If you’ve been paying attention around the beauty and/or wellness sections of the internet, you’ve probably heard about collagen. Regarded as the supermodel beauty secret for beautiful skin and pretty much the closest thing we’ve got to the fountain of youth, collagen is in powders, pills, masks, and more.
The problem with this? Collagen is actually pretty gross – and definitely NOT vegetarian.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a protein already found in our bodies, and a substance that pretty much holds it all together. It is found in our bones, muscles, skin, and tendons and adds strength + structure.
Not surprisingly, most collagen supplements are produced from the bones, skin, and connective tissue of animals, including cattle, fish, horses, pigs, or rabbits. I think we can all agree there’s nothing beautiful about drinking a powder of animal bones + connective tissue.
Collagen gets depleted as we age, leading to loss of elasticity and wrinkles. Not only does collagen get depleted, but your body also makes less of it as you age. (P.S. Sun, smoking, and a diet high in sugar can actually damage collagen production! Avoid, please.) Ready to feel old? After age 20, you produce around 1 percent less collagen in the skin every year.
If you want to get into the details of why skin ages, check out this Scientific American article. I’m a nerd, so I loved it.
Collagen supplements or treatments that increase collagen production may keep your skin looking fresh and youthful. Here’s the problem: ingestible collagen is being touted as a miracle cure for skin and signs of aging, without much evidence to back up these claims. Doctors say that because of the way collagen is metabolized in the body, drinking collagen or eating collagen does NOT necessarily mean you’ll have increased collagen in your skin.
There are ways, however, to boost your collagen production – and they don’t involve boiled animal parts.
Vegetarian Collagen and Collagen Alternatives
So, if you don’t want to drink or swallow a lump of hydrolyzed animal skin and connective tissue, don’t fret – there are vegetarian ways to boost your collagen production.
Collagen is the critical building block for beautiful skin, hair, and nails – but you need silica to build collagen! Animal sources of silica actually have less than plant sources, making this an easy choice even for non-vegetarians. The highest content for silica from an edible source comes from the common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) stem – sounds kind of non-vegetarian, ironically. Since taking silica, my nails have stopped peeling and splitting. I take this one:
If you’re browsing Amazon or other retailers for “vegetarian collagen,” tread carefully. Descriptions often say “vegetarian capsule” without noting that the contents of the capsule are definitely NOT vegetarian. I thought that would be the case with BioSil, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this supplement contains no animal ingredients. It comes with rave reviews for hair, skin and nails – grab it here.
Yep, the ubiquitous little soybean can help vegetarians get beautiful skin. Almost every soy product available contains genistein, which increases the production of collagen in the dermis. Genistein also contains enzymes that neutralize free radicals and help to preserve the skin, making it a more powerful anti-aging tool. Don’t forget to look for organic, non-GMO soy! It’s one of those extra-dirty foods, but all labels should be clearly marked to help you find a good option. For example, here’s a vegan soy protein shake that skips all the nasty stuff.
Other nutrients that support collagen formation include:
- + Vitamin C: found in oranges, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli
- + Copper: mostly found in nuts
- + Vitamin A: found in plant foods as beta-carotene
- + Proline: found in egg whites, cheese, soy, and cabbage
- + Anthocyanidins: found in blackberries, blueberries, cherries and raspberries
Update: I’ve had a lot of questions about vegan alternatives to fish oil too! I found vegan Omega-3 DHA supplements from a reputable vegan store near me, but you can also find them here. They are amazingly high-quality and use algae as the source.
What other information do you need about collagen? Always happy to help!