If you want your skin to maintain the firmness and bounciness of its youth for as long as possible, collagen supplements are a no-brainer. But what if you’ve committed to a vegan diet? Since most collagen products are made from beef, chicken, or fish, you might be wondering if there’s an alternative that works just as well.
There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is there is currently no such thing as a truly vegan collagen supplement. The good news? There are alternative ways you can incorporate collagen into your diet without sacrificing your beliefs or lifestyle. Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a protein, the most abundant protein in the entire body (making up about 25% to 35% of the body’s entire protein content). It makes up ligaments, tendons, skin, and muscles. It helps give structure to skin, which is why it’s so important for that organ. Think of it as a major building block that helps the body function in different ways, like helping blood clots and strengthening bones.
Our bodies produce collagen on their own, but the amount of collagen begins to slowly deteriorate once we pass the age of 30 or so (likely even sooner). This means our skin begins to lose collagen. If we didn’t have any collagen in our skin, it would sag and develop wrinkles – which is what precisely happens as we age because of this gradual loss of collagen from our bodies.
The collagen protein is composed of a triple helix, consisting of two identical chains and a single chain with a slightly different chemical composition. Fibroblasts, a type of biological cell, are the most common cells that create collagen in the body. They are important in the role of wound healing. Gelatin, which vegans avoid eating as you already know, is actually hydrolyzed collagen used for various reasons in the food industry. Collagen also has abundant uses in the medical field to help treat issues relating to the bones and skin.
There are at least 16 types of collagen, but types I, II, and III make up between 80% to 90% of the body’s total collagen content. Type I can be found in the skin, bones, tendons, and organs. Type II, on the other hand, forms cartilage. Other types can be found in hair and placenta. All have at least one triple helix. Collagen can be hydrolyzed into peptides so that it is better absorbed by the body when used as a supplement to help treat joint, bone, and skin health.
How Is Collagen Made In The Body?
Collagen begins as procollagen, a combination of two amino acids – glycine and proline. Procollagen chains form into a triple helix in the endoplasmic reticulum of a cell. Vitamin C comes into play in this process to help these two amino acids synthesize. Vitamin C is very important in boosting collagen in the body. When applied topically, it also helps to boost collagen in the skin, but consuming it is just as important. Copper is another nutrient that helps your body produce collagen alongside vitamin C, glycine, and proline.
Collagen can be degraded or damaged by several factors, including sun exposure, smoking, and the consumption of sugar. Lupus, an autoimmune disorder, can also be damaging to collagen. Conversely, the consumption of certain nutrients and foods can help your body produce collagen to keep skin and joints looking healthy. We will discuss what foods you can eat to help your body produce collagen a little farther on.
Can Collagen Supplements Be Vegan?
The short answer is no. collagen supplements cannot be vegan. That is because collagen comes from the connective tissues of animals – for example, in chicken and pork skin, and fish scales.
Bone broth is made when the bones of animals like chicken are boiled down. Marine collagen (made from fish like red snapper) is also a popular source of collagen supplements.
Although there is technically a way to make vegan collagen from bacteria and yeast, these supplements are not yet available. Instead, supplement companies will promote “collagen boosters,” which contain vitamins and minerals like vitamin C. As previously mentioned, vitamin C helps the body synthesize collagen, so consuming it is obviously crucial.
For vegans, the best way to have a collagen alternative is to supplement your diet with actual food sources that help build and stimulate collagen in the body.
How to Boost Collagen Naturally With a Plant-Based Diet
Here are the seven foods/supplements perfect for vegans that can help your skin produce collagen and prevent collagen damage and degradation. Ultimately, this can ensure your skin is looking its best with a minimal amount of wrinkling and sagging. It can also ensure your joints are healthy and help prevent pain.
Amino Acids – Amino acids are collagen building blocks. Mostly they are taken from animal sources, but beans and legumes are also great sources. Chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans, soybeans, and pinto beans are all excellent sources of protein, as you most likely already know. You may not have known, however, that they are also essential in helping your body build collagen.
It’s important to incorporate them into your diet as often as you can. “Aside from aging, the top reason people don’t have enough collagen is poor diet. Your body can’t make collagen if it doesn’t have the necessary elements,” says Elizabeth Bradley, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic.
Eat Plant Proteins – Plant proteins can be found in the aforementioned beans and legumes. A few other options include quinoa, chia seeds, potatoes, kale, broccoli, mushrooms, hemp seeds and nuts like almonds and peanuts. These plant proteins can be incorporated into all kinds of recipes and dishes, ensuring you don’t get bored with your food choices while also getting all the necessary protein you need to keep your body functioning at a high level.
