- Collagen powder, supplements, and "shots" are popular products that promise to add more collagen to your skin, making it look younger and more supple.
- Most dermatologists say there is very little convincing research to back these claims.
- Instead, look for products that boost your skin's collagen production, like retinol and vitamin C.
What if I told you that there was one ingredient that could smooth out your wrinkles, keep your skin hydrated, and make you look more baby-faced than Timothée Chalamet?
Well, according to every #influencer and wellness-obsessed celeb, that ingredient is collagen powder. They're blending it into smoothies, stirring it into oatmeal and coffee, and even taking it as "shots."
But fam, is this too good to be true? Here's what dermatologists have to say:
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Why is collagen so damn important, anyways?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and the main building block for skin. It gives skin its youthful suppleness and is one of the key components in repairing wounded skin, explains New York City dermatologist, Anne Chapas, M.D., founder of Union Square Laser Dermatology. Simply put, it gives good face.
One note: Collagen is not a complete protein (it's made up of only three amino acids, not nine, according to the Protein Data Bank), so pure collagen powder doesn't have the same muscle-building, recovery-boosting abilities as your standard protein powder.
Do collagen drinks and powders have benefits?
It would be nice if you could simply toss a scoop of collagen into your morning smoothie—and bam!—your skin starts to look smoother. But it's too good to be true. “Most studies of oral collagen are not rigorous enough to draw conclusions about their effect on skin health, appearance, or aging," says Chapas.
“It’s thought that the collagen, when taken orally, is broken down into what is essentially protein, and then absorbed by the body," says Rachel Nazarian, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group.
Translation: When your body digests collagen, it gets broken down and doesn't reach the skin as actual collagen. Nazarian stresses that more studies need to be done on the benefits of drinkable collagen.
If you have dry skin, you'll be interested in one study that may suggest that ingestible collagen can benefit skin hydration in people over the age of 30 and slow the formation of deep wrinkles, says Sumayah Jamal, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group.
Take it with a grain of salt, Jamal adds—the small study needs to repeated in larger groups, with more controls and over a longer period of time in order to be anywhere near academically convincing.
Okay, but collagen shots are totally different, right?
Nope, sorry. Collagen "shots" (like juice shots, not injectables)—which generally contain collagen along with skin-boosting nutrients like vitamin C and copper peptides—promise to reduce the appearance of aging by improving skin tone and texture and firmness. And like powders, the collagen shots are digested in the stomach, meaning they’re unlikely to ever actually reach the skin.
What about collagen supplements?
Sorry—collagen supplement pills are an expensive habit to maintain for zilch proven benefits. “People think that if you eat or drink something, it goes right to the skin, but it doesn’t work that way,” says New York City dermatologist Lance Brown, M.D. There’s no peer-reviewed data to show that oral collagen supplements directly lead to an improvement in the collagen in your skin, he says. “There is no proof that this works.”
Okay, but my collagen creams are legit.
Unfortunately, that’s another strike. Dermatologists say that the collagen molecule is too large to be absorbed through the skin. So skip on creams that contain collagen, too.
Is there ANY way to boost your skin's collagen?
One word: retinoids. “These derivatives of vitamin A have been shown to increase collagen production in the skin,” says Nazarian. Differin Gel ($11, Amazon) contains a 0.1% retinoid (in-office prescriptions will have 0.3%). That can be a plus for some people who find regular strength retinoids to be too drying, says Brown.
It’s also smart to eat a balanced diet with lots of protein, like quinoa, salmon, eggs, lean meats, lentils, nuts, seeds, and beans. "Your body converts those nutrients into essential amino acids that are needed to keep your skin and bones healthy,” says New York City dermatologist, Craig Austin, M.D., founder of Cane + Austin skincare. “These nutrients are then sent to the bloodstream and will supply the dermis—the deepest part of your skin—with naturally produced collagen.”
The bottom line: Whether you're drinking it or slathering it on your face, using collagen doesn't translate into any real skin benefits.
Jessica Migala is a health writer specializing in general wellness, fitness, nutrition, and skincare, with work published in Women’s Health, Glamour, Health, Men’s Health, and more. She is based in the Chicago suburbs and is a mom to two little boys and rambunctious rescue pup.