Which Collagen Sources Should You Try?

You might see someone stirring it into their coffee. Or sipping on a brownish liquid midday (and nope, it isn’t coffee). Or taking capsules along with other morning vitamins. It’s collagen — and it’s one of the buzziest ingredients in skin care.

“Collagen is an abundant protein occurring naturally in the body, and can be found in the bones, muscles, organs, and skin,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“Your skin starts to lose collagen starting in your twenties,” says Dr. Garshick. The visible effects of that loss may show up when fine lines begin to appear later in your thirties, but it’s happening. UV exposure from the sun and free radical damage, which happens as a result of environmental exposures such as air pollution, are two primary factors that weaken collagen and lead to its breakdown.

A greater awareness of the importance of collagen for health has led to a spike in the popularity of supplements, powders, and topical creams. “When collagen supplements and powders first came out, there was a lot of healthy skepticism,” says Whitney Bowe, MD, a board-certified celebrity dermatologist in New York City. “The collagen molecule itself is large,” she explains, which can make it tricky for collagen to make it into skin regardless of application mode.

Is Ingestible Collagen Effective?

For collagen to have any chance at making it into the skin where it could have any measurable effect, it would need to be absorbed through the intestine into the bloodstream. So, does it then actually smooth over wrinkles?

Think about when you get a scrape on your skin. The gash now has damaged collagen, which triggers more collagen production during the healing process. Except in this instance of taking collagen powder you haven’t caused a wound to your skin — but the presence of these tiny collagen pieces has flipped a switch on your body’s wound-healing mechanisms to “on,” explains Bowe.

The catch? Collagen is everywhere in your body. So you can’t tell a collagen supplement where you want the collagen to do the work. Some may be directed to joints, for example. “Your body makes this decision for you,” says Bowe.

With that said, here’s what to know about the most popular collagen sources:

Best: Collagen Supplements

As mentioned, some skepticism around collagen supplements remain, but of the external ways to boost collagen, they may be the most effective.

Collagen capsules may be formulated as collagen in powder form, though some brands will also include other skin-supportive ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid and vitamin C. Powder requires that you enjoy drinking it in a liquid or mixed into a smoothie.

Collagen may also be made into a gummy, which then adds sugar, as well as other ingredients to bind it all into gummy form. If you don’t like gummies, capsules are an alternative option.

Collagen Powder vs. Collagen Capsules

Collagen can be taken in both powder or capsule form, and these include collagen peptides, which are broken down into collagen. One of the major differences between the two is the dose per serving.

For example, a scoop of one popular powder brand called Vital Proteins contains 20 g of collagen peptides, whereas the brand’s own collagen capsule (which contains collagen peptide powder within the capsule) contains only 3.3 g of collagen peptides per dose, which is six capsules. (These require a commitment to swallowing several pills on a regular basis: They recommend taking six capsules twice a day for 6.6 g of collagen peptides daily.)

Provided collagen powder fits in your budget, look for a bovine or marine collagen supplement, which contain collagen type 1 and 3 needed for skin health, from a reputable brand. (Trusted supplement brands will use independent third-party lab testing to validate that their products contain what they say they do and are free of contaminants.) Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides ($25, VitalProteins.com), Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate ($25.99, GreatLakesGelatin.com), and Live Conscious Collagen Peptides ($28.99, WeLiveConscious.com) are three options that fit the bill. It’s also helpful if the formula (or your diet) contains vitamin C, which is important in collagen production.

If you’re more interested in capsules, Hum ($40, Hum.com) sells collagen capsules that contain a mix of collagen peptides, as well as other skin-friendly ingredients like hyaluronic acid. A serving of three capsules provides 600 milligrams (mg) of collagen peptides (equivalent to 0.6 g). Olly Glowing Skin ($13.99, Olly.com) gummies have 120 mg of collagen peptides per a two-gummy serving (equivalent to 0.12 g). Therefore, you will have to take many capsules to get close to the same amount as powder.

Some collagen capsules are also geared toward joint health and contain type 2 collagen, so make sure that yours has type 1 or 3 (or both), or says it specifically targets skin health. Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides Capsules is one brand that provides what you need.

So-So: Collagen Foods

“While a healthy, well-rounded diet with protein sources from chicken, bone broth, fish and beef likely contain peptides that can support skin health and likely contain other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that support skin health, they often don’t have studies demonstrating proven effects,” says Bowe.

Lacks Evidence: Topical Collagen

Topical collagen as an ingredient added to creams or serums my not provide the best results. Because collagen is a big molecule, it’s unlikely to be absorbed effectively in order to stimulate collagen production, says Garshick. A topical collagen cream might provide a temporary plumping effect on skin, but isn’t the best use of your skin-care budget.

A Final Word on Collagen Sources

If you want to increase production of collagen in your body, hydrolyzed collagen supplements may be your best bet despite a lack of comprehensive research on their efficacy and side effects. That said, experts are cautious about its promises. “We’re in yellow-light territory. We still don’t have enough data to recommend oral collagen supplements across the board. It’s hard to tell everyone they need to be taking it without knowing exactly how it’ll translate into the skin,” says Garshick. But so far, initial research appears promising. A healthy diet is important for general health, so this is worth following regardless. Meanwhile, topical products may be least worthwhile.

Before splurging on a collagen supplement, consult a board-certified dermatologist who can help you develop a holistic approach that includes nutritious foods and habits that help shield your skin from environmental damage.

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