Has anyone ever told you that your skin is as smooth as a fish? Not likely, but if you think about it, fish skin certainly is smooth, and there is a reason for that. It’s because there is a high concentration of Type I collagen located there.

Type I collagen is the most abundant type of collagen in the human body (1) and accounts for 80% of the collagen in skin, with the remaining being Type III. These collagen fibers form a dense network throughout the dermis (deep layer) and provide structural support for the epidermis (surface layer) of skin. In addition, collagen is the main insoluble fibrous protein found in the extracellular matrix (the mixture of substances that are secreted by cells and fill the spaces between cells). It, combined with hyaluronic acid and elastin within the extracellular matrix, give the skin its structure, elasticity and firmness, and overall health and longevity. Therefore collagen is a critical building block of the skin. But it is also the main structural protein in all fibrous tissues within the body including tendons and ligaments, and is abundant in the cornea, cartilage, bone (2), gums, muscles, hair and nails.

Collagen is produced within our bodies by fibroblasts and epithelial cells (2). We also eat collagen found in animal connective tissue (3). Nowadays, powdered hydrolyzed collagen derived from cattle, pigs and fish, is commercially available and can be mixed with beverages or added to certain foods. Many of these collagen peptide products are derived from pig and cow hides (1), primarily because they are abundant by-products and cheap to produce.

Fish skin-derived collagen peptides are made from skin and bones of fresh or salt water fish and since these parts are typically discarded during fish processing, using them to make hydrolyzed collagen is environmentally friendly.

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Fish hydrolyzed collagen consists of smaller peptides (pieces of protein) than other sources and is consequently 1.5 times (5) more easily digested, absorbed and distributed throughout the body (2). When consumed, it is absorbed into the blood stream through the small intestine and carried. in particular, to the dermis, where it can remain for up to 14 days (6). Here, it stimulates the multiplication and motility of fibroblasts, increases collagen production including fiber density and diameter, increases hyaluronic acid production, and activates protection against UVA radiation (2). It also differs from other collagens because of its high content of the amino acids: lysine, glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline (2). Combined, these nutrients stimulate cells in the skin, joints and bones to synthesize proteins including collagen and help build body tissues including muscle, bone and skin. Lysine not only plays an essential role in collagen production, but also promotes healthy immune function. Lysine plus another amino acid called arginine, has been shown to prevent infection, which could also help prevent acne (7). A double-blind, study found that 12 months supplementation with lysine significantly decreased the recurrence of cold sores (8).

When you are young, collagen makes up about 75% of your dermis and is responsible for giving your skin structure, firmness, and elasticity. However, collagen production starts declining in your 20’s and by the time you are 80, its production is reduced by 70%! During the aging process, hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin fibers undergo structural and functional changes (9) that contribute to fine lines, furrows, roughness, wrinkles, brown spots, and thickened and sagging skin. We call this process skin aging. Such damage is accelerated by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, physical and psychological stress, poor nutrition, over eating, lack of sleep, environmental pollution, autoimmune diseases and chronic UV radiation from the sun (2). In addition, as we get older our ability to replenish lost or damaged collagen decreases by about 1.5% annually, partly because our fibroblasts make smaller amounts (2). Eventually, the increase in collagen damage, coupled with decline in collagen production results in older looking skin.

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Many human clinical studies have reported the benefits of hydrolyzed collagen on skin properties (3) including enhanced hydration and improved elasticity that decreases visible fine lines and wrinkling (2). Ten grams of hydrolyzed collagen daily can increase skin hydration by 28% in 8 weeks and decrease deep wrinkles by 30% in 12 weeks (2), while as little as 2.5 g daily for 4 weeks can reduce eye wrinkles, and by 8 weeks can increase Type I procollagen by 65%, elastin by 18% and fibrillin by 6% (10). Other studies have reported increases up to 78% in dermis density (11), improved elasticity (12), and in combination with other nutrients including anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C, which is needed for collagen production, improved elasticity (13), reduced skin dryness (14) and improved skin texture (8).

Taking hydrolyzed collagen can also thicken hair (15), improve nail disorders such as brittle nails (16), may smooth cellulite appearance (17), prevent Staphylococcus aureus infections in the skin (18), help with weight loss (2) partly because it is more filling that other types of collagen (19), reduce muscle loss, enhance wound healing (20), help balance blood sugar levels (21), lower LDL (bad) and increase HDL (good) cholesterol (22), increase bone mineral density (23) thereby reducing the risk of osteoporosis, and provide anti-inflammatory (24) effects that can reduce osteoarthritis. So although we may eat this ‘beauty protein’ to prevent skin aging, its benefits are much more than skin deep!

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1. Chai HJ1, Li JH, Huang HN, Li TL, Chan YL, Shiau CY, Wu CJ. Effects of Sizes and Conformations of Fish-Scale Collagen Peptides on Facial Skin Qualities and Transdermal Penetration Efficiency. J of Biomed and Biotech. 2010 Article ID 757301, 9 pages. doi:10.1155/2010/757301.

