Collagen Stimulating Supplements

Florence Barrett-Hill

In the past decade the beauty industry has seen a shift towards the understanding that skin nutritional supplements may prove to be more effective than topically applied products.
The saying “You are what you eat” certainly is proving to be true, with an increase in skin disorders like eczema, allergic contact dermatitis and ichthyosis. A rise in childhood obesity and medical conditions like diabetes type 2 are also showing to be on the increase.

Therapists have been recommending the supplements of Omegas for many years, knowing the benefits and that good cellular health will result in a healthy epidermis. But more recently there has been an increase in the marketing of supplements that are supposed to increase collagen within skin and turn back the clock of an ageing skin.

The industry went through a similar time when anti-ageing creams containing hydrolysed collagen were supposed to also prevent or treat the ageing skin. It was quickly realised that, due to the molecular weight and size of ingredients like hydrolysed collagen, this was not going to happen. The industry rapidly had to change its mindset and began to relate product composition to skin structure and function and in doing so, became more knowledgeable and less susceptible to marketing hype of suppliers and manufacturers to the beauty therapy industry.
Well, once again we are going to have to rapidly bring ourselves up to date, but still using the same mindset that was used in the past: Relate product composition to skin structure and function, but from a nutritional point of view. Instead of looking at the composition of a facial cream, we must move to investigating the composition of the many new skin nutritional supplements that have come onto the market.

This article is going to concentrate on Collagen Supplements only, this will prevent getting sidetracked onto the many pathways that one could so easily go down.

collagen cream

Due to the molecular weight and size of ingredients like hydrolysed collagen, topical application is not as effective as oral intake

We will begin with the usual reminder of the cells and systems that are involved with the manufacture of collagen within skin, concentrating on Collagen Type 111 and Type 1.
Collagen is created by fibroblasts, which are specialized skin cells located in the dermis.

Fibroblasts also produce other skin structural proteins such as elastin (a protein which gives the skin its ability to snap back) and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). GAGs make up the ground substance that keeps the dermis hydrated. In order to signal or turn on the production of skin structural proteins, fibroblast cells have specially shaped receptors on their outside membranes that act as binding sites to which signal molecules with a matching shape can fit. When the receptors are bound by the correct combination of signal molecules (called fibroblast growth factors, or FGFs), the fibroblast begins the production of collagen. Growth factors are polypeptides (proteins) that bind to receptors on the cell surface, with the primary result of activating cellular proliferation and/or differentiation.
Many growth factors are quite versatile, stimulating cellular division in numerous different cell types; while others are specific to a particular cell-type.

Fibroblast growth factors act specifically on various types of epithelial cells including keratinocytes of the skin. In addition, some types of Fibroblast Growth Factor have been shown to be more than growth factors: they can protect epithelial cells from damaging effects induced, for example, by radiation and oxidative stress.

Fibroblast Nutritional Requirements

There are a number of factors that will ensure the formation of healthy strong collagen.

Collagen is created by fibroblasts, which are specialized skin cells located in the dermis
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A
  • Key Amino acids (proline & glycine)
  • Copper peptides
  • Silicon allied with magnesium and calcium
  • Bioflavonoids
  • Growth factors and Hormones
  • Zinc is a co factor
  • Iron is a co factor
  • Essential Fatty Acids are required for all cell functions and healthy cell membranes

Another important component of the Dermis is the Glycosaminoglycans


In addition to making Collagen and Elastin, the Fibroblast also makes another important component of the Dermis –  the Glycosaminoglycans.
Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) found within the Dermis & Epidermal Cells are associated with Proteoglycans. Glycosaminoglycans and Proteoglycans are active regulators of cell function, participate in cell-matrix interactions and play an important biological role in fibroblasts proliferation, differentiation and migration by effectively modulating the cellular phenotype.

The following Proteoglycans are associated with GAGs and are associated with skin:

GAGs fluid
Another important component of the Dermis is the Glycosaminoglycans
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Dermatan Sulphates
  • Heparin & Heparin Sulphate

Glycosaminoglycans are another name for the ground substance that supports the fibres Collagen & Elastin and determines the physical properties of connective tissues. Proteoglycans like Hyaluronic acid serve as important regulators of cell behaviour.

Do Collagen Supplements assist in the formation of Collagen and reverse skin ageing?

Now that you have a clear understanding of what is required for the fibroblast to create collagen, elastin and glycosaminoglycans, we can take a closer look at the components that make up some of the collagen supplement tablets that are available today.

The question is: What are they made of?

They are primarily made of hydrolysed collagen also known as collagen hydrolysate or purified gelatine, this is collagen that has been enzymatically or chemically processed to make it more digestible and more easily absorbed by the body. It is often used by body builders because it is an inexpensive protein source.

Collagen tablets are primarily made of hydrolysed collagen also known as collagen hydrolysate or purified gelatine

Hydrolysed Collagen as a Supplement

Collagen is found in the connective tissues in skin, bones, cartilage, tendons and ligaments of animals and is commercially derived from either fish, beef, pig or chicken. Hydrolysed collagen consists of water-soluble peptides, which are rich sources of the amino acids glycine, L-proline and L-hydroxyproline. Nutritional supplements containing hydrolysed collagen appear to be targeting collagen type 11 found in joints and ligaments. These types of collagen supplement are typically marketed to disorders of joints like rheumatoid arthritis and bone disorders like osteoporosis.

Collagen Hydrolysate has an amino acid composition equivalent to what is found in the cartilage matrix. Supplements containing collagen hydrolysate are also targeting the joint cartilage and type 11 collagen.

