When you're concerned about your appearance and the health of your skin, research will naturally lead you to collagen supplements. Collagen, that important structural protein and key component of your skin, shows up in a wide range of beauty treatments, meant to decrease and fill in wrinkles, heal skin, and restore the elasticity lost with age.
One thing you may have encountered is the "collagen biosphere". Primarily, it shows up in the marketing material of one particular company's products.
So here's a question: is that even a real thing? Does it exist, or is it just marketing?
What Collagen Does In Your Skin
First of all, in order to understand how a collagen biosphere might work, you need to know what collagen is and how it works in the body. Forgive us if you're already familiar with this.
Collagen is a protein (and a large one at that). In fact, it's the most abundant protein found throughout your body. It's used as a structural support protein for everything from your tendons and connective tissues to your hair and skin. Basically, it forms the framework, the scaffold, upon which the rest of your body is built.
When you're young, your body produces a ton of collagen. This is part of why you feel so resilient and heal so quickly. Your body has an abundance of collagen to use as the scaffolding for wound healing and repair.
As you age, your body produces less and less collagen. Around the age of 35, collagen production reaches a point where it's no longer more than your body needs. That's the age when you start seeing signs of aging, from gray hair to small wrinkles to sagging skin. Your body obviously isn't going to prioritize your skin when collagen is used in your organs and blood vessels, right? It will keep focusing its collagen where it's needed for you to live, rather than on your appearance.
This is why collagen supplements are often used as an anti-aging product. By taking in more collagen, you can help supplement and restore the collagen your body is no longer producing.
Interestingly, collagen is not a nutritionally complete protein. It provides some of the nutrients protein provides to your body for use, but not all of them. You still need other forms of protein in your diet to remain healthy, whether you get that protein from plant sources or animal sources.
Speaking of animal sources, that's where collagen comes from. Collagen is simply an animal protein. You can't get it from plants, not really. There are technically some new vegan sources of collagen, which come from bacteria and yeasts that have been genetically modified to produce collagen. It's more expensive and potentially less useful than animal collagen, but if it's your only option, it may be worth exploring.
How Collagen is Used as a Supplement
When you use collagen as a supplement, you might be encountering one of two things. You're either finding "whole" collagen, or you're finding a "hydrolyzed collagen" or "collagen peptides" mixture. These are both terms for collagen that has been broken down into its component parts, smaller mini-molecules that are easier for your body to digest.
So why break down collagen before using it as a supplement?
Well, collagen is a large molecule. So large, in fact, that your body can't just use it as it is. It needs to break it down through digestion before those component parts can be ferried throughout the body and used as the building blocks for other proteins, or just whole collagen in other places.
Collagen peptides are a pre-broken form of collagen that your body can more readily absorb and use. It saves you the energy that would otherwise be spent in digestion and makes it less likely that any of the protein you're taking will pass through you without being used.
As a supplement, collagen is typically found in two forms: as a topical serum or cream, and as a nutritional supplement.
Collagen-based skin creams are, unfortunately, pretty ineffective. The skin, you see, is a barrier. It's very intentionally made to be a barrier, to prevent things you get on you – from dirt to microbes – from penetrating to the more vulnerable tissues beneath.
This includes collagen itself. Collagen as an ingredient in a skin cream doesn't do much for you because it generally cannot penetrate the skin and thus cannot be used by the body. In fact, in some cases it can make your wrinkles look smaller and your skin look fuller, but it does that by filling them in from the outside and covering them up, more like makeup than a supplement.
Collagen as a dietary supplement is the real way your body uses collagen. This "whole" collagen is broken down and carried throughout the body to be used where it's needed. Collagen peptides don't need to be broken down (or aren't broken down as much), so they're simply carried where they need to go.
Now, collagen really is used in the skin when it's added in the right way. Scientists studying this have used radioactivity to tag collagen peptides and trace where in the body they go and have found this to be true. Is it any better than just getting normal collagen from eating animal protein? Well, that's harder to say.
What Is a Biosphere?
So what is a biosphere? In scientific terms, a biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems. The biosphere is the planet and all life and ecological processes on it. It's the water cycle, it's the life cycle of plants and animals, it's the interplay between plants and animals, and so on. It's everything in the ecology of the planet.
Obviously, the planet isn't fueled by collagen, nor is it made of collagen.
There are smaller biospheres, artificially created as self-sustaining, enclosed ecologies, such as Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 was originally constructed in the late 80s as an ecological research facility.
