Collagen products are incredibly popular. Available in creams, capsules, gummies, drinks, and shots, collagen seems to be everywhere.
Currently, the global market for these products is worth more than $5.5 billion. And it’s predicted to reach almost $8 billion by 2028.
One of the most common claims is that getting extra collagen will keep your skin, hair, and nails youthful as you age.
But do collagen supplements work? In this feature, we’ll look at the research so far.
Collagen is a protein, which means that it’s built from chains of amino acids. One of its primary roles is to help your body maintain its structure.
It does this job in a wide range of places, including your skin, tendons, bones, and ligaments.
Because collagen is so important, it makes up around 30% of the total protein in your body.
Your body makes new collagen throughout your life, but as you age, the production slows. And there’s an increase in enzymes that break down collagen.
This helps explain why your skin becomes less firm and more likely to wrinkle.
So, on the face of it (pun intended), collagen supplements seem like a sensible idea. But do they work? Let's look at hair, nails, and skin in turn.
Does it work for hair?
Hair is primarily made from a protein called keratin. But collagen is a component of hair follicles, the tiny structures that grow your hair.
According to advertising, collagen supplements can reduce hair loss, promote growth, slow graying, and provide other benefits.
However, there’s no good scientific evidence that this is true. So, if you’re considering collagen to improve your hair, you might be better off saving your money.
What about nails?
As with hair, there’s no good evidence that collagen supplements support healthy nails.
There's been little research, but one study from 2017 did investigate supplementary collagen’s effects on nails. In the introduction to their study paper, the authors explain why they conducted this research:
“There is a long-standing belief among consumers that the ingestion of collagen peptides is good for nails. There is, however, no scientific-based evidence that it is effective for this purpose.”
From their own results, the scientists concluded that collagen supplements did improve nail growth and symptoms of brittle nails.
However, they only had data from 25 participants. And they didn’t use a control group, so it’s impossible to know whether the supplements were responsible for the improvement or whether it stemmed from other factors — including chance.
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Collagen skin creams
When you rub collagen onto your skin, the molecules are too large to get through the uppermost layer of skin — so, these creams don’t work.
This is perhaps why oral collagen supplements are now more popular. Let’s look at them.
Do oral collagen supplements work?
So far in this article, there’s not been much evidence to talk about. Here, it’s a little different.
A fair number of studies have looked at the effects of oral collagen supplements. However, their conclusions have been mixed.
In a recent ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast, we spoke with Consultant Dermatologist Dr. Justine Kluk.
She explained that these oral supplements are broken down in your gut, and the amino acids travel to your skin, where they accumulate.
In theory, this triggers the production of collagen and elastin, which is another important component of skin.
“There have been some studies that show favorable effects when people have taken collagen supplements,” Justine says.
For instance, a 2021 review and meta-analysis of studies into collagen supplements and skin concludes, “Ingestion of hydrolyzed collagen for 90 days is effective in reducing skin aging, as it reduces wrinkles and improves skin elasticity and hydration.”
However, Justine explains that not all studies have shown a benefit.
She also tells us that “A lot of the studies are sponsored by companies who make supplements, so they have an interest in presenting the data in a way that would show a favorable effect.”
Plus, the products used in these trials often contain other ingredients, like antioxidants and vitamins, so it’s difficult to tell exactly which compounds are causing the improvements.
Justine makes another important point: Even when studies have found that collagen supplements are effective, the benefits stop when you stop taking the supplements.
Overall, when it comes to these products, “The jury is still out.” So, what should you try instead?
What’s the alternative?
While oral collagen supplements might make your skin more youthful, other ways to care for your skin have more scientific backing.
First, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun. This involves putting on sunscreen, wearing hats and long sleeves, and avoiding going out during the hottest part of the day.
Justine tells us that around 80% of skin aging is due to sun exposure.
Also, retinol — a form of vitamin A — can help slow skin aging and increase collagen production. However, it can also make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, and it can irritate some people’s skin.
Justine cautions that people who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant shouldn’t use retinol.
Although we have a lot to learn about how your gut microbiome interacts with your skin, Justine believes that a healthy diet can support your skin health.
So, in summary, there’s no evidence that collagen products support your hair or nail health. And collagen creams won’t look after your skin.
Oral collagen supplements may support healthy skin as you age, but the evidence isn’t super compelling.
Your best bet might be to protect yourself from the sun and eat more plants.
Anti-irritant strategy against retinol based on the genetic analysis of Korean population: A genetically guided top–down approach. Pharmaceutics. (2021). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8706521/
Biochemistry, collagen synthesis. (2022). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507709/
Collagen supplement market size and share analysis - growth trends and forecasts (2023 - 2028). (2023). https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/collagen-supplements-market
Decreased collagen production in chronologically aged skin. The American Journal of Pathology. (2006). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1606623/
Effects of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation on skin aging: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Dermatology. (2021). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33742704/
Mechanical roles in formation of oriented collagen fibers. Tissue Engineering Part B: Reviews. (2020). https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/ten.teb.2019.0243
Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. (2017). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jocd.12393
The dermal sheath: An emerging component of the hair follicle stem cell niche. Experimental Dermatology. (2020). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/exd.14204