Collagen promises dewy and fresh-looking skin. Picture: Pexels

It will make your skin look dewy and fresh, your bones and nails strong, and your joints pain-free. 

These are the claims made by the countless manufacturers of collagen supplements that come in the form of powders, pills and creams. 

For that reason, it’s no surprise that collagen has become a widely sought-after ingredient in the wellness and beauty communities. 

But collagen’s efficacy is still pretty up in the air. Frustrated? Here’s what we know.

What is collagen?

Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the body. In fact, collagen is “the main structural protein that forms the connective tissue throughout our body, from skin to bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments,” says Dr. Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. 

It’s no wonder that the bottled up version of this protein (usually made of animal collagen) is in high demand.

Collagen makes up a whopping 80% of our skin and works with another protein called elastin that — yes, you guessed it — keeps our skin elastic. But as we age, our bodies naturally start reducing collagen production.

Does collagen work?

Some studies show that taking collagen supplements for several months can improve skin elasticity, (i.e., wrinkles and roughness) as well as signs of aging. 

Others have shown that consuming collagen can increase density in bones weakened with age and can improve joint, back and knee pain. But many of these studies are small and funded by companies that make the product, increasing the opportunity for bias in the results.

What’s the best way to absorb collagen?

Absorption can be a tricky game, especially when it comes to a huge molecule like natural collagen. Smaller peptides can more easily pass through our intestinal barrier and into our bloodstream. (In theory, this is what all good supplements should be able to do.) 

The body can, in theory, utilize absorbed collagen peptides in areas that need repair the most.

Like with any fad, beauty and wellness see an opening, and many companies have jumped on the collagen bandwagon fairly quickly. Pills, powders, topical creams and liquids are all out there, promising to beautify your skin and strengthen your bones.

Powders are the most popular because they're easy to add to smoothies, coffee or even water. In terms of dosage.

So, should you try collagen?

Maybe! But get ready for a very committed relationship. If collagen does work, and you're looking for long-lasting effects, you'll have to take supplements for the rest of your life. Why? The answer is collagenase. Our bodies are constantly producing this enzyme and it eats away at our natural collagen. 

So if collagen supplements improve your skin, bones and joints, you'll need to keep taking them.

How do I take collagen?

Collagen supplements — like most supplements — are not closely regulated by the FDA. Some supplements carry a USP Verified label, which is better than nothing. But it is very hard to police what ingredients are in a product.

You should also take into consideration the foods you already consume. When it comes to bovine, marine, or porcine collagen in food, the bones and skin are the richest sources, but most people aren't eating those parts. 

Bone broth is an easy collagen-rich option as it's rich in amino acids, but there is very little research or evidence to support that it has benefits for the skin.

The good news is: if you're ingesting the recommended dose, there are no documented downsides of taking collagen peptides, aside from the not-so-frugal cost. 

The New York Times