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Vegetable Collagen: Is it as effective as animal-derived collagen?

Collagen is a natural protein of animal origin that is highly favoured in the cosmetic industry. However, with the emergence of exclusively vegan skincare, the need for a plant-based alternative has arisen, and a so-called 'vegetable' collagen has been developed. One might wonder, though, whether it is as effective as animal-derived collagen. Let's discover this together.

Summary
Published May 20, 2024, by Pauline, Head of Scientific Communication — 5 min read
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Is plant-based collagen as effective as animal-based collagen?

Essential for the human body, collagen is a fibrous protein that provides elasticity and strength to connective tissues. It also acts as a signalling molecule and is involved in the processes of development, growth and tissue repair. When applied topically, the collagen helps to combat dehydration by forming a thin film on the surface of the epidermis, thus protecting the skin from water loss and external aggressions. It also has an antioxidant action, allowing it to limit the harmful effects of free radicals. Collagen is therefore a popular molecule in cosmetic formulation.

The collagen is a protein exclusively found in the animal kingdom. However, to align with the vegan lifestyle of some individuals, a "vegan" alternative has been developed.

Respectful of health and the environment, plant-based collagen does not involve either animal exploitation or intensive fishing. However, one might question whether this "green" form is as effective as its animal counterpart. Indeed, the plant-based collagen available today does not quite have the same structure, nor the same sequence of amino acids. It is actually glycoproteins extracted from microorganisms through biotechnological processes, that is, proteins linked to complex sugars (oligosaccharides). Therefore, it is questionable whether plant-based collagen can act in the same way as animal collagen, that is, as a ligand stimulating the synthesis of endogenous collagen by fibroblasts.

Nevertheless, according to suppliers of plant-based collagen and some independent studies, this source of collagen is believed to have good moisturising properties and could even provide skin cells with the necessary amino acids for its biosynthesis. A study in vitro indeed showed that the addition of 4% plant-based collagen in a biological membrane resulted in a 19% reduction in water loss. Furthermore, the elasticity of the membrane, described as its ability to return to its resting state after displacement, was tested and showed an increase of 18%. However, no comparison has been made with animal collagen.

Regarding oral intake, a recent study has examined the effects of consuming a biomimetic collagen derived from plants and compared them to those of marine collagen. Over 8 weeks, 90 volunteers evenly divided into 3 groups took daily doses of 5g of plant collagen, 5g of marine collagen, or a placebo. The results obtained on various skin parameters are compiled in the table below and seem to indicate a comparable efficacy between plant collagen and marine collagen.

Supplement receivedEffect on ElasticityEffect on wrinklesEffect on TextureEffect on Hydration
Plant-based CollagenSignificant increase of 7%Significant reduction of 30%Significant reduction of 10%Significant increase of 5%
Marine CollagenSignificant increase of 6%Significant reduction of 32%Significant reduction of 9%Significant increase of 6%
PlaceboNo effectNo effectNo effectNo effect

Even though plant-based collagen appears to offer skin benefits similar to those of animal collagen, it is currently challenging to truly compare their respective efficacies, due to the limited number of studies conducted on this topic.

Sources

  • RODRIGUEZ M.I. Collagen: A review of its sources and potential cosmetic applications. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology (2018).

  • BHADRA B. & al. A Guide to Collagen Sources, Applications and Current Advancements. Systematic Bioscience and Engineering (2021).

  • BALFAGON-COSTA A. & al. Investigation into Elastin, Hydrolysed Collagen and Collagen-like Products within a Tri-Layered Chitosan Membrane for Testing Anti-Ageing Skin Properties. International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2023).

  • CHIANG C. F. & co. Oral supplementation of vegan collagen biomimetic has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Functional Foods (2024).

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