The scientific Approach to Nutricosmetics Claims and Studies

Collagen-containing liquid supplements have been gaining in popularity in the last few years. Many consumers claim to have visible results after supplementing collagen, but many are still skeptical about the entire collagen idea.

The best way to come to an end of some questions is always science.

Therefore, many manufacturers and brands are deciding on clinical studies on their products.

In a recent podcast, Primož Artač hosted Katja Žmitek, Vice Dean, Associate Professor at VIST, Faculty for applied sciences. They talked about the credibility of clinical studies and claims in the food supplement industry, the best timing for them, the interpretation and usage of the results, the ingredients, and much more.

The importance of credibility

Firstly, they addressed the credibility of clinical studies and emphasized several factors that should be considered. The studies must be conducted by credible external institutions and not “in-house.” If the studies are done “in-house,” there is always a risk of being too biased. External institutions must do the studies with a proper QC. These institutions must have good clinical practices and be aligned with the Helsinki declaration. It is essential to say that the most reliable clinical studies are “double-blinded.” That means neither the volunteers nor investigators know the product the volunteer receives.

Furthermore, it should also be placebo-controlled. There should always be a comparison without the active ingredients. Only in that way can we be sure that the observed effects are due to the active ingredients incorporated into the product.

There are a lot of “clinical studies” based on an expert opinion who saw some significant change in the skin. This kind of research does not have a high value. An expert could detect some changes, but there should always be a point of control with which the results could be compared. In practice, if there is an opinionable study, there should also be one group of subjects that receive a placebo product and another group of subjects that receive an active product. In the case of the results, these being the opinions, being much higher on the active product than the placebo product, we can claim the probability of the effect of the active product. However, it is crucial to have a proper statistical analysis of the given results. It is highly recommended to use a more objective measurement of the effect (more objective than opinion) if one is available.

It is critical how to collect the data and when to collect it, says Katja. If the study is done on the skin, the seasonal differences in nature play a significant role in the results. For example, skin hydration gets worse when we are approaching winter, and it gets better as we go into the summer. If we start the clinical study in the winter and you are doing it while approaching the summer, the skin will get better by itself. For that reason, it is crucial to have a placebo to be able to observe the effect of the active product. Otherwise, we can’t say that the product works because our skin has a natural cycle. Unfortunately, sometimes we can still see such studies without a placebo control and proper statistical analysis.

This might be very obvious for some, but for an ordinary consumer, it is difficult to understand and differentiate good results and good studies from unreliable ones.

Studies are pricey, making it hard or even impossible for some businesses to invest in them. There are a lot of ingredients out there that have clinical study, which could be a shortcut for small businesses. But should companies just take the ingredients that have clinical studies and apply those to their brand? It is essential to research the facts of an ingredient itself to know that it will work in a certain way. However, it is also vital to test the formulation. The formulation, namely, in which these active ingredients are included, can be influenced by the operability of the ingredients. Sometimes, up to several times just by changing the form and thermic process. Therefore, it is crucial to test the formulation and to see how ingredients interact with each other. Testing the formulation can also be stronger because of the synergistic effect of some ingredients on one another. This means that adding a particular ingredient can allow the other ingredient to absorb better or protect it in the system, or they can simply support each other. The end result could be better when certain ingredients are combined.

The dilemma: topical versus ingestible

But there are different applications of active ingredients. Let us take collagen, for example. The effect of ingestible collagen and topical collagen is entirely different. If the collagen is taken topically, it cannot be expected that the skin will absorb it and use it as its own collagen. This is similar to throwing a brick at a house and expecting it to build itself. Collagen taken topically does not incorporate in our own dermis and does not build our own collagen. However, it is beneficial as a moisturizer. Therefore, due to the collagen in some cosmetics products, users get this tightening effect, which only lasts for as long as the collagen is on their skin. If they wash their faces, they also wash the collagen off and the tightening effect.

On the other side, by ingesting collagen, a body is receiving the building blocks that can be used to build its own proteins. Not only collagen but also others. Collagen enters the digestive system and is broken down into amino acids. It stays in the form of two or three amino acids, called dipeptides and tripeptides, collagen fragments. It has also been shown that collagen can be absorbed and can enter our own circulation. The dipeptides and tripeptides provide signals for our collagen synthesis to accelerate it. We talk about dual work: the building blocks and sending signals to build its own collagen. When asked about the skeptics who do not believe in the effects of ingesting collagen, Katja said: “We have seen in the clinical study that we did for your company, and the results are quite great. It was a huge clinical study where we got greater results than I expected.”

From collagen to vegan collagen, the buzzing trend. It is crucial to first clarify something: there is no such thing as vegan collagen. Plants do not have collagen in their supportive tissues. However, they have other components, and collagen can be obtained from vegan sources. The term “vegan collagen” is most often used for some mixture of amino acids that are found in collagen and maybe some other ingredients that can promote collagen synthesis. But it is not collagen. The human body can build its own collagen blocks with amino acids. Still, it does not get the effect of collagen stimulation by these short collagen fragments, which is extremely important.

Topical cosmetics are only the shield to the building blocks the body builds on the inside. This being said, it is vital to support the body with all the nutrients it needs. Beauty starts from within, and the first step towards it is to provide all the necessary nutrients to build its own biomolecules. Only after this initial step is taken does adding the cosmetics for further skin improvement and to fight all the external influences make sense. Skincare should start with nutrition; all brands should be aware of this critical point.


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