2. Sibilla S, Godfrey M, Brewer S, Budh-Raja A, Genovese L. An Overview of the Beneficial Effects of Hydrolysed Collagen as a Nutraceutical on Skin Properties: Scientific Background and Clinical Studies. The Open Nutraceuticals Journal, 2015;8:29-42.

3. Figueres Juher T, Basés Pérez E. [An overview of the beneficial effects of hydrolysed collagen intake on joint and bone health and on skin ageing]. Nutr Hosp. 2015 Jul 18;32 Suppl 1:62-6. doi: 10.3305/nh.2015.32.sup1.9482. Article in Spanish.

4. Gauza-Włodarczyk M, Kubisz L, Mielcarek S, Włodarczyk D.Comparison of thermal properties of fish collagen and bovine collagen in the temperature range 298-670K. Mater Sci Eng C Mater Biol Appl. 2017 Nov 1;80:468-471. doi: 10.1016/j.msec.2017.06.012.

5. Sripriya R, Kumar R. A Novel Enzymatic Method for Preparation and Characterization of Collagen Film from Swim Bladder of Fish Rohu (Labeo rohita). Food and Nutrition Sciences 2015;6(15): Article ID:61421,11 pages 10.4236/fns.2015.615151

6. Watanabe-Kamiyama M, Shimizu M, Kamiyama S, et al. Absorption and effectiveness of orally administered low molecular weight collagen hydrolysate in rats. J Agric Food Chem 2010; 58(2): 835-41.

7. Azzarà A, Carulli G, Sbrana S, Rizzuti-Gullaci A, Minnucci S, Natale M, Ambrogi F. Effects of lysine-arginine association on immune functions in patients with recurrent infections. Drugs Exp Clin Res. 1995;21(2):71-8.

8. Thein DJ, Hurt WC. Lysine as a prophylactic agent in the treatment of recurrent herpes simplex labialis. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol. 1984 Dec;58(6):659-66.

9. Genovese L, Corbo A, Sibilla S. An Insight into the Changes in Skin Texture and Properties following Dietary Intervention with a Nutricosmeceutical Containing a Blend of Collagen Bioactive Peptides and Antioxidants. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2017;30(3):146-158. doi: 10.1159/000464470.

10. Proksch E, Schunck M, Zague V, Segger D, Degwert J, Oesser S. Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014a;27(3):113-9. doi: 10.1159/000355523.

11. Beguin A. A novel micronutrient supplement in skin aging: a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study. J Cosmet Dermatol 2005; 4(4): 277-84.

12. Choi SY, Ko EJ, Lee YH, et al. Effects of collagen tripeptide supplement on skin properties: A prospective, randomized, controlled study. J Cosmet Laser Ther 2014; 16(3): 132-7.

13. De Luca C, Mikhal’chik EV, Suprun MV, Papacharalambous M, Truhanov AI, Korkina LG. Skin Anti-ageing and Systemic Redox Effects of Supplementation with Marine Collagen Peptides and Plant-Derived Antioxidants: A Single-Blind Case-Control Clinical Study. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:4389410. doi: 10.1155/2016/4389410.

14. Borumand M, Sibilla S. Daily consumption of the collagen supplement Pure Gold Collagen® reduces visible signs of aging. Clin Interv Aging. 2014 Oct 13;9:1747-58. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S65939. eCollection 2014.

15. Scala J, Hollies NRS, Sucher KP. Effect of daily gelatine ingestion on human scalp hair. Nutrition Reports International 1976;13(6):579–592.

16. Tyson TL. The effect of gelatin on fragile fingernails. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 1950;14:323–325.

17. Proksch, E. Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology: A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014b;27(1):47-55. doi: 10.1159/000351376.

18. Ennaas N, Hammami R, Gomaa A, Bédard F, Biron É, Subirade M, Beaulieu L, Fliss I. Collagencin, an antibacterial peptide from fish collagen: Activity, structure and interaction dynamics with membrane.
Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2016 Apr 29;473(2):642-7.

19. Hays NP, Kim H, Wells AM, Kajkenova O, Evans WJ.Effects of Whey and Fortified Collagen Hydrolysate Protein Supplements on Nitrogen Balance and Body Composition in Older Women. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jun;109(6):1082-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.03.003.

20. Brett D. A Review of Collagen and Collagen-based Wound Dressings. Wounds. 2008;20(12). http://www.woundsresearch.com/content/a-review-collagen-and-collagen-based-wound-dressings

21. Gannon MC, Nuttall JA, Nuttall FQ. The metabolic response to ingested glycine. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76(6)):1302-1307.

22. Zhu CF, Li GZ, Peng HB, Zhang F, Chen Y, Li Y. Treatment with marine collagen peptides modulates glucose and lipid metabolism in Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 2010;35(6):797-804.

23. Yamada S, Nagaoka H, Terajima M, Tsuda N, Hayashi Y, Yamauchi M. Effects of fish collagen peptides on collagen post-translational modifications and mineralization in an osteoblastic cell culture system. Dent Mater J. 2013; 32(1): 88–95.

24. Alemán A, Giménez B, Montero P, Gómez-Guillén MC. Antioxidant activity of several marine skin gelatins. LWT – Food Science and Technology. 2011;44(2)407-413. doi: 10.1016/j.lwt.2010.09.003