Gelatine as a Collagen Supplement

Gelatin is produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the bones, connective tissues, organs, and some intestines of animals such as cattle and horses. The natural molecular bonds between individual collagen strands are broken down into a form that rearranges more easily. Gelatin melts when heated and solidifies when cooled again. Together with water, it forms a semi-solid colloidal gel, and its chemical composition is, in many respects, closely similar to that of its parent collagen.

knee joints
Nutritional supplements containing hydrolysed collagen appear to be targeting collagen type 11 found in joints and ligaments.

Other sources of gelatine are from the root of the Kuzu, a large vegetable root native to Japan. An alternative substance is called Agar-Agar, which is derived from seaweed. Some Kosher gelatine are made with agar-agar, most are not. Some vegan replacements for gelatine are: guar gum and carrageenan.

Although gelatin is 98-99% protein by dry weight, it has less nutritional value than many other protein sources. Gelatin is unusually high in the non-essential amino acids glycine and proline, (i.e., those produced by the human body), while lacking certain essential amino acids (i.e., those not produced by the human body). It contains no tryptophan and is low in isolucine, threonine and methoionine.

The values shown in the chart below vary, especially the minor constituents, depending on the source of the raw material and processing technique. For decades, gelatin has been touted as a good source of protein. It has also been said to strengthen nails and hair. However, there is little scientific evidence to support such an assertion, one which may be traced back to the 1890s, when it was advertised that gelatin contains protein and that lack of protein causes dry, deformed nails. In fact, the human body itself produces abundant amounts of the proteins found in gelatine.
In addition, gelatine is one of the few foods that cause a net loss of protein if eaten exclusively, and in the 1970s several people died of malnutrition while on popular liquid protein diets. With this knowledge one would quickly come to the conclusion that as a supplement for the skin and to assist in collagen production, it is entirely unsuitable. Cosmetics may contain a non-gelling variant of gelatin under the name hydrolyzed collagen.

Hyaluronic Acid (HA) as a Collagen Supplement

Hyaluronic acid is a large component of the glycosaminoglycans that make up the dermis, found in virtually all tissues and fluids of the body, especially in synovial (joint) fluid, the eyes vitreous fluid and in skin.

HA plays a critical role in maintaining healthy joint synovial fluid and preventing the degeneration of ageing joints. HA has high daily turnover, so large amounts may be needed to maintain normal steady-state levels. HA is also a regulatory molecule influencing cell movement, phagocytosis and blood vessel formation. HA also serves as a free radical scavenger and antioxidant, and may be particularly important to protect the skin from the ageing effects of excessive sunlight exposure.

HA is critically involved in healthy wound healing. HA stimulates DNA synthesis and fibroblast cell division, essential for healthy skin and cartilage maintenance. By the time a person reaches age 30, his or her HA becomes disorganized from skin collagen protein, compared to the interweaving of HA and skin collagen in a nine-year-old, and is even more disconnected in the skin of 60-year-olds. Given the importance of HA for healthy skin and joints, its high turnover and normal decrease with ageing, an effective, absorbable source of HA is highly desirable.

Hyaluronic acid in skin supplements is derived from chicken sternum as type II collagen. A patented, purified, enzymatically hydrolysed (partially digested) type II collagen supplement, derived from the sternum (breastbone) of young chickens.  Native collagen, which has not been pre-digested, also provides HA, but in the form of giant molecules that are too large for absorption.

Glucosamine as a Collagen Supplement

Since glucosamine is a precursor for glycosaminoglycans, and glycosaminoglycans are a major component of the dermis and joint cartilage, supplemental glucosamine may help in the support of the dermal matrix and to rebuild cartilage.
Glucosamine is often sold in combination with other supplements such as chondroitin sulphate and methylsulfonylmethane.
Clinical studies have consistently reported that glucosamine appears safe.
Since glucosamine is usually derived from shellfish, those allergic to shellfish may wish to avoid it. However, since glucosamine is derived from the shells of these animals while the allergen is within the flesh of the animals, it is probably safe even for those with shellfish allergy.
The benefit of glucosamine sulphate is likely the result of a number of effects including its anti-inflammatory activity, the stimulation of the synthesis of proteoglycans.

Glucosamine is also commonly used as a treatment for osteoarthritis, although its acceptance as a medical therapy varies


The loose connective tissue of the dermis is primarily made of collagen type 111, and hyaluronic acid is a major component of the supporting glycosaminoglycans.
Would taking a supplement that was high in HA stimulate the fibroblast enough to make more collagen type 111? I doubt it; however, by supplementing the supporting glycosaminoglycans I could see the benefit in taking a supplement that contained Hyaluronic Acid if only to lengthen and protect the life of existing collagen fibrils.

Will taking glucosamine help build collagen?

Because glucosamine is a precursor for glycosaminoglycans and GAGs are a major component of the dermis, I would say that yes, it is probably worth trying.
The benefit of glucosamine sulphate is likely the result of a number of effects including its anti-inflammatory activity and the stimulation of the synthesis of proteoglycans. 

Would Hydrolysed Collagen stimulate the fibroblast enough to make more collagen type 111?

The only benefit that I can see from using Hydrolysed Collagen as a supplement would be to obtain the amino acid content, but again the target is more of joints and cartilage (type 11), not collagen found within the loose connective tissue of the dermis (Type 111).
If we take the knowledge that gelatine is produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen (bovine, porcine or fish) and that it has been found to have no nutritional benefit whatsoever, wouldn’t hydrolysed collagen also have little nutritional benefit?

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