Can collagen supplements improve your skin’s appearance?

“Our line of beauty-specific products support the skin’s moisture, improving the elasticity, tone and vibrance,” promises Vital Proteins, which sells collagen powder.

Skin mostly consists of the protein collagen, which over time becomes fragmented, like a fraying rope. We also produce less of it as we age. The result: wrinkled and less-firm skin.

“Research has shown that if you improve your collagen, your skin will look better,” says Gary Fisher, professor of molecular dermatology at the University of Michigan.

So why not just eat collagen?

“It’s like a story from the Dark Ages,” says Marcel Nimni, emeritus professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.  “If you want to be smart, eat brain. If you want courage, eat heart. If you want to be beautiful, eat collagen.”

But it’s not that simple.

“When we eat collagen, our gut breaks it down into amino acids, just like any other protein,” explains Nimni (who literally wrote the book on collagen). In other words, your body doesn’t shuttle intact collagen to your skin. Nor can you direct the amino acids from the collagen you eat to build more collagen in your skin.

“The issue is not that the skin is deficient in collagen’s building materials,” says Fisher. “It’s that the machinery to build collagen doesn’t work as well as we get older.”

What’s more, “there’s only one amino acid—hydroxyproline—in collagen that’s special,” says Nimni. That is, it’s found in only a few proteins, and it’s essential for giving collagen its strength.

“But we’ve known for 60 years that your body cannot use hydroxyproline from the diet to build collagen. The body has to make hydroxyproline on its own,” Nimni explains.

What about supplements that contain peptides: short chains of two or three amino acids? “Enzymes in the intestinal cells break peptides down into single amino acids,” says protein researcher Paul Moughan, of Massey University in New Zealand. “And that’s primarily what you will absorb.”

Nimni’s bottom line: “This idea of eating collagen to improve your skin’s appearance is the ultimate fallacy. People are wasting their money.”

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Photo:   tashka2000/fotolia.com, Vital Proteins.


The information in this post first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

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27 Replies to “Can collagen supplements improve your skin’s appearance?”

    1. There isn’t right now. But we are collecting ideas for our next booklet, so I’ll add that to the list of possibilities. Thanks!

    1. Unfortunately, there’s no good evidence that collagen supplements help with arthritis, joint pain, or bone issues.

      1. Hi Joyce,

        That’s great that you’ve found something that works for you. We did review that study for a recent article on arthritis. While the results are interesting, it was a small study funded by the makers of the supplement. Future large, independently-funded studies will hopefully shed more light on the issue.

      2. Well it sure helped me and I will never again be without it. After taking for around a month my arthritis is my hands is all but non existent, and the only thing different I did was take Collagen. Works for me.

    1. No. Despite many claims that collagen and bone broth will “heal” the gut, there isn’t any evidence to support that. Once the collagen makes its way to the intestine, it has already been broken down into basic amino acids and will function just like any other amino acids from any other protein.

  1. Can externally applied collagen face masks improve the skin’s appearance? Are there any worrisome side effects?

    1. There’s no good evidence that they can. Collagen is a large protein and can’t pass through the skin barrier. Even if it could, there’s no known biological mechanism that would explain how it could be incorporated into the skin’s collagen network.

  2. I just love knowing that Nutrition Action will give the FACTS. Science based. Not wishful thinking.
    Thank you.

  3. Is there a possibility that “sea collagen” be better assimilate than usual collagene ? I use it for months now and it looks to me that it is working..

  4. I am an 80-year-old guy basically in good health, been taking collagen supplements intermittently for years, along with “women’s” hyaluronic acid.
    I have found my hair feels thicker, my nails stronger and my skin gets complicated by others once they know my age. Also, my joints pain has improved over time compared to when I was not taking collagen supplements. Just my experiences.

  5. I read this anyway and the basic principles apply to both genders and those whoever are in the middle.

  6. What about biotin? Do you know if it is effective? I’ve been taking Biosil for a few years and my nails are healthier and stronger. I recently heard that adding collagen works even better. Glad I didn’t buy it right away.

  7. Thank you for debunking the myth, supported by false media , that you can improve your skin by taking collagen supplements. Women are inundated with advertising for these products making claims that are not supported by science or evidence base.

  8. So are there any topical products that really improve skins texture & makes wrinkles & dark spots less visible? How would you put vitamin A on your face?

    1. Yes, there is research that shows that topical vitamin A improves skin texture. I believe the best research is on prescription-grade retinols (a form of Vitamin A). There are a number of products that add retinols, but I think they are fairly low doses. If you’re interested, you can talk to your doctor about getting a prescription of a topical vitamin A product (often referred to as Retin A or tretinoin).

      1. Thank you! Is there any advantage to using Retin A on your face as a preventative for skin cancer? Does it help to rid your skin of any small patches that may already exist?

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