Is the Hype Around Collagen Powder True?
This supplement is showing up everywhere with promises that it’s the fountain of youth for your skin. Here’s what the experts say.
Order a smoothie or scroll through a health guru’s Instagram feed and chances are you’ll see something about collagen powder. As the latest nutritional trend, collagen powder packaging comes with promises of more elastic skin, better hair and nails, and improved joints and bones. It’s no wonder it’s so popular (and it is popular: One supplement on Amazon has more than 11,000 five-star reviews.) It seems like all you have to do is mix the powder into your smoothie or coffee and you’ve got a magical youth serum.
But do they actually deliver? To understand what these supplements do, it would help to know a little more about what they are. Collagen is a structural protein in your body, found in connective tissues like tendons and ligaments as well as cartilage, bones, your spine, and more. It’s also the most abundant protein in your skin, giving it that full, plump, youthful appearance, explains Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist in New York. Unfortunately, as you get older, your collagen levels go down. “After you turn 25, you break down more collagen than you make,” Dr. Jaliman says. “That’s one reason why you see fine lines and wrinkles.” (The other big culprits: Sun damage and repetitive movements, like squeezing your eyebrows together when you’re focusing on something.)
Collagen supplements usually come from animals (the label of any product you pick up should say its origin) and are designed to be easily digested into your body. But does a scoop full of the powder translate to plumper skin or healthier joints? While the science is relatively new and limited, it’s also promising. Researchers in France, Japan, and Belgium found that collagen supplements increased skin hydration after 8 weeks and increased collagen density after 4 weeks of taking them. Both effects persisted after 12 weeks. The researchers believe this helped strengthen the skin and might reduce wrinkles. Another small study, this one in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, found that taking collagen may help improve osteoarthritis symptoms.
“There are a lot of popular supplements that don’t have a lot of good evidence they work,” Andy De Santis, RD, a nutritionist based in Toronto says. “Collagen definitely has some studies behind it. They aren’t definitive and everybody doesn’t need to take them, but they show that supplemental collagen might have a modest effect on joints and skin.” And considering most fancy anti-aging treatments you get done by a dermatologist are pretty pricy, they also might make financial sense.
“It’s inexpensive compared to a procedure in my office, and it’s easy to take, so I think it’s worth it,” Dr. Jaliman says.
That said, if you don’t want to add a supplement to your daily routine, don’t force yourself to start just because of this preliminary research. “Your body is more affected by overall dietary intake rather than a single supplement,” De Santis says. “The more you take care yourself and the better you eat, the less need there is for supplements.” Like any supplement, if you are considering taking collagen, check with your doctor first. And it never hurts to do what you can to keep the collagen you already have: Don’t smoke and use sunscreen—good advice no matter what!