Journey of a Proprietary Molecule: Algenist Vegan Collagen

First Posted on December 8, 2020 in:anti-aginginsights & debunks
We decode a lot of ingredients on Instagram, but one of the hardest categories to decode and do a deep dive on are proprietary ingredients. The other frustrating thing is that most proprietary molecule products usually come with a premium price tag. But there is one specific scenario that justifies premium serums — a well done testing plan with solid results. 

Makings of a Proprietary Ingredient

There are many stages to validating a good ingredient. Generally speaking, you test on a petri dish or test tube first. If it passes this initial sniff test, you move on to either animal testing or ex vivo tests where patches of biopsy skin is used. Once there’s reasonable confidence that this is a good ingredient, formulators start putting it into very simplistic test formulas. These simple test formulas get further tested on human skin in relatively small screening studies. And it keeps going! 

Just from test tube to human skin patch test could take years, but we aren’t even done yet. After all that, and only if the data is good, we’re finally ready to put it in a more elegant market-ready formula with the proper supporting ingredients for a full-scale clinical test. The sad reality is, not every proprietary “miracle” ingredient goes beyond the very initial petri dish stage. Hence why we’re really excited that the Algenist team is willing to share with us the journey their vegan collagen went through. So we’re dedicating a whole article to Algenist and their work on their proprietary Vegan Collagen.

Collagen and Collagen-related ingredients

Collagen has been a popular beauty ingredient for at least the past two decades. This probably stems from the idea that if I put collagen on my skin, it should help my own collagen right? Unfortunately, there are two major problems with the classic collagen ingredient.

  1. Many collagen products advertise it as an anti-aging ingredient when it is really considered as a simple hydrating ingredient.
  2. For those that are vegan, collagen is an animal-derived ingredient that’s sourced from either cow or fish. This isn’t inherently bad since collagen is more of a byproduct but it’s something to think about for those that are vegan conscious.

Algenist set out to create a collagen molecule that is vegan and can deliver more than immediate hydration benefits.

Algenists’ Vegan Collagen Journey

Algenist started by identifying plant sources of collagen amino acids. Part of the reason that collagen is animal derived is because the amino acid combination of proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine creates a structure that is unique to the animal kingdom. Algenist looked to 3 different sources — corn, wheat, and soy — to gather all the necessary components to synthesize a vegan collagen that is structurally identical to animal collagen.

Once the structure of the collagen is verified, it’s time to move on to the “testing simplistic formula” phase. Algenist opted to do a 4 week forearm study that compared the collagen material to an untreated site as well as a standard moisturizer. Between the 3 test sites, ultrasound imagery found that vegan collagen was the only one that increased skin density (exciting!). In that same study, vegan collagen was found to increase hydration and decrease TEWL (transepidermal water loss) even after treatment was stopped.

What we found especially interesting about Algenists vegan collagen journey was the formulation step. The great forearm data used a simple carrier with high levels of collagen, so they opted to challenge (torture?) chemists to create an ultra concentrated yet refined formula that showcased collagen as the first ingredient in the ingredient list to make sure the benefits translate over to the final product.

*For those new to ingredient lists, this means that the amount of collagen had to be higher than any other ingredient used in the formula including water. Most classic emulsions need a large amount of water as a carrier to encompass all the other ingredients so this is unusual and more challenging.

Algenists’ Vegan Collagen Results

We’ve finally hit the clinical phase after years of research and preparations. The final product Algenist’s Genius Liquid Collagen was tested further in a 4 week clinical study this time with Visia imaging and cutometer measurements. A cutometer is like a fancy suction cup that measures how fast skin goes back to normal state after being pulled. It gives you a good idea how “firm” and “elastic” skin is. Visia is an awesome (and kind of evil) photo booth that can capture high res pictures of your face in precise lighting to measure skin parameters like discoloration, photodamage, and wrinkle severity.

Through these measurements, Algenist was able to show that the Genius collagen formulation effectively lessen the appearance of wrinkles and increased both firmness and elasticity of the face, eye area, and neck after 4 weeks. 

From the initial breakthrough, Algenist went on to create a full line of products to deliver Vegan collagen in various formats. They have also found that by combining the serum Liquid Collagen with the night cream Sleep Collagen, they were able to further reduce signs of aging in a 4 week clinical pictured below:

Liquid Collagen In Practice

Algenist recommends their Genius Liquid Collagen serum to be used both day and night on the face and neck. During our personal trial periods, Gloria with dry skin used it has a first step hydrating serum and followed up with a balm. Victoria with oily skin found this product to be surprisingly be enough as a standalone.

Layering Pro tip! If you’re thinking about layering actives with this product, Algenist has suggested retinol or peptide creams.

The Takeaway

There’s a lot of mystery behind proprietary molecules and not every brand does the due diligence needed to validate the claims and price tag. All in all, we really appreciate all the work Algenist took to validate the vegan collagen molecule and follow through in testing the final formula in a clinical -- and it’s really awesome that they’re willing to share all the insights with us.