What’s the deal with collagen supplements? Experts tell us whether or not they’re safe
The search for products that will give us the healthiest and most radiant skin is never-ending. From retinol-filled serums to hyaluronic acid-based moisturizers, we’ve tried everything topically to ensure our skin retains its elasticity and smoothness. But there’s one trend in particular that’s recently piqued our interest: collagen supplements.
Collagen is the protein essential to building our skin, bones, joints, cartilage, hair, and nails. Board-certified dermatologist Lian Mack, MD, says to think of it as the glue that holds the body together. Where our skin care is concerned, it’s responsible for keeping our skin plump and filled with volume. When we begin to lose it our mid-20s and early 30s, we experience sagging skin and the appearance of fine lines. It’s no surprise that when something promises to restore it, we’re ready to eat it up (pun very much intended). But does it actually work? How safe is it? Is this another trend trap we’ve fallen for?
We take a closer look and weigh the pros and cons of this ever popular supplement. Scroll down to see what we’ve found.
Collagen is proven to be beneficial.
Collagen supplements and powders are made of fragmented amino acids and peptides that are released into our bloodstream once they’re ingested, according to board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. Once in our bloodstream, Bowe says these fragments travel to our joints, bones, ligaments, skin, hair, and nails to signal the body that it’s time to repair any loss of collagen.
“Your body sees these peptides as signals that you need to heal; these signals tell your body to produce more collagen where you need it most, she says. “If you’re healing from an injury in your ankle, those peptides will signal your body to focus its repair efforts in that joint. If your skin is aging prematurely, those peptides might signal your skin to boost its production of collagen and even hyaluronic acid, plumping up your skin and restoring a healthy skin barrier.
A 2014 study found increased collagen production in 65 percent of 114 women who orally took collagen peptides. Other studies show that these supplements can improve skin elasticity, hydration, and even improve the appearance of wrinkles and they have proven to be helpful in reducing joint pain and supporting connective tissue.
There are still many unknowns.
While there are proven positive results, studies are still very limited when it comes to the efficacy of collagen supplements. Nutrition therapist Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness says:
“There isn't enough data to support noticeable effects of collagen supplements. Some small studies have shown a reduction in wrinkles after a few months or oral collagen intake, but none of them have been large enough to know for sure.
Collagen supplements, as with most in supplements in general, are also not highly-regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Not all collagen supplements are created equal [and] are not all equally safe,” says Bowe. She explains that collagen supplements are sourced from animal bones and skin and there is potential for contaminants, such as heavy metal, while Mack says that some individuals may experience heartburn and a feeling of fullness after ingestion.
“As a consumer, you want to look for products made from the highest quality protein sources,” says Bowe. “Marine collagen should be from wild caught fish, bovine should be from grass-fed, pasture raised cows, for example. I personally reviewed the science and sourcing behind so many different brands in this space.”
With all that in mind, if you still want to take collagen supplements, she suggests talking to your doctor. “More often than not, I find that my patients are not getting as much protein in their diet as they think they are getting and there’s room for adding a collagen supplement without worrying about overdosing on protein,” she says.
She recommends something like the Body Kitchen Peptide Fortified Collagen Youthful Beauty. “[Its] bovine collagen is sourced from grass-fed, pasture raised cows and their marine collage is sourced from wild-caught cod,” she says. “Body Kitchen also conducts heavy metal testing, and even tests for mad cow disease, also known as spongiform encephalopathy, and prion disease. This comprehensive safety testing is critical for me when choosing a supplement and when recommending one to my patients.”
You can also add it to food if you don’t want to rely on the supplements alone. “I always look to food first and recommend people consume foods that are naturally rich with collagen, like bone broth and eating meat off the bone,” says nutritionist and founder of B-nutritious Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN. “I’m a fan of collagen powders and love adding supplements to smoothies because I think it’s easiest and the only sure thing when it comes to knowing how much you’ve consumed.” Her pick is something like the Vital Proteins Matcha Collagen.
But if you decide collagen supplements aren’t for you, there are other ways to firm and plump your skin. “I am more comfortable recommending an oral vitamin A derivative like the Jane IredaleSkin Vitamin A; it maintains healthy skin by facilitating cellular turnover and driving collagen production and fortifies the skin’s immunity which prevents collagen breakdown,” says Mack. “This product [also], unlike collagen supplements, does not have the risk of heavy metal contamination.”
Bottom line? Consult your doctor and try out collagen supplements if they appeal to you. Just don’t forget that nothing beats a good skin care routine and a well-rounded diet.