Nobody expects to look young forever. But many people feel uncomfortable with the visible signs of ageing – and want to explore ways to maintain their youthful appearance as long as possible. 

The latest trending ingredient in the battle against ageing is collagen. This structural protein now features in a huge range of products: from supplements, creams and powders to coffees and protein bars, many of which claim to make skin look younger and healthier. 

But consumers need to proceed with caution when consuming collagen. Because market appetite is growing faster than industry regulation, many product claims are yet to be fully validated. 

And brands exploring the collagen opportunity also need to avoid overemphasising its rejuvenating benefits without sufficient scientific backing. 

Brands, celebrities and influencers lift collagen’s profile 

Collagen is a naturally occurring protein that gives our skin elasticity and strength. It also stimulates the production of hyaluronic acid, a substance found in the body that lubricates tissues and joints.

Unfortunately, as we get older, our natural collagen stores decline by around 1.5% year on year, resulting in skin wrinkling. In a bid to combat this, many beauty companies (and some food & drink brands) have released collagen products, which they claim can slow the ageing process by replacing natural collagen stores lost by the body. 

Collagen’s anti-ageing message is clearly resonating with consumers. The ingredient is searched online around 1.4 million times each month, and new product formats – from collagen protein powders to bone broths – continue to enter the market. Collagen products are also popular with celebrities and influencers, who are keen to extol its virtues on their social media accounts. 

But while public interest in collagen is strong, the promise of younger-looking skin can’t be taken at face value; it needs to be scientifically proven. And food brands in particular can struggle to get product claims approved by relevant industry bodies at home and abroad. 

Validating collagen product claims is an uneven field

One of the major obstacles associated with regulating collagen claims is the fact that governing bodies vary according to the type of product being sold. 

For example, UK and EU cosmetics legislation allows beauty companies to validate claims through a number of sources – including published information, experimental studies and perception tests. This gives brands multiple options for backing-up their product claims with scientific evidence. 

However, any nutrition and health claims made on food, drink and supplements need to be validated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is more restrictive in its criteria. The EFSA has already reviewed the claims made by 36 products containing collagen and 30 out of 36 propositions were non-authorised due to lack of proof – including multiple claims that skin health can be improved by ingesting collagen.

The six collagen claims that have been authorised are based on the inclusion of vitamin C in those products. Vitamin C has been proven to contribute to normal collagen formation, promoting skin elasticity.

Stricter regulation around the promotion of collagen’s properties in ingestible products means that food and beverage brands wanting to compete in the beautysphere face a tougher time getting their claims approved. They may ultimately not be able to make the same claims as cosmetic companies. So brands need to understand the ins-and-outs of sector legislation when developing product claims. 

Validating collagen’s credentials is an international conundrum 

The issue of scientific validation isn’t limited to Europe, either. Existing US studies into the benefits of collagen either use small sample sizes or contain mixed results, so further research is needed to establish the exact impact of collagen consumption on skin elasticity.  

Yet collagen products continue to be sold stateside, as collagen is considered a supplement – and the FDA doesn’t have the authority to review the effectiveness of dietary supplements before they are marketed.

And there’s the added challenge of consumers not understanding how scientific validation varies between products and markets. They may choose to purchase collagen products based on claims made by an item not sold in their home market, believing that it will apply to a similar product in their local store – potentially creating a false sense of what that product can achieve. 

Ingredient innovation and compliance work hand in hand 

Collagen may not yet be a scientifically proven elixir of youth. But with such strong consumer interest, there’s still a business case for including it in anti-ageing products. Brands just need to ensure that product claims are carefully compliance checked so customers can put full trust in their marketing materials. 

The collagen conundrum is a powerful example of the relationship between innovation and compliance. The two work hand in hand, as bold product claims may catch the consumer’s eye, but they can result in an embarrassing U-turn if regulatory bodies don’t authorise those claims. 

And brands that understand the regulatory landscape when bringing new ingredients to market can develop product claims that fit with their relevant industry guidelines, receive approval first time, and remain relevant as legislative frameworks change. 

Hooley Brown substantiates CPG product claims against industry legislation to make sure they meet regulatory requirements. Contact us for help with validating your product proposition.

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