“Collagen” is a beauty buzzword that’s been making the rounds in media. Collagen supplements and powders have likely popped up in your social feeds every now and then, whether it’s an ad, a friend who found a new product they like, or a sponsored post by your favorite beauty blogger. But should you buy into the collagen supplement trend?
Here, we break down the science behind collagen supplements, offering up the pros and cons behind this beauty trend and whether it’s worth the buzz.
First off, let’s talk about the basic facts behind collagen and its beauty benefits.
Most often located in our fibrous connective tissues—think skin, tendons, and ligaments—collagen accounts for approximately 30% of all structural protein found in the human body. Collagen is made up of four amino acids: arginine, glycine, proline, and lysine. These amino acids are also required in the repair of muscles, bones, and joints, as well as to support hair and skin health. The body naturally produces collagen by extracting the required amino acids from vitamins and minerals, as well as through common sources of animal protein, like cheese, eggs, or meat, whichever is most available in our diet.
In terms of beauty benefits, collagen is a basic building block for healthy, smooth skin. In fact, it makes up about 75% of skin’s cellular structure. Located in the middle layer of the skin called the dermis, collagen proteins create a fibrous network of fibroblasts, which support healthy skin cell turnover and encourage the growth of new skin cells. Healthy collagen production levels help to maintain a younger-looking, rejuvenated appearance with gorgeously firm, plump, smooth skin. Unfortunately, starting in our mid-20s, our skin’s ability to keep up with natural collagen production begins to decline at a rate of about 1% per year, drastically dipping by our 60s. The result is wrinkles, larger pores, sagging skin, and cellulite.
So what about supporting our natural collagen production levels with supplements? Injectable or topical collagen has been popular for a while for treating targeted areas, such as forehead wrinkles or a loss of volume in skin on the hands, an area that often tends to give away our age. Where some experts question the validity of topical treatments, contesting that collagen proteins are too large to penetrate through skin’s lipid barrier to make it into the dermis, collagen supplements seemed to make more sense for getting collagen to where it needs to go.
Collagen supplements are marketed as an all-over beauty booster for glowing skin and shiny hair from the inside out. Most commonly sourced from bovine animal parts, followed by chicken, fish, and egg sources, collagen protein powders boast high levels of the protein that may benefit the body in two core ways:
There is additional anecdotal evidence regarding the benefits of collagen supplements that suggest they may also play a role in boosting lean muscle mass, metabolism, gut health, and sleep quality. However, these benefits are less linked to collagen supplements as they are the presence of collagen itself and the amino acids found within, which brings us to the next point.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure that the oral collagen supplements we take actually support any of these functions because the body breaks down collagen proteins during digestion. Hydrolyzed collagen, which is the most common type found in collagen powders, is no match for the acids and enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract, though one study suggests a different type of collagen (type-II) may be able to slip through intact. Even if this is the case, there is no way to ensure the supplemental collagen is delivered to the skin. Instead, your body is smart enough to deliver the amino acids or collagen to wherever it’s needed most, which may more likely be the heart and the brain than the skin.
There are also about 12 different types of collagen, so determining which type you need to support your specific health or beauty goals and finding the right collagen supplement to fit the bill is much more difficult than advertisers may have you believe. You could very well end up spending a lot of money on something your body can’t really use or doesn’t need. Simply put, any oral collagen supplements cannot guarantee an improvement in the appearance or health of your skin more than dietary sources of the same amino acids. They won’t necessarily harm your skin, though.
For those interested in trying out collagen supplements, it’s best to talk to a nutritionist or dermatologist to get a professional opinion on what type of collagen you should be taking and their recommendation on the best brand to try. As with any supplement, collagen shots, powders, capsules, or other forms of supplements are not monitored by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) unless the manufacturer is claiming its supplement can cure something. Thus, safety and efficacy claims made by the manufacturer aren’t vetted. For this reason, be cautious of the ingredients list, look for products that have been tested by trusted third-parties, and always seek out a professional opinion.
For those interested in finding proven alternatives to boost skin’s natural collagen production levels, consider revamping your skin care routine into a more holistic one. In addition to your topical anti-aging skin care regimen and daily SPF application, consider what goes into your body as well: limit your intake of alcohol and cut out smoking alongside a focus on a healthier diet complete with nutritious sources of fatty and amino acids, such as avocados and fish. These steps will help to prevent any further breakdown of collagen while supporting skin health.
To dig a little deeper and to help restore a more youthful-looking appearance, consider supplementing your skin care regimen with radio frequency-based wrinkle reduction or skin tightening treatments. These customized non-surgical aesthetics treatments utilize radio frequency (RF) energy to deliver heat to the dermis and kickstart your body’s natural collagen production cycle. By boosting collagen levels, skin regains elasticity and smoothness for a plumper, firmer, younger-looking profile or silhouette while minimizing the appearance of laxity, fine lines, and wrinkles.
Ready to take your first step to smoother, firmer skin with a customized RF anti-aging treatment plan? Locate a certified treatment provider today using the search field below.