Collagen: Why collagen is today’s most popular nutricosmetic ingredient

Published on: 
Nutritional Outlook, Volume 22, Issue 4

And why getting U.S. consumers to see the beauty, so to speak, in collagen still won't happen overnight.

Beauty may be only skin deep, but so is collagen. And without this structural protein’s contribution to our dermal matrix, much of what we consider beautiful about skin-its tautness, its smoothness, its elasticity-would slip away.

So it makes sense that collagen may be one of the most important ingredients to include in beauty formulations, topical or ingested.

But getting U.S. consumers to see the beauty, so to speak, in collagen won’t happen overnight, as the perception persists that collagen is mainly a joint- and bone-boosting ingredient. Only with a focus on science, efficacy, and innovative delivery-and perhaps with a reputational lift from Asia’s trending nutricosmetic scene-can we effectively push collagen more firmly into our own beauty mainstream.


Under the Skin

There are plenty of reasons to be bullish on collagen. As Frank Engel, global market development manager for Peptan, Rousselot (Mukwonago, WI), puts it, “Collagen is the leading driver for innovative beauty products due to its long, established reputation on the global nutricosmetics market”-a market, he adds, that’s set to rake in an estimated $7.5 billion by 2024.1

And collagen’s nutricosmetic reputation is hardly a matter of hype, for not only is it one of the most ubiquitous proteins in the body; it’s a fundamental component of skin’s very architecture.

Fully 70% of skin’s dry mass is collagen, which-along with the glycosaminoglycan hyaluronic acid (HA) and the protein elastin-form a network that keeps skin elastic and hydrated. As Susan M. Piergeorge, MS, RDN, LDN, a nutritionist for NeoCell (Irvine, CA), says, “You can think of collagen as a type of internal mesh of strands sewn together within your tissues and organs that provide structural support.”

Of collagen’s more than two dozen “types”-categorized by their size, function, and amino acid makeup-type I, and to a lesser extent type III, appear to participate most in maintaining skin’s health and appearance. Indeed, Engel notes, type I collagen accounts for three-quarters of our bodies’ dermal structure.

But beginning in one’s twenties, Engel continues, “The skin cells known as fibroblasts that are responsible for collagen production become less active.” Further, crosslinking of collagen fibers, often in response to oxidative assault or exposure to compounds known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs), renders the fibers stiff and less functional. The upshot, says Engel, is that the collagen matrix “progressively disintegrates, leaving the skin dehydrated, thinner, and prone to wrinkles.”


Short and Sweet

While some degree of collagen deterioration is inevitable, it by no means need be unstoppable, as the track record for collagen supplementation bears out-or, more accurately, as the track record for supplementation with collagen peptides-the short, highly digestible, bioactive byproducts of collagen hydrolysis-bears out.

Collagen peptides send specific signaling messages to connective tissue cells, Engel explains, and “one of those messaging functions sends a false signal to the body that collagen degradation has occurred, activating the synthesis and reorganization of new collagen fibers.” Production of HA and elastin also upregulate in response to these signals. A clinical study awaiting publication found that daily consumption of Rousselot’s branded Peptan collagen peptides increased dermal collagen density, reduced perioral and periocular wrinkling, strengthened hair, and made pores less visible.2


From the Inside Out

It’s no accident that the study obtained its results via oral supplementation, for despite the prevalence of topically applied collagen products, “recent scientific evidence confirms that the highest efficacy comes when collagen is ingested orally,” says Heather Arment, marketing coordinator, North America, Gelita (Sergeant Bluff, IA).

Not currently the Western norm, oral supplementation with nutricosmetic collagen is de rigueur in Asia, and one could argue that supplementation’s effectiveness has made collagen a trusted ingredient in that part of the world.

“In Japan and China, collagen is widely popular and has long been praised for its rejuvenating and antiaging properties,” Engel notes. And though collagen’s standing in the U.S. still rests on its sports nutrition benefits, “that perception is starting to shift and consumers are becoming more aware of collagen’s beauty-from-within properties,” he says.

Crowding Shelves

Arment agrees. “Although Japan leads the way in the field of beauty care and foods containing collagen, this trend is spreading quickly in the U.S. and Europe, as evidenced by the staggering upward growth of U.S. collagen-based beverages, foods, and supplements,” she says.

Engel’s noticed the same uptick, and he thinks it makes sense, as such products “offer on-the-go and portable solutions for consumers leading hectic lifestyles and looking for maximum convenience to maintain their skin.” He’s seen his company’s own peptides appear in everything from bone broths and on-the-go soups to low-carb bread-in-a-mug, breakfast smoothies-even collagen waters and dark chocolates.

Piergeorge also points to collagen waters, as well as creamers and gummies, as products that “stand out, as they provide new use occasions for consumers to take collagen on the go and personalize their beauty routines even further.” To make that possible, her company supplies collagen types I and III in powdered, gummy, and chew form, as well as in tablets and liquids that combine the peptides with antioxidant vitamin C.

That collagen can show up in such a panoply of applications testifies to its practicality. Notes Paula Simpson, nutricosmetics formulator and founder, Nutribloom Consulting (New York and Toronto;, “Collagen is a versatile and stable ingredient that can be formulated into various product forms, added to beverages and water, and even cooked with to reap its health and beauty benefits.” Its neutral sensory characteristics, ease of use, and noticeable results when taken regularly, she believes, have helped it “succeed as a go-to ingredient for both manufacturers and consumers.”


Prestige Protein

Collagen also enjoys some cachet as a prestige ingredient thanks to its frequent appearance in posh “K-” and “J-beauty” products from Korea and Japan. Piggybacking on that renown, Piergeorge says, “Many other beauty brands are including it in a variety of different forms that help enhance beauty and skincare routines.”

Engel wagers that nutricosmetic companies can grow the category even further-and further boost collagen’s image-by “looking to expand their portfolio through cobranding with well-respected, established collagen brands.”

Douglas Jones, global sales and marketing manager, BioCell Technology (Irvine, CA), agrees. “We’ve really seen the rise of branded ingredients,” he says. And for good reason. “The value a branded ingredient brings to the formulator, marketer, and, ultimately, the consumer is supply-chain visibility: you know where your ingredient is coming from. And in our case, you not only know where it’s coming from, but you also know the clinical trials and the benefits you can expect. It’s typical that premium products are those with ingredients that have the science behind them.”

Piergeorge suggests beauty brands leverage collagen science “to create premium collagen products with other beauty-enhancing ingredient blends that address prevailing beauty concerns. Beauty brands should then educate consumers on the benefit of collagen and drive awareness through marketing efforts.”

Regardless of branding or positioning, Simpson concludes, “We know collagen works. Depending on the form or source used, any supportive ingredients, marketing claims, research backing-all these factors will determine the ‘prestige’ of the product in the market. And I think collagen will be here for a long time within the healthy-aging and beauty categories.”


  1. Global Industry Analysts Inc. “Increasing Emphasis on Oral Supplements for Maintaining and Enhancing Physical Appearance to Drive Growth in the Nutricosmetics Market.” Published March 2018.

  1. Campos MP et al. “Oral intake of collagen peptides for the improvement of skin and hair aging: a clinical study using non-invasive imaging techniques and evaluation of mechanical properties.” Submitted for publication (2019).