If you’ve been vegan for a while, these foods are most likely nothing new for you and you’ve been eating them for a long time. If you’re new to being vegan, you can see how there are plenty of plants that can provide you with protein with no need to eat animal products ever again.
“It's absolutely possible to meet protein and other nutrient needs without meat,” says Cynthia Sass, RD, a dietitian speaking with NBC News. “From a young age, we're taught that our bodies need meat. In reality, our bodies need key nutrients that are found in meat, but we can obtain adequate amounts from plant-based foods.”
Take Lots of Vitamin C – A plant-based diet ensures you’ll get plenty of vitamin C, but you can also take vitamin C supplements if you like. Vitamin C is a cofactor in collagen production, and without it, our skin would just fall apart. Vitamin C regulates the synthesis of collagen and is found in both the epidermis and the dermis. However, it also begins to decrease with age. Supplements taken orally can help increase vitamin C levels in the skin.
Topical application is also an effective way of increasing vitamin C levels in the skin and this can help boost collagen production as well. It’s a win-win. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits like lemons, tangerines, and oranges, as well as in green or orange peppers, kiwi, papaya, cauliflower, cantaloupe, tomato, strawberries, and sweet potato
Use Marine Ingredients – Sea ingredients like algae are also a great way to help improve skin collagen because they are composed of proteins and amino acids, among other substances. Clinical studies have shown that the antioxidant properties of algae can improve skin quality, making it look more youthful by preventing collagen degradation.
Antioxidants are natural enemies to free radicals, which are unstable atoms that attack cells throughout the body. In the skin, they damage collagen and cause the skin to sag and wrinkles to form. With antioxidants, some or all of this damage can be prevented or countered.
Spirulina is a type of blue algae that has shown promise in helping to prevent common signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines. A type of green algae called chlorella has also shown similar promise. Algae typically work as antioxidants, but can also provide hydration benefits to keep skin looking smooth and relaxed without lines.
Ginseng – Studies have shown that ginseng can help boost collagen production in the skin, making it a great option for aging individuals who are starting to see signs of wrinkling and sagging on their bodies. Ginseng also boosts fibroblast production, which in turn helps increase the amount of collagen in the body. Moreover, Korean red ginseng shows antioxidant activity that can further help prevent collagen damage and degradation.
Ginseng is a root that is extremely popular in Asian traditional medicine. It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help address a variety of health issues, seeing as inflammation is often the root cause of many health concerns. You can take ginseng orally, but it’s also available as an active ingredient in a variety of topical beauty treatments, particularly from Korean skincare brands.
Antioxidants Like French Pine Bark – Yep, antioxidants are a big deal. That’s because they neutralize free radicals, which are pretty much bombarding us constantly. We need antioxidants to keep free radical damage at bay so we can look and feel our best.
Antioxidants don’t just prevent skin aging, but they prevent cell damage throughout the body, helping to prevent various diseases. French pine bark is a great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory thanks to its high polyphenol content. Polyphenols are micronutrients found in plant-based foods that have major antioxidant power. Studies have shown that French pine bark consumption helps reduce signs of skin aging.
Taut’s LAC Masquelier®French Pine Bark OPC is a great choice as a supplement because it fights free radicals, prevents collagen and elastin damage, improves skin suppleness, and helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles for an overall smoother complexion. Grape seed extract is also a good choice as an antioxidant that fights aging signs.
Hyaluronic Acid – Finally, you can rely on hyaluronic acid as another superstar ingredient to help you improve your skin’s appearance from inside out. Hyaluronic acid is a natural substance also found in the body -- much like collagen -- that helps cushion joints, gives eyeballs their shape, and keeps skin plump and youthful.
Its main function is to retain water so that it can keep tissues in your body lubricated. This lubrication accounts for ease of movement in the joints and gives skin youthful plumpness.
You might have guessed that like collagen and vitamin C, hyaluronic acid also deteriorates with age. This is where supplementation can be highly effective, and luckily, there is such a thing as vegan hyaluronic acid.
Taut Hydrate is a hyaluronic acid supplement that is great for dry and dehydrated skin that needs a boost. It features plant-based hyaluronic acid and grape seed extract that works as a duo to plump up the skin and improve overall firmness and hydration.
With all of these plant-based sources of antioxidants, you can boost collagen in your body and help improve overall skin quality, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, firming and toning skin so that it’s less likely to sag and even improving overall tone for a more even look.
Although vegan collagen may be on the horizon, you don’t have to wait years to reap its rewards when there’s so much you can do yourself by incorporating these foods and ingredients into your diet and skincare routine.
The Best Vegan and Plant-Based Collagen Alternative Supplements You Can Buy
Start with our most popular vegan hyaluronic filler, Taut Hydrate.