Dermatologist's verdict on collagen supplements: Do they work or not?

·Contributor
·3-min read

Dr. Shreya Andric is a dermatologist based in Sydney. She is passionate about skin health and her mission is to educate the public on how to care for their skin, and also clear up the vast amount of misinformation out there on this topic.

While Dr. Andric has independently chosen the products that appear in this article, she does not receive revenue from the links. Some of the links may return revenue to Yahoo Lifestyle Australia.

Dr Shreya Andric is a Sydney-based dermatologist on a mission to educate people on how to look after their skin. Photo: supplied.
Dr Shreya Andric is a Sydney-based dermatologist on a mission to educate people on how to look after their skin. Photo: supplied.

Collagen supplementation has been a huge beauty trend recently. Anywhere you look there are influencers touting its benefits – but is it actually effective?

Here, I discuss what collagen is and how supplementation of this may or may not be useful.

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein present in the human body. It is one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, tendons, and muscles. It can be thought of as the glue that holds all these things together.

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What happens to collagen as we age?

As the body ages, it starts to lose collagen and produce lower-quality collagen. By the age of 40, your body can lose 1 percent of its collagen each year. The loss of collagen accounts for the skin appearing less firm and supple.

Other than age, things like diet, smoking, alcohol and sun exposure can also contribute to loss of collagen through the generation of reactive oxygen species or ROS.

Antioxidants, however, work against ROS. Vitamin C is my (and most dermatologist's) favourite antioxidant — for more on vitamin C check out my explainer piece.

Collagen powder in a spoon and a glass of water on a pink background
So, do collagen supplements actually work? Dr Shreya investigates. Photo: Getty Images.

Do collagen supplements work?

So, how effective are collagen supplements when it comes to preventing wrinkles, improving skin health and overall wellbeing?

There are various types of collagen supplements available on the market with the most common being hydrolyzed collagen. Hydrolyzed collagen, often available as a collagen powder dietary supplement, is broken down into smaller peptides in the gut and these are then more easily absorbed.

Peptides serve as the building blocks for the production of collagen, however, it is impossible to determine in advance where the collagen peptides will be used in the body, or even if they will be used to produce collagen at all – collagen peptides can just as well be used for the synthesis of other proteins.

You may take a collagen supplement for your skin, but once it is digested and absorbed, these peptides become part of the amino acid pool and are used where they are needed.

In terms of how effective they are, some studies have found that hydrolysed collagen does improve skin hydration, wound healing and they have also been found to be effective for joint health. 

Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of collagen bundles from the delicate connective tissue endoneurium which wraps around and between individual nerve fibres (axons). The characteristic banding of collagen can be seen in this image. Magnification: x3000 when printed at 10 centimetres wide.
A microscopic look at the collagen bundles, with their characteristic banding in nerve fibres. Photo: Getty Images.

Is collagen supplementation safe?

Most studies have found ingestion of 2.5-15g of hydrolyzed collagen to be safe.

Can collagen be used topically?

Topical collagen (eg. collagen creams and serums) is ineffective as the molecule is so large that it sits on top of the epidermis rather than penetrating through. Topical retinoids such as tretinoin have significant evidence showing that they are effective at promoting collagen formation.

Vitamin C is a very effective antioxidant that can reverse the inflammation that causes damage to collagen in the skin. We know that ultraviolet light breaks down collagen so it is important to wear sunscreen daily to prevent this.

$40 at Amazon

CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum, $40 from Amazon. Photo: Amazon.
CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum, $40 from Amazon. Photo: Amazon.

$49 at Adore Beauty

Ultra Violette Supreme Screen SPF 50+, $49
Ultra Violette Supreme Screen SPF 50+, $49 from Adore Beauty. Photo: Adore Beauty.

Collagen supplementation: the final verdict

My advice would be to begin with an effective skincare routine using a vitamin C serum and a sunscreen in the morning, and a retinoid and moisturiser at night. Once you are using these consistently for a few months, if you still wanted to try a collagen supplement then this could be added in.

You may not notice a significant change in your skin with this but the evidence shows that it should not be harmful to do so.

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