When choosing a collagen supplement, there's quite a checklist to inspect before nailing down your perfect formula. There's the source, excipients (or "other" ingredients), as well as some personal factors to keep in mind while you browse: age, sex, weight, activity level, and lifestyle habits can all play a role.
Needless to say, everyone has a unique set of collagen criteria. However, there are some universal red flags to look out for on your search; these signs below can help you weed out some less than stellar formulas:
"Anything that is marketing itself as a 'vegan collagen' does not have collagen inside of it," says mbg's director of scientific affairs and in-house nutritionist Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, on the mindbodygreen podcast. "That would be like saying, 'Go drink some vegan bone broth'—it is not ever going to be vegan. Collagen comes from cows, chickens, and fish."
You can, however, opt for vegan ingredients that can support your natural collagen health—like vitamins C and E for collagen synthesis or botanical antioxidants to protect the collagen you have from oxidative stress.* But the actual collagen itself, sorry to say, cannot be sourced from plants.
You can also seek out brands that source collagen in a responsible and high-quality way (for example, we source ours from grass-fed, pasture-raised Brazilian cows), but if you see "vegan" plastered on a label, it's not a good sign. "Let's go ahead and bust the mythical unicorn that is 'vegan collagen.' It doesn't exist," adds Ferira.
A dose less than 10 grams.
We don't exactly have a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or any status biomarkers when it comes to collagen, as you might for other nutrients or supplements. The science on oral collagen peptide supplementation is relatively young (we're talking two decades), and we can't recommend a specific dosage just yet: "We are learning in real time, which is honestly exciting and cutting-edge," says Ferira.
As a result, you can find quite a range of doses; options may have anywhere from 40 milligrams to 20 grams of collagen per serving. But from the available research we do have, we support a range of 10 to 20 grams a day. Why? Well, take a look at some of the clinical research data:
- Skin: Studies show that a range of 2.5 to 10 grams per day can be beneficial for skin support.*
- Muscle: Studies show that 15 to 20 grams per day can help muscle mass, muscle strength, and soreness after exercise.*
- Joint: 2.5 to 5 grams per day has been shown to help joint support—however, if you are taking UC-II specifically, you only need 40 milligrams per day per their clinicals.*
- Bone: The available research suggests that 5 grams per day provides bone support.*
So if you do the math, a range of 10 to 20 grams would consistently hit all of these full-body benefits,* which is why we landed on 17.7 grams for our formula. "We don't mess around with potency here," Ferira says on the podcast. "There are products out there with 10 grams or less, sometimes 5 grams or less. That's not what we're doing here."
No vitamin C.
A thoughtfully made collagen supplement should contain vitamin C. It's not a nice-to-have, like some other ingredients brands might fold in for extra beauty benefits (hyaluronic acid, biotin, and the like).* Rather, the antioxidant is actually a vital part of the collagen production process: "Vitamin C is a key cofactor in the synthesis of collagen and elastin, [which helps] give your skin that plump and youthful appearance,"* says Keira Barr, M.D., dual board-certified dermatologist. It's able to promote fibroblast production, tend to collagen DNA, and regulate collagen synthesis, or the pathway in which collagen is made.*
Essentially, your body cannot effectively produce collagen without the antioxidant,* and because many Americans aren't getting the recommended amount of this essential water-soluble micronutrient, many experts encourage you to find a collagen powder that contains vitamin C already in the blend. Plus, vitamin C stabilizes the collagen you already have, thanks to its antioxidant properties that can help combat free radicals.*
As collagen supplements continue to flood the beauty market, you might want to be cognizant of these few red flags. While everyone has different preferences (ingredients, form, etc.), it's important to wade through the marketing language so you know, exactly, what you're getting out of your collagen.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.