Collagen is big news.
Almost overnight, the collagen supplement market has mushroomed into a multi-million dollar business.
Collagen powder can be found on pharmacy shelves and at the local supermarket. Magazines carry photos of celebrities claiming their apparently ageless ageing is down to a specific collagen serum. And social media influencers are all over Insta and TikTok promoting DIY beauty treatments using collagen eye patches and face masks.
If you’d like to know more about collagen in general, see here.
Amongst the numerous collagen tablets, powders, patches, sheet mask, creams and drops, there is a fair amount of ‘vegan collagen’.
But is plant-based collagen even possible? We take a look at the products and the facts.
What is Collagen?
It’s a protein and we have more collagen protein in our bodies than any other kind.
What is collagen powder? Simply put, it is a man-made dietary supplement. But man-made from what?
The fact that we contain so much collagen – and we are part of the animal world rather than the plant one – is a bit of a clue as to where most collagen supplements come from.
Animals. The main sources of collagen are cows, pigs, chickens, fish and shellfish – specifically from their connective tissue, bones, skin and scales.
And plants are noticeably lacking in skin and scales.
For more information on animal, marine and plant-based collagen powder, please check out our in-depth article.
OK. So if most collagen is extracted from byproducts of the animal butchery and fishing industries, what is vegan collagen?
This is where things become a little murky as vegan collagen actually does exist (just), but many of the collagen tablets and powders sold under the collagen banner aren’t strictly collagen.
What I mean by this is that they aren’t a plant form of collagen that you can take.
More on that below, but first let me clarify what genuine vegan collagen powder is.
Plant-based collagen sadly doesn’t exist (as far as we know) in the natural world. But people want it and as long as there are potential paying customers, there is usually a way. Not surprisingly, the result is genetically engineered vegan collagen and it’s a relatively new product on the supplement market.
After much hard work, scientists have created a vegan collagen powder in a laboratory using cutting edge biotechnology. They have taken 4 human genes, genetically modified (GM) yeast and the P. pastoris bacteria and managed to create a plant-based collagen.
Clearly, this vegan collagen is a bit of a Frankenstein creation and some people are wary of anything with a GM component. However, it is a usable collagen protein which is completely devoid of cow hide or chickens’ feet and there is a huge amount of interest in cruelty-free and plant-based collagen – no matter how it is manufactured.
So where can you buy miraculous animal-free collagen?
At the time of writing this (October 2021), here at SmartPlay we are only aware of one manufacturer of genuinely vegan collagen, Algenist. They have launched their GENIUS line of products which include their trademarked Active Vegan Collagen.
Not Quite Vegan Collagen
So what about all the other products that come up when you do a search for vegan collagen?
Well you need to read the labels very carefully, but if you do, you’ll see that yes, they are vegan. However, virtually all of them are actually either a ‘collagen booster’ or ‘a collagen builder’ rather than a digestible collagen protein.
What this means is that they are simply a vegan dietary supplement that provides all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients required for your body to go to work and make its own form of collagen.
Personally, we think this is all rather misleading and even a bit disappointing. You really have to know what you’re looking for to realise that the vast majority of so-called vegan collagen is merely a formulation designed to ‘support’ the production of the collagen that you make yourself.
It is one thing that so many companies gloss over exactly what many of these plant-based collagen tablets and powders are supposed to do, but a lot of other brands choose to be quite cryptic about the source of their products’ collagen content.
One example of this is the hugely popular and strongly reviewed Orgain Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides Protein Powder. The lid is clearly labelled ‘GRASS FED‘ and the tub itself has GRASS-FED & PASTURE-RAISED written on it in more than one place. However, you really have to find the Ingredients section before you see in black and white ‘COLLAGEN PEPTIDES (BOVINE).’
Now obviously, grass-fed and pasture-raised are terms that imply animals, but there are a few other factors at play here:
- The packaging mentions that the collagen peptides are paleo and keto friendly, gluten free, dairy free, soy free and non-GMO in a number of places, but the ‘Bovine’ content only the once – and not in bold on the front of the jar.
- There is no cow, or other animal, symbol on the packaging to immediately acknowledge the animal-based content of the product. A large number of similar collagen powder makers, such as Forest Leaf Advanced Collagen Supplement include an animal pictogram to stop any confusion.
- Orgain is keen to emphasise its organic, non-GMO, clean nutrition, ethos. Even the name, Orgain, has echoes of organic. They sell huge amounts of their highly-rated, proudly vegan, trademarked Organic Protein Plant Based Protein Powder in a variety of forms and flavours. I would argue that it is what they are best known for. So is it an intelligent marketing decision to use terms like ‘grass-fed’ and ‘pasture-raised’ and not be explicit about the cow content?
- The alternative is far more challenging like carrying a picture of a cow like Double Wood Supplements Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides Protein Powder
- Or having the term ‘Wild-Caught Marine Collagen Peptides’ clearly marked on the front label like Code Age Anti-Aging Marine Collagen Powder does.
- And let me be clear, Orgain isn’t the only manufacturer that avoids the directly referencing animals as much as possible.
Orgain are simply practising smart marketing, but I still find it interesting that they are so shy about boldly stating where their collagen peptides come from. Having said that, I’ve used a number of their products and their quality is undeniable.
The Moral High Ground or Simply Squeamish?
For many people, whether or not their collagen powder is vegan is a deal breaker. It could be due to ethical views surrounding animal welfare, concern for about the environmental impact of farming and harvesting animals or a belief in plant-based products being a healthier alternative, but vegan collagen is in demand and will remain so.
And then there’s the fact that knowing your collagen powder is made from the sinews, cartilage and hide of a cow makes some of us (even eat eaters) feels a little queasy. Another reason for the use of euphemisms like ‘grass-fed’!
Whatever the motivation, we should be able to make informed choices and have all the facts in front of us when we buy any product – especially vegan collagen.