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Ask the Dermatologist: Collagen Supplements – Do They Work?

by Dr. Michael McKelvey

We’ve all seen the marketing for collagen products claiming they can improve skin elasticity, reduce visible wrinkles, and increase blood flow to the skin. But the question all our patients have is: Do collagen supplements really work?

What is Collagen?

Collagen is a hard-working protein our bodies need to survive and thrive. It is a protein naturally produced in the body, and is also a popular supplement and beauty product ingredient that claims to improve the health of your skin.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It’s found in muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, the digestive system, and tendons. It is what helps give our skin strength and elasticity, and it’s what replaces dead skin cells. Unfortunately, our body’s collagen production decreases as we age, often starting as early as a woman’s twenties and peaking around menopause.

We Lose Collagen As We Age

As we age, our bodies produce less collagen. The result? Sagging skin and fine lines. We all want that magic solution, the pill that will help stimulate collagen production. But does ingesting a collagen supplement actually have added benefits? And are collagen supplements safe?

One report done by the Nutrition Business Journal, showed that Americans spent almost $100 million on collagen supplements in 2020. That must mean they work right?

Collagen Supplements: What You Need To Know

Collagen supplements simply won’t replace or stimulate new collagen growth in the skin. Some research suggests otherwise, however these studies generally have very small participant numbers and rely heavily on self questionnaires, leading to the conclusion there is no scientific data to support these claims.

The available collagen supplements on the market are made from animal proteins that are often derived from the hides and bones of cows, chickens, and other animals. This is actually the same way that gelatin is made. Your body won’t absorb the collagen as a replacement in your skin, instead, it will pass through your system as a protein.

Some physicians and consumer protection organizations are also concerned that collagen supplements may contain high levels of heavy metals. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so it is up to the consumer to make sure they are safe.

Maintain Your Skin’s Collagen without Supplements

So if collagen supplements don’t work, and might be dangerous, what are some ways to help slow down the loss of collagen?

  1. Quit Smoking: Smoking depletes collagen production and directly contributes to premature aging.

  2. Reduce Sun Exposure: Sun exposure can seriously break down your body’s natural collagen stores, aging skin much more quickly. Make sure to wear a broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen daily.

  3. Use a Retinoid: When retinoids come into contact with skin, the enzymes in the body convert it into retinoic acid. Retinoic acid then works to increase cell turnover, which stimulates collagen and elastin production.

If you have more questions about maintaining your skin’s elasticity and minimizing fine lines and wrinkles, give us a call today!