The Answer: It Depends.
Despite lots of beauty-industry chatter about the benefits of collagen supplements, finishing that first bottle isn’t likely to give you the wrinkleless skin of your dreams. Sadly, the second one won’t, either.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any reasons to add a collagen supplement into your diet, according to Steven Tsaparikos, a Hancock Health dietician and certified health coach. In fact, studies have shown that when collagen supplementation is used regularly over a few months, it actually does improve skin health.
But your best bet is to pair it with healthy lifestyle choices.
“Collagen supplements may help a little bit, but the biggest bang for your buck is going to be taking care of your body, moving, and just having a more balanced diet,” he said.
So what is collagen, anyway?
It’s the most abundant protein in the human body. It makes up most of your skin, and helps build bones, muscle, and tendons. But as we age, our bodies’ collagen begins to break down, and collagen production decreases. The result is drier, less elastic skin.
“Collagen itself is a very strong protein, Tsaparikos said. “And it’s not just strong, it’s elastic. So when you’re smiling and your muscles are moving, your skin can widen and return back to its shape. Over time, the structure of the collagen degrades, and your body produces less of it as we get older. So wrinkles show up over time.”
And that’s the reason people are turning to collagen supplements.
To supplement or not to supplement? It’s a good question.
Some studies have shown that taking collagen over several months improves the skin’s hydration and elasticity, Tsaparikos noted.
“I would say that if this is something that you are taking for one, two, three months, then potentially you can see an impact,” he said. “But I think you’re going to see the best results from collagen supplementation paired with healthy lifestyle changes.”
Healthy habits—including eating a balanced whole-foods-based diet, drinking plenty of water, and exercise—are all good for your body’s collagen. And unhealthy habits—including smoking, getting too much sun, and eating a poor diet—damage it.
Speaking of diet, one thing you shouldn’t rely on collagen supplements for is protein, even though some of the supplements are marketed that way, said Tsaparikos:“Collagen itself is a very low-quality protein compared to eggs, milk, and things like that. There are just many other better sources of protein.”
And if you’re on a plant-based diet, collagen supplements probably aren’t for you because they are usually made of fish or cattle products.
How do you choose the right collagen supplement?
If you’ve decided to try a collagen supplement, be prepared to have a lot of options to choose from. But the particular brand matters less than the way it’s described on the container, so look for one that says it’s collagen peptides—not protein.
“It really doesn’t need to be overcomplicated in terms of ingredients,” Tsaparikos said. “You just really need collagen peptides. So if there is an ingredient list that’s extensive and you see a lot of other things in it, choose a different one.”
Supplements come in a variety of forms, too. The most popular are liquids, capsules, and powders that can be mixed with water. One form hasn’t been shown to be better than the others, so just pick the one you like best.
But if you’re considering taking collagen or any other supplements, it’s best to consult your family doctor first. That’s the best way to find out about possible allergies or side effects you might not have considered. And, remember, nothing beats a healthy diet and exercise for making your health possible!