Where Does Collagen Come From? Why Sourcing Matters, According To The Pros
With supplements, one of the main values we encourage people to look for is transparency. If a brand is open and honest about their exact dosage, additives, bioavailability—you're likely in good hands. One of the most important aspects of supplement transparency? Where the ingredients are sourced from.
And that is especially true of collagen peptides, as their sourcing can affect the quality of the supplement itself. Allow us to explain.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a family1 of proteins that are actually the most abundant proteins in the animal kingdom. In fact, there are at least 28 kinds of collagen2 that we know of that exist in vertebrates (yes, us included), but types I, II, and III are the most common in the human body. Collagen's role in the body is on its surface simple: It helps make up the structure of our skin, bone, cartilage, and muscle, with the purpose of helping tissues be more elastic and withstand stretching.* But when you dive into all the different ways collagen benefits your overall health, you'll see there are many vital and complex roles it plays.*
If you want to learn more about collagen and its functions, we recommend checking out our full guide to collagen. Trust us, there's a lot to cover, so it deserves its own explainer.
Yes, your body makes its own collagen.
The most natural source of collagen is, well, you! Your body makes its own collagen proteins via fibroblasts, which are cells in your connective tissues with the main job being to produce more collagen, elastin, and the extracellular matrix3. Your body is in a constant state of replenishing your natural supply in the body—until it's not.
"Our bodies always balance collagen production and degradation," says board-certified dermatologist Gary Goldenberg, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. "When we are young, our bodies produce more collagen than we break down. That balance tips the wrong way with age since tissue regeneration decreases."
This shift is natural and begins in your late 20s. In fact, collagen production peaks in your early to mid-20s, but after that high, it falls at a rate of about 1% per year. When women hit menopause, there's another significant drop (about a 30% decline4) during a few-year period, but then the decline levels off again, but this time at about a 2% drop per year. In addition to the natural decline, it can also be exacerbated via lifestyle habits such as UV exposure and diet.
This is why people often decide to support their natural collagen production with supplementation.* But where do the collagen peptides in those products come from?
Where do collagen supplements come from?
Collagen supplements are made from hydrolyzed collagen peptides. Collagen as a molecule is very large, so to enhance its bioavailability and absorption, it's broken down into amino acid peptides (just like the peptides our digestive enzymes splice from the proteins we eat in food, too).
And here's the thing: Collagen is only present in the animal kingdom. So, to source collagen—it must be sourced from animals. And here are the most common sources:
One of the most common sources of collagen peptides is from cows, where it's sourced from the hide, tendon, bones—otherwise called bovine collagen. Bovine collagen is rich in types I and III collagen, which is why it's a popular source for skin supplements, as skin is primarily made of type I and III collagen, as well.*
As with all things you consume, you should be mindful of where your bovine collagen supplement is coming from. You should also consider how those cows were raised and what they were fed—both for your health and the health of the environment. Always seek out a bovine collagen supplement from an established company that sources their product from humanely raised, grass-fed, or pasture-raised cows. If the brand doesn't call this out, that's typically a red flag. For the sake of transparency, bonus points if the brand is able to identify where those cows were raised, too.
"Grass-fed collagen is the way to go," Ariane Hundt, M.S., a clinical nutrition coach in New York City. Essentially it means that it's derived from animals that were raised in strict standards—and this ensures better quality. "[It] means the animal has never been given any antibiotics, was able to forage and feed on greens, and wasn't confined like factory animals," Hundt explains.
A less common source, but collagen peptides can be derived from chicken cartilage, bones, eggshell membrane. Poultry collagen contains higher levels of type II collagen and is thought to be a good option for bone health5 and joint comfort6.*
As for what to look for in your chicken-derived collagen? We suggest sticking to similar identifiers that you might see in egg or poultry aisles: Look for those made from free-range chickens.
A popular option for pescatarians, marine collagen comes from fish skin, scales, and bones. Much of the marine collagen sold today is derived from fish like cod or snapper, specifically the skin and scales of these fish. Research on marine collagen shows that it has similar benefits to those of bovine collagen on the skin, gut, and bones.*
As for sourcing, always look for clean, wild-caught, sustainable options. Most companies that follow these practices will call it out specifically, so look for this language on their website or label. Some brands go as far as getting their products third-party verified. If you have any doubt, you can always reach out to the company to see if they have sourcing information for their materials.
What about "vegan" collagen?
There is no plant source of collagen because the protein is absent in the plant kingdom. If you see a collagen product that says it's "vegan," please know that it does not contain collagen itself.
"I'm calling vegan collagen's bluff. Sorry, there's no such thing as vegan collagen," writes mindbodygreen's director of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, about the myth of vegan collagen.
Instead, it likely contains ingredients—like key nutrients and bioactives—known to support collagen production, synthesis, and health via various pathways.
"These collagen 'boosters' may include ingredients like amino acids (especially proline, lysine, and glycine), vitamins C and E for collagen production and cross-linking, a B complex for cellular energy, or botanical antioxidants to protect collagen from oxidative damage,"* she says. In fact, many standard collagen products include these ingredients because they are so helpful at aiding your overall collagen health.*
If your vegan protein sources are delivering ample amino acid building blocks for collagen, then these helper compounds can support your body's endogenous collagen production and function.*
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.