Collagen makes up one-third of the protein in the human body, according to research, and we’ve gotten used to the idea of people using collagen fillers at the dermatologist’s office.
But now that collagen supplements have hit the map, companies like Vital Proteins offer collagen powders that can be added to water, lattes, baked goods and more, supposedly benefiting hair, skin and nails, and aiding the health of joints and ligaments.
The idea behind the suddenly trendy product is that “you get access to amino acids, which come into your bloodstream and then your body can create its own collagen,” said nutritionist Julie Rothenberg of Florida’s JuliENERGYnutrition.
Health and fitness influencers on social media, like Lara Dominianni (@_littlemissfoodie), Atilla Toth (@atilla), Kaitlyn Bristowe of “The Bachelorette,” and Kourtney Kardashian, who partnered with Vital Proteins for her Pink Moon Milk Collagen Latte, have touted the effectiveness of the brand’s collagen powders.
But Vital Proteins admits on its website that its claims are not verified by the Food and Drug Administration, so there’s no way for us to know whether the powders will actually deliver the results they, or rather people on Instagram, are promising.
“Because these are not FDA approved, there’s no guidelines as to what they can and cannot say,” dermatologist and University of Minnesota assistant professor Jenny Liu said. “Just because somebody makes a claim, it doesn’t mean that it’s true. There is no regulation.”
Still, Liu said Vital Proteins’ collagen powders are “probably safe.”
“But as far as the benefit, that’s to be determined,” she added.
Vital Proteins’ Insta-popular Collagen Peptides is advertised as helping to “improve hair, skin, nails, joints and ligaments and tendon health.” Starting at $25 for 14 servings, it’s not exactly cheap. In addition to an unflavored variety, the product is available in flavors that include vanilla, dark chocolate blackberry, blackberry collagen blast and the sold-out mixed berry.
The product is made from bovine hide, and is known as collagen from cows. Liu likened bovine hide Collagen Peptides to bone broth.
“When you make bone broth, you’re trying to get the collagen that’s in the bone into broth form, so when you drink it, you’re getting those nutrients,” she said.
But “you’re not going to absorb another animal’s collagen and therefore make more collagen,” dermatologist Lindsey Bordone of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City said.
Added Liu: “Those amino acids don’t simply get taken to your skin or joints. It just goes everywhere. So you’re probably going to see some sort of improvements compared to somebody who is deficient in their amino acids, but it doesn’t help one organ system over the other.”
Vital Proteins also sells an influencer-approved Beauty Collagen variation, which boasts hyaluronic acid (another buzzy beauty ingredient) and probiotics to “support skin and gut health” and “nourish your inner glow.” But according to Rosenberg, Beauty Collagen powder “doesn’t contain enough probiotics or enough variety of strains to be significantly useful.”
The hyaluronic acid “has very similar effects to collagen,” Rosenberg said. “It’s suggested that it does the same thing with making more elastic skin, speeding up wound healing and relieving joint pain.”
Just like with amino acids, though, getting the hyaluronic acid to where you want in your body isn’t likely, Bordone said. “It would have to get digested in your stomach to get into your blood, and then get to where you want it to be,” she said. “It’s not possible.”
So, before grabbing for a bottle of Vital Proteins, anyone interested in the supposed health benefits should instead “eat a well-rounded, healthy diet,” Bordone advised.
“There’s no standard scientific study out there that has shown that drinking these supplements is better than just eating a healthy diet,” Liu pointed out.
Another win for a balanced diet!