If you read beauty blogs and magazines, chances are you have heard of the latest craze to hit the anti-aging market — collagen supplements. Collagen supplements claim to make the skin look younger, may help with brittle nails, and may even reduce the appearance of cellulite. But do they really work? We examined the current scientific literature to determine if collagen supplementation can transform your skin and make you look years younger.
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is responsible for the structure, stability, and strength of the underlying tissues. The deposition of collagen into the skin gradually decreases over time as the skin ages, but it can be accelerated due to photoaging from excessive sun exposure. Aside from aging, the biggest reason individuals are deficient in collagen is a poor diet. Consuming animal and vegetable sources that are protein-rich, such as beef, chicken, fish, beans, eggs, and dairy products can help ensure adequate intake of collagen.
Several limited studies have shown promising results in individuals taking collagen supplements for their skin. These studies have noted benefits in transepidermal water loss (skin hydration), skin elasticity, roughness, and wrinkles. Two separate studies showed a possible benefit of collagen supplementation in patients who have brittle nail syndrome as well as in women who suffer from moderate cellulite. Animal studies further revealed that administering collagen hydrolysates to mice for 6 months led to significantly increased collagen content and density of the skin.
Can I benefit from taking a collagen supplement?
If you are eating a healthy diet and feeding your body all of the nutrients it needs to make collagen, you probably do not need a supplement. However, as the body ages, you may no longer absorb or synthesize nutrients as efficiently as you used to. Taking a collagen supplement can make up for a deficiency if it is present. A 2017 study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry showed that collagen hydrolysates can be transferred through the bloodstream directly to the skin, which explains the probable pathway for the beneficial effects of taking a supplement. However, some scientists postulate that the skin is a much lower priority to the body than major muscles, like the heart, diaphragm, and brain, where collagen will be distributed first. Therefore, only patients with a significant deficiency will likely benefit from taking collagen supplements. In addition, the cost and bulk of supplementation may be prohibitive for patients. Supplements in pill form require swallowing six a day to get a 6-gram dose. Powders are often double the price of pills, running from $15-$40 for a month’s supply.
Limited studies on the benefits of collagen supplements have shown some promise, however, questions remain regarding which patients will benefit and how much collagen is actually absorbed into the skin. Cost and administration may be factors in compliance. It should be noted that for individuals who wish to add more collagen to their diet, bone broth—while not in hydrolysate form—offers six grams of collagen-rich protein and may be a tastier way to get your collagen fix.
- Jhawar, N., Wang, J. & Saedi, N. Oral collagen supplementation for skin aging: a fad of the future? Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, August 14, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.13096
- Choi, F.D., Sung, C.T., Juhasz, M., Mesinkovska, N.A. Oral collagen supplementation: A systematic review of dermatological applications. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2019; 18(1): 9-16.
- Vollmer, D.L., West, V.A., & Lephart, E.D. Enhancing skin health by oral administration of natural compounds and minerals with implications to the dermal microbiome. J. Mol. Sci.2018, 19(10), 3059.
- Hexsel, D., Zague, V., Schunck, M., Siega, C., Camozzato, F. & Oesser, S. Oral Supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology; August 2017, available online at: https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.12393.
- Krieger, E. Collagen supplements show early promise for skin and joints, but don’t stock up yet. March 26, 2018, The Washington Post. Available online at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/collagen-supplements-show-early-promise-for-skin-nails-and-joints/2018/03/23/1cd480e2-27d6-11e8-bc72-077aa4dab9ef_story.html
- Schunck, M. Zague, V., Oesser, S., & Proksch, E. Dietary supplementation with specific collagen peptides has a body mass index-dependent beneficial effect on cellulite morphology. Journal of Medicinal Food. Dec 17, 2015: Available online at: https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2015.0022
- Cruel, J. Does drinking collagen supplements actually do anything for your skin? Self, August 22, 2017. Available online at: https://www.self.com/story/collagen-supplements.