Does marine collagen actually work?

We find out if it’s really the secret to glowing, youthful skin

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / December 17 2019

While the thought of dissolving processed fish powder in our drinks and smearing it all over our faces sounds pretty bloody gross, it sure ain’t stopping anyone – because, in case you haven’t noticed, the trend behind marine collagen is HUGE.

It’s everywhere – in particular, skin care and beauty supplements – and it’s being hailed as one of the best anti-ageing secrets (just ask celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Kourtney Kardashian). But when did this even happen? And why?

Let’s back it up a little…

What is marine collagen?

First off, let’s get the lowdown on what collagen actually is. Collagen is basically the main structural protein in your body – think of it like the glue that holds everything together. According to Dr Jaroslav Blazek, founder and director of Avant-Garde Wellness Pty Ltd, “It has a unique function to provide our skin, hair, nails, joints and bones with their structure, elasticity, firmness and hydration.”

However, as we age, our collagen production naturally depletes, which we see in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as thinning hair and brittle nails. This is where collagen-infused skin care and supplements come in. “As we age, the deposition of collagen and elastin decreases and signs of ageing, such as skin damage and wrinkles, appear. Specialised cells in our bodies synthesise collagen from the building blocks called amino acids and arrange them into long chains. We can obtain these building blocks from consuming various animal protein or from collagen peptide supplements,” says Blazek.

So, what exactly is marine collagen? Well, as the name suggests, marine collagen is derived from deep sea or freshwater fish. It comes from the parts of a fish that are usually thrown away in processing. These collagen fibres are then processed into dissolvable supplements or used in skin care products. 

Why is marine collagen so popular?

While using collagen to fight the signs of ageing isn’t a particularly new phenomenon, there is a reason why there is such a buzz around marine collagen right now. Biochemist and founder of Revolution Fibres, Iain Hosie, says it all comes down to people wanting a more holistic, natural approach to health and wellness. “Consumers are beginning to question where their collagen comes from. Most collagen used in cosmetics comes from farmed animals, pig or cow. This has religious and environmental implications not shared with marine sources,” he explains.

“We use marine collagen that is sustainably sourced from some of the deepest and coldest oceans on the planet. Compared to mammalian sources of collagen, marine collagen has a lower melting point and is soluble in water.”

While the most common sources of commercially-available collagen supplements are fish skins and cowhides (also known as bovine collagen), Blazek says marine collagen is more compatible with our own skin. “There are at least 16 types of collagen but 80 to 90 per cent of the collagen in the body consists of types one, two and three. Type one is the main component in skin, type two is the major collagen in cartilage, and type three is most common in bones, tendons and ligaments,” says Blazek. “Marine collagen is a source of type one collagen and bovine collagen is made up of types one and three collagen. Therefore, generally speaking, marine collagen is better suited for ‘beauty’ applications, whereas bovine collagen is more commonly used to repair joints. However, it is the processing and purification process that is crucial to the bioavailability and efficacy of the collagen in question. and it is at least as important as the source of collagen itself.” 

Does it actually work?

When it comes to marine collagen in supplements and beauty powders, Dr Blazek says there are multiple studies that prove its effectiveness in anti-ageing. “There is an ever-growing body of scientific evidence showing benefits of collagen supplementation on skin, hair, nails, joints and digestive system,” he says. “As an example, marine collagen available in Australia under The Beauty Shake brand has been evaluated for its anti-ageing potential in several independent placebo-controlled studies. The results showed that 2.5g to 10g of marine collagen taken daily for eight to 12 weeks significantly improves skin hydration, firmness and elasticity, and reduces wrinkle appearance and fine-line visibility. It also alleviates symptoms of knee osteoarthritis and thus demonstrates the role of marine collagen peptides as an ingredient in joint health applications.”

So, what about topical marine collagen? Is marine collagen skin care really worth it? Well, first of all, it’s important to know that collagen does not exactly penetrate the skin - if it did, it would be pretty easy to just slap on a cream and have thicker skin. However, combined with other active ingredients, you can simultaneously protect your skin against the free radicals that damage collagen, thus jumpstarting your skin’s production of the protein. “Our high molecular weight collagen [in ActivLayr, a product from Revolution Fibres] provides the ideal carrier for supporting vitamins and nutrients derived from natural sources, including kiwifruit and sauvignon blanc grapes grown in New Zealand,” says Hosie.

“In our clinical trials our volunteers started to report visible results after the third to fourth application, but after a week there was an average result of: 19 per cent reduction in wrinkle volume, 16 per cent improvement in skin elasticity and 15 per cent improvement in trans-epidermal water loss. After seven days’ use, we’ve seen some examples of people with noticeably improved skin around the eyes, even 20 days after the treatment. Of course, individual results may differ.”

What to look out for 

We’ll start with the bad news: there’s no such thing as vegan collagen sources. “Despite several brands selling vegan collagen, this is misleading and it simply does not exist,” says Blazek. “The closest thing to a vegan or vegetarian source of collagen could be peptides of plant proteins, which could be metabolised and used by our bodies to synthesise collagen.

“Similarly, there are several brands that sell various products named collagen but (these) are no more than various natural powders rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. While these support collagen synthesis in our bodies, they are not collagen peptide supplements.” 

The good news? We know where to get the good stuff. If you’re looking for supplements or beauty powders that contain marine collagen, we like The Beauty Shake 100% Pure Marine Collagen, Vida Glow Natural Marine Collagen and Mukti Organics Bioactive Collagen Booster.

The Beauty Shake 100% Pure Marine Collagen

Vida Glow Natural Marine Collagen

Mukti Organics Bioactive Collagen Booster

ActivLayr Nano-Collagen Boost Undereye Patches

Kat Burki Form Control Marine Collagen Gel

ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Marine Cream

Keen to find out more about the buzz around beauty powders? Check out which beauty supplements are legit and what ingredients to look out for

Have you tried marine collagen supplements or skin care before? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Main image credit: @lilyaldridge

Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.