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Are Collagen Supplements Worth Taking? A Dermatologist Weighs In.

By: @dermahealthnutrition

The pursuit of youthful, glowing skin is a timeless quest. It fuels a booming industry of skincare products, treatments, and supplements, including collagen, all claiming to improve the signs of ageing. Here's what you need to know to navigate the abundance of collagen powders, capsules, and liquids. 

Skin ageing is a multifaceted process driven by intrinsic cellular changes over time and extrinsic factors, most notably sun exposure and daily lifestyle choices like smoking, alcohol, diet, lack of sleep and exercise. All these factors eventually contribute to the breakdown of collagen in our bodies. Collagen is an abundant protein that provides structural support to tissues such as skin, bones, tendons, and cartilage. To date, 28 types of collagen have been identified. They differ in how their amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are assembled into a triple helix structure and where they are used in the body. Collagen types I and III are the most abundant in the skin and are responsible for its strength and structure.

Bovine collagen, sourced from hide, tendon, and bones, is particularly rich in type I and III collagen, which is why it is a popular source for skin supplements. Marine collagen is derived from fish skin, scales, and bones. As there is no plant source of collagen, vegan products mostly contain the key amino acids that make up collagen, including proline, glycine and hydroxyproline. They are oftentimes called “collagen-activators” or “collagen boosters”. Some supplements may also contain additional nutrients related to skin health, such as vitamin C or zinc to support collagen production  

Although it sounds intuitive to replenish what you've lost, it's important to understand that when digested in the stomach, proteins and amino acids can't be directed to where you want them to go. Direct effects on the skin for example are therefore questionable. With that said there are studies claiming improvement in skin hydration, elasticity and roughness. It's worth remembering that most countries, including the US and Germany, barely regulate the supplement market. This means that manufacturers don't have to prove that their products are effective and safe before putting them on the market. With all that said, when choosing a collagen supplement, quality matters. Choose supplements that are free from unnecessary fillers, and prioritize (and are transparent about) their sourcing. 

Outside of supplementation, here are five effective and accessible tools to nurture your collagen, naturally. 

  1. Avoid excess sun exposure
  2. No smoking
  3. Limit alcohol consumption
  4. Eat a balanced diet rich in protein 
  5. Get enough sleep

References:

Rustad AM, Nickles MA, McKenney JE, Bilimoria SN, Lio PA. Myths and media in oral collagen supplementation for the skin, nails, and hair: A review. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2022 Feb;21(2):438-443. doi: 10.1111/jocd.14567. Epub 2021 Oct 25. PMID: 34694676.

Peres G, Ianhez M, Polo TCF, Abbade LPF, Miot HA. Concerning the heterogeneity of the studies included in meta-analyses. Comment on: "Effects of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation on skin aging: a systematic review and meta-analysis". Int J Dermatol. 2022 Mar;61(3):e99-e101. doi: 10.1111/ijd.15748. Epub 2021 Jul 1. PMID: 34196407.

Jhawar N, Wang JV, Saedi N. Oral collagen supplementation for skin aging: A fad or the future? J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020 Apr;19(4):910-912. doi: 10.1111/jocd.13096. Epub 2019 Aug 14. PMID: 31411379.

Bolke L, Schlippe G, Gerß J, Voss W. A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. 2019 Oct 17;11(10):2494. doi: 10.3390/nu11102494. PMID: 31627309; PMCID: PMC6835901.

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