One thing you might notice is that nowhere in those paragraphs – and indeed nowhere on either of the pages we linked – is there a mention of the word collagen, or of skin health, beauty, or anything of the sort. The word biosphere and the word collagen have virtually nothing to do with one another.
So, why are they tied together as the term "collagen biosphere"?
What Is a Collagen Biosphere?
A collagen biosphere is… well. It's not entirely certain.
As far as we can tell, a collagen biosphere is a made-up term created by the company L'Oreal Paris to market some of their skin creams. They have a variety of skin creams with a variety of formulas, some of which use collagen as a way to attempt to boost skin health. As we know, though, collagen doesn't penetrate the skin, so its inclusion in a skin cream is pretty much useless.
We presume that the invention of collagen biospheres is meant to make you think of some new scientific innovation, some kind of newer, smaller collagen molecule that makes its way through your skin barrier and into the dermis, where it can be used as a scaffold. L'Oreal, of course, does not make this claim anywhere, because it can be verified as a false claim and thus lead to penalties as false advertising.
All L'Oreal does is say that their creams have "collagen biospheres" in them. They make no attempt to explain what those are, and in fact, no one on the internet seems to know what they are. They don't exist, as far as we can tell, and they aren't even used as a concept by any other company that makes and markets skin serums.
The best we can find is that they somehow "inflate up to 9x to replump the skin's surface". So... they're tiny collagen balloons, that travel under the skin and expand to puff up your skin and reduce wrinkles? That sounds more like inflammation than anything you actually want happening to your skin, to be honest.
So why do they use it? Well, it might be an effective marketing technique. If you think of collagen protein, you might already know it's a long molecule. When someone says a "biosphere" you might think of something smaller, more compact, and thus think it might work better to penetrate the skin. Even just the "bio" in the word biosphere might make you think it's somehow healthier, more natural, or more powerful.
All of this is marketing, and none of it is real. Collagen, when applied to the skin, doesn't do anything, no matter how much you break it down. It could be made to do something, by accompanying it with certain chemicals that penetrate the skin and carry molecules with them, but that would do more harm than good. After all, those chemicals would carry all manner of other things with them, and that becomes a massive health risk.
How to Use Collagen to Restore Your Skin
If you want to actually use collagen to restore skin health, reduce wrinkles, and look and feel younger, you can. You just can't do it with skin creams. So there's your step one: ignore things that have "collagen biospheres" in them, and any skin creams that use collagen.
Oh, some skin creams can work to help keep your skin healthy, they just don't do it with collagen. For example, any skin cream that helps prevent dry skin can be beneficial, and skin creams with SPF coverage help block the UV rays that damage your skin, to prevent the formation of wrinkles in the first place.
What you should do is take an oral collagen supplement. Now, these supplements come in many forms, and you can take any of them, from gelatin to bone broth to hydrolyzed collagen.
It's worth mentioning that studies performed into the efficacy of collagen have found that hydrolyzed collagen – that is, the collagen proteins that have already been broken into smaller component parts, rather than whole collagen molecules – is the best for absorption into the body.
Taking a collagen supplement once a day, no matter how you take it – as a broth, as a capsule, as a mix-in for a smoothie, or whatever else you like – is pretty much all you need. Just take some to help your body restore what is lost through daily living, injury, and damage.
The other thing to recognize is that collagen is not a miracle cure. It's not going to get rid of wrinkles entirely. All you're doing is slowing the damage your skin takes over time, not restoring it. The more you expect out of it, the more you're going to be disappointed. Keep your expectations realistic and you'll be much more satisfied with your supplements.
The Risks of Taking Collagen
Are there any risks to collagen? Well, not really.
The two biggest risks of collagen are a loss of money and the disappointment when it's not as effective as you want it to be. If you're buying a skin cream with collagen biospheres in it, you're probably going to be disappointed when it doesn't do a whole heck of a lot. You'll be out the money you spent on the stuff, and you'll have very little if anything to show for it.
The nice thing about collagen is that it's a natural protein already found in the food we eat. It's present in any animal product that contains connective tissues, which is pretty much any meat product. Taking it isn't going to hurt you, because it's something your body is already designed to process and digest. Taking too much of it also won't hurt you; you can't "over-collagenize" yourself or anything. Any excess will either be further broken down and used in other ways, or it will be processed and discarded as a waste product. It won't hurt you.
The only other risk is simply misinformation. Remember that a lot of the studies performed about collagen have been funded by collagen manufacturers, so they may be poorly designed or tailored to give specific kinds of results. You can do a lot with a "study" to prove basically anything you want if you cherry-pick the results.
Always be skeptical, friends.