Can a scoop of powder stirred into your drink really make you look younger? That’s the claim made by manufacturers of collagen supplements, which are being widely promoted as a way to improve skin health and to banish wrinkles and other signs of aging.
Collagen is a crucial protein that serves as a building block not only for your skin, but also your tendons, ligaments, bones, and cartilage. It acts as scaffolding, giving your skin structure, which is why your skin starts to sag and wrinkle as collagen levels decline with age.
Collagen supplements, which also take the form of capsules, liquids, and gummy chews (among others), were a $3.71 billion market in the United States as of 2016, according to a 2019 review in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. But some of the claims surrounding these supplements sound too good to be true.
So, we wanted to know, is there any evidence that collagen supplements can really improve skin health and reverse signs of aging? More importantly, are they safe?
We reached out to Dr. Peter Chien, an instructor in the Department of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School, to find out. Below is a summary of his responses.
Q. Is there a scientific basis for these claims that collagen supplements can improve the skin?
A. Dr. Chien: It’s biologically plausible that collagen supplements could produce an effect inside the body. When a collagen supplement is ingested, the protein is broken down into smaller parts, called dipeptides and tripeptides, which are absorbed by the intestines. Researchers know that the body absorbs them because these substances can be detected in the blood after someone takes a supplement. In mouse studies, researchers have found that dipeptides, in particular, quickly make their way into the skin, where they can be found for up to two weeks at a time. In people, collagen supplements do appear to have some effect in stimulating collagen production.
Q. What is the evidence that collagen supplements work?
A. Dr. Chien: In the 2019 Journal of Drugs in Dermatology review, authors searched for randomized controlled trials that tested the effects of collagen supplements on the skin. They included 11 different trials that lasted an average of almost 70 days each. Over all, the combined number of trial participants was small — 805 people total, 699 of them women.
The authors concluded that there was evidence that short- and long-term use of collagen supplements reduced wrinkles and other signs of skin aging, sped wound healing, boosted collagen density, and improved skin elasticity and hydration.
Q. What types of collagen supplements were tested?
A. Dr. Chien: There were three types of collagen supplements studied in the various trials.
Eight trials used a supplement called collagen hydrolysate. People in those studies took anywhere from 2.5 grams per day to 10 grams per day for eight to 24 weeks. Researchers in those studies were looking to see whether the supplement could help improve pressure ulcers, dry skin, signs of skin aging, or cellulite.
In two studies, participants took 3 grams per day of collagen tripeptide for 12 weeks to see if it would improve skin hydration and elasticity.
A final study looked to see if collagen dipeptide could help improve age-related changes to the skin. Eighty-five women were divided into three groups and given either 5 grams of fish collagen hydrolysate with high dipeptide content (10 milligrams) daily for eight weeks, fish collagen hydrolysate with 0.5 milligrams of dipeptide for the same period of time, or a placebo pill. They determined that women who took the high-dipeptide supplement showed more improvement on measures such as skin moisture, elasticity, wrinkles, and roughness than women who took the low-level dipeptide supplement or the placebo.
Q. What are some other specific examples from the studies that show improvement?
A. Dr. Chien: One study tested the effects of 10 grams of daily collagen hydrolysate in a group of 106 women between the ages of 40 and 65. Researchers found that collagen density increased by nearly 9% in women who took the supplement for 12 weeks. Density did not change in women who took a placebo.
In an eight-week study involving 114 women ages 45 to 65, researchers said those who took 2.5 grams a day of collagen hydrolysate saw a “significant” reduction in eye wrinkles compared with women who took the placebo pill. The women who took the supplements also saw an increase in skin collagen and elastin.
Another study testing collagen hydrolysate documented faster healing in pressure ulcers among long-term care residents who took the supplements, compared with those who did not.
Q. How did researchers determine that supplements reversed signs of aging?
A. Dr. Chien: The studies included in the review used different methods to gauge improvements in skin aging. Some used devices to mark out wrinkles on the surface of the skin, charting how they changed over time. Others asked investigators (who weren’t told who took the supplement and who didn’t) to compare before-and-after photos of the study participants and to rate their skin quality.
Q. Can someone achieve the same benefits from eating collagen-rich foods and skipping the supplement?
A. Dr. Chien: Collagen can be found in many foods, such as chicken and fish. Unfortunately, you probably can’t eat enough collagen-rich foods to reach the amounts of collagen you would get in a supplement or to see an effect on the skin.
Q. Do you have any overall recommendations regarding the use of collagen supplements?
A. Dr. Chien: Keep in mind that not all supplements are created equal. The business of making these products is very much the Wild West, with little regulation or quality control. For example, manufacturers may derive collagen from different sources, ranging from pigs and cows to marine animals. Collagen only occurs naturally in animals, but some brands claim to use plant-based collagen. It’s not clear whether this type of product is effective.
Because of these variations, some supplements may help your skin, while others may do nothing. The lack of oversight also raises the risk that some formulations might not contain what’s listed on the label, or they may include contaminants or other harmful ingredients. Choosing a product that uses an independent organization to verify quality, such U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab.com, can help provide some assurances. Even so, there is still room for caution. Independent testing has found that even verified products may still have inconsistent quality. These are all things to keep in mind when considering a supplement.
In addition, while there is some evidence that collagen supplements can help improve skin quality, the studies conducted so far are all small. More research is needed to confirm the results and also to determine optimal dose as well as what skin conditions they are most effective in treating.
Q. Are collagen supplements safe?
A. Dr. Chien: As of now, collagen is thought to be safe. The 2019 review published by the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology noted that nobody in any of the studies that they examined reported any ill effects after taking the supplements. But there aren’t any studies that have examined long-term safety.
Q. Are there other options that can provide anti-aging benefits for the skin, similar to the ones claimed by collagen supplement manufacturers?
A. Dr. Chien: Some cosmetic procedures that might be more effective in improving signs of aging are fractional laser resurfacing (which causes microinjuries to the skin to stimulate a healing response that boosts collagen), or skin microneedling (which uses a device to poke pinprick holes in the skin to stimulate collagen production). But these procedures also tend to cost more than supplements, so they aren’t an option for everyone.
|The bottom lineUltimately, if you want to try a collagen supplement, it is likely safe and could help your skin. But the chance of seeing an improvement may depend on the product that you choose. The lack of regulation means that quality is highly variable.|
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love. Ephesians 3:16-17 NIV
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24 NIV
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 NIV
For we live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NIV
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 NIV
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6 NIV
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”John 11:40 NIV
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 NIV
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. Romans 14:1 NIV
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