Do Collagen Supplements Do Anything at All?

Browsing social media, one might get the impression that taking supplements can fix just about anything. However, if you take a close look at the evidence, you’ll find that most of it just doesn’t work. As a possible exception to this rule, collagen supplements have received a lot of attention recently, and there are studies that suggest that taking them may actually improve skin elasticity.

In the past, our position has been that collagen supplements are just an expensive protein powder , given the lack of evidence for its benefits. But with the release of more recent studies, as well as renewed interest in it, we felt it was worth taking a closer look.

What You Need to Know About Collagen Supplements and Clinical Trials

There are a number of clinical trials that suggest that taking collagen supplements can help improve skin elasticity and hydration. This includes studies in which half of the participants received a placebo, and the people in the study did not know who received the placebo until after the experiment and analysis.

Generally speaking, planning research in this way can help eliminate unconscious bias. Even when we do our best to be impartial, the desire for a particular outcome can often affect us in subtle and hard-to-find ways.

However, as Michelle Wong , a cosmetic chemist who regularly debunks beauty myths on Instagram , noted in an email to Lifehacker, “Most of the clinical trials were sponsored by supplement companies, which introduces an element of bias.”

Current theories about how collagen might work

One of the main reasons I am so skeptical about taking collagen supplements is that during digestion, it is simply broken down into individual amino acids, just like any other protein. Taking a collagen supplement with the thought that it will somehow magically get into your skin doesn’t make much sense.

However, there are other ways in which collagen can act. As Wong explains, collagen contains most of the amino acid hydroxyproline, which is unique to collagen and not found in any other protein sources we eat.

One of the current working theories is that this acts as a signal that tells our body to increase the amount of collagen it produces and stop breaking down some of the collagen we already have. At a minimum, this is a possible mechanism that makes a little more sense.

Should You Take Collagen Supplements?

There is often a big difference between clinical trials and real life. When it comes to collagen supplements, what is given during the trial and what is in the bottle of collagen protein powder you just bought can be quite different.

As Wong explains, “Collagen supplements can be hydrolyzed in a variety of ways. This breaks down collagen in different ways, meaning that the individual peptides found in each supplement can be very different.”

All things considered, should you take collagen supplements? Given how expensive some of these supplements can be, the benefits may not outweigh the cost. If you’re only taking collagen in the hope that it will improve your skin, a more economical approach might be to focus on regular sunscreen use and use of retinoids, which are known to work.

After all this, our stance is still that collagen supplements are basically just an expensive protein powder, albeit with little evidence of some added benefits.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *