Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It is found in bones, muscles, skin and tendons and, in effect, holds the body together. At about age 40 our natural collagen production begins to decline at about one percent per year. In addition, sun damage, smoking, exposure to pollution and weight fluctuations can further diminish collagen production. You’re most likely to first see the effects of this as facial lines and wrinkles and sagging skin on the face and neck; eventually, the changes will occur elsewhere on your body. Declining collagen can also cause your joints to ache.
Collagen injections are used to smooth out lines, reduce wrinkles and plump up thinning lips. In addition, collagen supplements in pill or powder form are being aggressively promoted as a means of improving skin, hair and nails.
The supplements may work for some to a minor degree, although they’re unlikely to make a significant difference. Studies have shown that some products reduce wrinkles and fine lines, while others don’t. (I haven’t seen any evidence that collagen supplements do anything for hair or nails.) If you decide to try one, don’t rely on advertising claims or “before” and “after” photos. Instead, look for a product backed by positive results from a scientific study that was published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Opinion seems to be mixed among dermatologists as to whether the supplements are worth trying or if you’re better off using other options to boost collagen levels. Prescription retinoids such as Tretinoin fight wrinkling by increasing the production of collagen. These drugs can also help fade age spots. Retinoids sold over-the-counter aren’t as potent and may not work as well against wrinkles, but they can improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin. Don’t look for overnight results if you go this route – it can take up to six months of regular use to see any difference and up to a year for best results.
You may also be able to protect your skin with a diet high in vitamin C and gamma-linoleic acid (found in evening primrose oil and black current oil) and low in fat and carbohydrates. Cutting back on sugar, in particular, can be beneficial.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Maryann Borumand and Sara Sibilla, “Daily consumption of the collagen supplement Pure Gold Collagen® reduces visible signs of aging.” Clinical Intervention in Aging, October 13, 2014, doi: 10.2147/CIA.S65939
Ehrhard Proksch et al, “Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Skn Pharmacology Physiology, August 14, 2013, doi: 10.1159/000351276