Collagen is the most common protein found in your body. It’s in your skin but also in tendons, cartilage, bones, blood vessels, teeth and many other body parts. Collagen plays several roles in your health:
— It helps keep your skin looking and feeling younger. In fact, collagen makes up 70% to 80% of your skin.
— It keeps bones strong.
— It provides flexibility and structure to your tendons and ligaments.
— It helps strengthen various tissues around your body.
Collagen supplements seem to be everywhere nowadays, and there’s a dizzying array of collagen supplement choices. You may have wondered whether you should use collagen supplements to maintain younger-looking skin. Here are a few details about the role of collagen and whether you should try supplements.
What Is Collagen?
Over time, your body produces less collagen, says Dr. Heather D. Rogers, a dermatologist and founder of Modern Dermatology in Seattle and Doctor Rogers Restore Skin Care. In fact, starting in your 20s, you start to lose about 1% of your collagen production each year. Ultraviolet rays from the sun, pollution and smoking also decrease collagen production by breaking down the enzymes in your skin that help make collagen.
In women, changing hormone levels also lower collagen production, says Dr. Ashley Jenkins, a dermatologist with University of Missouri Health Care in Columbia, Missouri. In the first five years after menopause, collagen production decreases by about 30%, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
The quality of the collagen that you produce also changes over time. The lower quality and quantity of collagen in your body causes you to lose skin elasticity, leading to more wrinkles and fine lines. It also can lead to more fragile joints.
Collagen is made in the body with the help of vitamin C, the amino acids glycine and proline (amino acids that help to build protein) and the mineral copper. Copper activates an enzyme involved in collagen production, explains Dr. Gretchen W. Frieling, a dermatopathologist and CEO of GFaceMD in the Boston area.
[SEE: Eating for Your Skin.]
Food Sources of Collagen
Protein-rich foods provide your body with the amino acids needed for collagen production, says Dr. Diane C. Madfes, an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Protein food sources that help the body to make collagen include:
— Bone broth from animals.
— Chicken, turkey and meats.
— Salmon and various types of shellfish.
— Soybeans and lentils.
However, because vitamin C is required to produce collagen, vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables also assist with collagen production. Those include:
[Read: Foods for Joint Pain.]
Should You Use Collagen Supplements?
There are a few small studies in humans related to collagen supplementation that show it can improve skin elasticity and skin aging, such as a review study published in 2019 in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. Researchers reviewed a total of eight studies with 805 patients who were using oral collagen supplementation.
However, most people can get the collagen they need from their diet, Madfes says. There’s also an extra cost involved with using collagen supplements, and not everyone wants that extra expense. There isn’t any research to show that oral collagen is any better than food sources of collagen. “Just like taking a multivitamin, this is just another source, not a better source,” Rogers says.
There aren’t many studies that zero in on the safety of collagen supplements, although the 2019 study notes supplementation is generally safe with no reported safety events. Dermatologists believe that more research is needed on safety.
There are some occasions when dermatologists may recommend collagen supplementation:
— You have a hard time absorbing nutrients from food.
— You’re healing from a burn, trauma, skin surgery or accident. Increased protein intake can accelerate healing, Madfes says.
— You’re willing to make extra efforts and expense for supple skin, says Dr. Annie Gonzalez, a dermatologist with Riverchase Dermatology in Miami.
— You’re having aggressive resurfacing procedures on your skin, such as CO2 lasering. In those patients, Rogers encourages them to take collagen supplements for at least three months afterward to help produce new collagen during the healing process.
8 Tips When Choosing a Collagen Supplement
If you decide you want to try collagen supplements or your dermatologist recommends them to you, keep these tips in mind to choose the most effective product:
1. Let your health provider know if you plan to use collagen supplements.
You want to make sure your doctor doesn’t have any reservations about the use of collagen supplements. Also, collagen supplements are sometimes made from shellfish or eggs. If you have any allergy related to these, you’ll want to double check you can still use the supplement.
2. Choose hydrolyzed collagen.
Hydrolyzed collagen, also called collagen peptides, is the type that can easily be absorbed from your gut to your bloodstream. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s in a powder, liquid or gummies, but the hydrolyzed form is key,” Madfes says. A collagen product with vitamin C is also helpful because your body needs C to form collagen, Rogers advises.
3. Read the label.
Some collagen supplements have added sugars. Do your best to stick to collagen that has minimal sugar. Don’t take more collagen than what’s recommended on the packaging for daily use.
4. Look for collagen products that have a U.S. Pharmacopeia verification seal.
That’s because collagen supplements aren’t closely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Pharmacopeia seal indicates that a third party has verified the supplement contains the ingredients listed on the label.
5. Be aware of possible side effects, such as constipation.
Constipation is one potential side effect of using too much collagen, Rogers says. Discuss any new side effects that you may notice with your health provider.
6. Make collagen use part of your routine.
By consistency, you’ll get the maximum benefit from it. This could mean adding the powder form of collagen to your morning or afternoon smoothies, coffee or water.
7. Give it at least a month or two to see results.
Most dermatologists say it will take this amount of time to notice a difference in your skin or in your joints.
8. Keep up other good skincare habits.
Just because you use collagen doesn’t mean you should ignore other good skincare habits, which include the following:
— Regularly cleanse and moisturize your skin.
— Use a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30.
— Eat a well-balanced diet that includes vitamin C and antioxidants, both of which are found in many fruits and vegetables.
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