non-fishy flavour.
Best-sourced collagen powder: Bare Biology Skinful Pure Marine Collagen Powder, £39.95 for a 2-month supply
Made from MSC-certified and sustainably sourced wild Norwegian cod skin (and nothing else), we are impressed by the lengths this brand goes to in order to get the purest-quality product. It can be dissolved in hot drinks and is super-fine so cause so no gloopiness, and pretty taste-free as well. It delivers only 5g of peptides per recommended three-teaspoon serving, but nothing is stopping you from doubling that amount.
Best collagen drink: Zenii Procollagen Max for Men, £55 for a 20-day supply
Zenii Skin Fusion £65 is a tasty and non-gloopy marine collagen drink popular with cosmetic doctors such as Sophie Shotter for its full complement of co-factors and clinically supported 10g of peptides. This sugar-free men’s version is ostensibly ‘for exercise recovery and improved metabolism’ as well as skin and has added green tea and aloe – but beyond that, we barely see any difference with the ‘women’s’ Skin Fusion version. Except it’s a tenner cheaper. Bonus!
Best vegan collagen powder: Feel Pro Collagen, £56.43 for 30 days
This is the world’s first vegan collagen ‘designed to transform skin’ according to the brand (we’ve seen others) that claims to double collagen production in 28 days. Based on VeCollal, it also has vitamin C, calcium, Gotu Kola and Ginseng for energy and skin support. The fruity-tasting powders (there’s strawberry and pineapple) dissolve easily (no animal collagen means no gloopiness) and you get 10g per serving.
Best collagen coffee: Ancient & Brave Coffee & Collagen, £24 for a 25 day supply
This is actual organic Brazilian coffee with bovine collagen from grass-fed cows, alongside organic fibre (chicory), nootropics (ashwagandha) nutrients (baobab) for an all-round energising health drink. The dose per serving is only 2g, but if you knock back coffee all day you’ll still get your 10g. Alternatively, you can always add a collagen powder into the mix as well: try the brand's True Collagen, £27 for 40x 5g doses.
Best mega-dose collagen powder: Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides Unflavoured, £44.79 for 567g
Originally backed by Jennifer Aniston, this is an impressive 20g bovine peptides per serving, nothing else. Can be taken in hot or cold drinks, yogurt or porridge. There’s a vanilla-flavoured version as well, or a fish collagen option.
Best tasting collagen drink: Vida Glow Natural Marine Collagen Sachets Mango, £39 for 30
A sachet has a little less than 3g marine collagen, but boasts a very low 2000 Dalton weight, which makes it more bio-available, according to the brand. Flavoured with real fruit, the sachets look stylish enough to whip out of your bag and down in public.
Most bio-available collagen caps: Ingenious Active Ultimate Lifestyle, £110 for 50 days
The only collagen in capsules that will survive your stomach acid, Ingenious Collagen has impressed experts enough to be awarded Gold for best collagen supplement in the 2023 Get The Gloss Wellness Awards. This ‘Active’ version is for skin as much as it is for recovery, endurance and immunity, with added vitamin C-bomb astaxanthin, vitamins C and E, zinc, hyaluronic acid and an energy-releasing botanical complex.
Best collagen drink for sports: Healthspan Elite Collagen Repair, £20.99 for 10 sachets
Another Gold get The Gloss Wellness Awards winner (for best sports supplement), it was noted for its very high dose (20g) of collagen (it also has a hefty 80g vitamin C) and the fact that it’s Informed Sport-accredited so can be used safely by athletes to effectively aid recovery. It features a combination of collagen types I and III in a ratio that is identical to that in ligaments and tendons, so helping to strengthen them.
Most affordable collagen tablets: Correxiko Marine Collagen Capsules, £29 for 30 days
Created by a British doctor and backed by presenter Lisa Snowdon, these are a more affordable option for those who can’t get on with drinks or powders. Enriched with co-factors zinc, selenium, manganese, vitamin C and HA, the collagen is sourced from ‘pristine Canadian Arctic waters’ so as to minimise contamination. The caps deliver only 2mg of collagen peptides per daily dose of four pills, but they have an ‘industry-leading particle size for better absorption’ (it doesn’t say how many Daltons, though). Unlike most supps which concentrate on collagen type I and III (which are most important for skin, hair and nails), this has I, II, III and IV which, the brand says, should also make it good for joints, gut health and immunity. It has co factors – zinc, selenium, manganese, C and HA. Their powder version has 10g in a full scoop.
Best collagen drink for runners: Kollo Premium Liquid Marine Collagen, £29.87 for a 14-day supply
These portable sachets are what GTG’s Kerry Potter used to get her arthritis-affected body back in shape for running; she noticed it particularly minimised the pain in her knees. It has the magic 10g of marine collagen per dose, spiked with some vitamin C and B as well as the amino acid l-lysine, plus Kerry says it tastes great. Read all the detail in her collagen supplements for running report.
Best collagen pills for supple joints: Avea Mobiliser, £52 for a 2-month supply
Employs chicken-derived collagen type II that’s not been hydrolysed, so these are not collagen peptides. In this ‘undenatured’ form, the collagen is said to cause the body to produce chemicals that fight pain and swelling of the joints. There’s just 20mg of it, but the rules for collagen peptides don’t apply to this different use of collagen. It’s teamed with maritime pine bark extract and curcumin (turmeric) extract, both prized for their anti-inflammatory benefits and ability to improve joint pain and suppleness.
Best tea or coffee creamer collagen powder: Dose & Co Collagen Creamer Vanilla, £27.99 for a 17-day supply
The full 10g of bovine collagen peptides blended not with co-factors but with milk and whey powders, monk fruit extract and vanilla (there’s a caramel flavour as well), this makes for a nicely creamy hot coffee or tea or milky drink with a skin-boosting twist. There are dairy-free versions as well (made with coconut milk) but obviously these products aren’t vegan. For those on a diet, the fat and added sugar content may be something to note. The powder dissolves reasonably well although you have to give it a damn god stirring. It's a favourite of Dr Sophie Shotter.
The best-selling collagen drink: Absolute Collagen Marine Liquid Collagen Drink For Women, £26.99 for a 14-day supply
A bestselling supplement with Emma Willis as its face, these sachets deliver not-quite-the-full-Monty with 8g of marine collagen peptides plus 60mg of vitamin C. It's lemon-flavoured, with a (yum) slightly fishy aftertaste. Absolute have done double-blind placebo controlled trials of their product over 12 weeks, which showed a 60 per cent improvement in skin elasticity.
The aesthetic doctors’ favourite collagen powder: Totally Derma Nutraceutical Collagen Drink Supplement, £105 for 30 days
Another doctor-recommended collagen supplement, you can mix this vanilla-flavoured powder with cold drinks or into your yogurt. GTG’s Victoria prefers the klatter option and says it gives natural yogurt a lovely favour without affecting texture. You definitely cannot heat this one - steer clear even of porridge, founder Anita tells us. It’s Sophie Shotter’s Silver pick in our most recent Wellness Awards and delivers 10g of collagen plus 210mg of hyaluronic acid powder for enhanced hydration. There’s also a full complement of collagen co-factors at very high levels: vitamin C, green tea, zinc, manganese, alpha lipoic acid and grape seed extract.