Everything You Need to Know About Collagen Supplements

a spoon with collagen capsules and another spoon with collagen powder

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Can it really help reduce wrinkles?

Collagen seems to be cropping up everywhere these days. It’s in lotions, powders, capsules, and being pushed as a sort of miracle product for aging skin. And every celebrity and influencer boasts about its benefits. Before you click “buy” on those Instagram ads for a tub of powder your favorite celebrity is supporting, let us explain what this mystery ingredient does. Most importantly, does collagen actually provide any real benefits? 

We’re breaking down what it is, the recent research on the protein, and what to look for (and steer clear of) in a collagen supplement.

Patricia Farris, MD, a dermatologist based in Louisiana who’s practiced for over 30 years, describes collagen as the “backbone of the skin.” 

“It’s the supporting structure of what we call the extracellular matrix down in the dermis,” she says. It’s why when we’re young our faces appear fuller, and as collagen production starts to slow in our twenties, we begin to develop wrinkles.

In recent years, brands like Vital Proteins, which boasts celebrity endorsements from the likes of Jennifer Aniston and former Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, Khloe Kardashian’s favorite Dose & Co., and a whole host of others have emerged with their own collagen supplements. They’re being marketed aggressively on social media, and interest in the products have soared, Dr. Farris tells us.

Does collagen provide any real benefits?

Supplements claim to minimize wrinkles, improve the skin’s elasticity, and keep skin more hydrated, says Lauren Ploch, MD, a dermatologist in Georgia. Some have even been touted to treat osteoarthritis, and Kardashian has gushed about how it helped her postpartum hair loss. 

But does the research back this up? Unfortunately, we don’t have the cure-all for aging skin because, the answer to that question is, not exactly. Dr. Ploch says it hasn’t been determined if supplements are any more effective than just eating collagen-rich foods, like meat, gelatin, nuts, and soy products. She also says there’s a need for better studies to be conducted in the space. (In the meantime, we’ll be stocking up on nuts!)

Even still, there’s some research that suggests supplements really do work. Dr. Farris points to a 2014 double-blind study that looked at wrinkle volume in over 100 women, 45 to 65 years old. After eight weeks of taking Verisol, a patented collagen supplement, the volume of wrinkles around the participants’ eyes were measured and had decreased. Improvement in skin hydration and elasticity have been shown in other clinical studies too, Dr. Farris says. 

What should you look for in a collagen supplement?

Dr. Farris recommends looking for a supplement with hydrolyzed collagen, which is processed and broken down into fragments small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream. (Collagen is too large a molecule to penetrate the skin topically, so all those collagen creams and lotions you see at the drugstore “is not going to help,” Dr. Farris says.)

Another thing to watch out for is the collagen’s source. The three main types you see on the market are bovine (derived from cows), porcine (from pigs), and marine (from fish), Dr. Farris says. Marine collagen is the most popular, but there’s some concern about heavy metal toxicity in these supplements, and they’re more likely to trigger allergic reactions because of potential shellfish contamination. 

Dr. Ploch also suggests avoiding products that are packed with protein, if you’re already on a high-protein diet. “Some supplements have almost 20 grams of protein per serving, which is nearly half the recommended daily amount for an adult female,” she says. 

Dr. Farris recommends a product by Nature’s Bounty, which sells a supplement with verisol collagen, and a collagen drink sold by Aethern.