Can simply adding a scoop of powder to your morning smoothie or cup of coffee really help grow your hair, keep wrinkles away, and make you look younger? Many people swear by collagen powder to do just that.
But does it really measure up to all the hype? We asked a few experts to give us the lowdown on collagen supplements and find out if it’s a worthy addition to your nutrition routine or just an expensive trend.
What is Collagen?
Collagen might seem like a crazy concoction created by scientists in a lab, but it’s actually the main protein in our bodies. It’s in our cartilage, bones, and tendons.
It’s made up of 19 amino acids that work to help keep our cardiovascular systems strong, boost muscle mass, and promote energy production. Collagen is also “a key part of connective tissue in the skin that promotes firmness and smooth texture,” says Christina Meyer-Jax, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian based in Minneapolis. “Collagen makes up about 75 percent of the dry weight of skin, providing volume that keeps skin looking plump and helps keep away fine lines.”
Our bodies consistently make collagen, no matter if we’re two or 82. The only difference as we age is the rate at which it’s produced. As we age, our bodies break down collagen at a faster rate, leading to skin that isn’t able to bounce back as easily as it did before (hello, saggy, wrinkled skin!). Smoking, stress, and sun exposure are also shown to do a number on your collagen production, leading to signs of aging.
What Are Collagen Peptides?
Collagen peptides are another way to give your body the amino acids it needs to produce collagen. It’s made by taking collagen that has been hydrolyzed — A.K.A. broken down by a chemical reaction using water — and making it into smaller proteins that are more easily absorbed.
This is important because the amino acid groups found in collagen must make it into our intestines and into our bloodstreams in order to be used. Studies showed that hydrolyzed collagen is absorbed into the bloodstream, even after digestion.
It’s believed that taking in collagen peptides — either in powder form capsule form — will stimulate collagen to be produced on its own in the body.
Consuming collagen-rich foods — like bone broth and animal organs — can help provide the amino acids your body needs to continue producing enough collagen. However, a diet full of liver and bone broth probably doesn’t seem that tempting — or practical. So collagen supplements made from collagen peptides can be an easier way to add collagen into your diet
Can Collagen Powder Really Help My Skin and Nails?
Maybe. There’s a small — but growing — body of evidence showing that consuming collagen can help give skin a healthier, more youthful appearance, and even improve nail health.
A 2014 study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology examined 69 women ages 35 to 55 who took 2.5 or 5 grams of bovine collagen (collagen taken from the bones of cows) every day for eight weeks. Those who took the collagen showed more improvements in skin elasticity compared to those who didn’t take the supplement.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology used 25 participants and showed that taking 2.5 grams of bioactive collagen peptides once daily for 24 weeks helped improve nail growth and reduce brittle nails.
The gray area is that most of the studies on collagen supplements and skin have small sample sizes, which might mean there weren’t enough participants to really get a definitive answer on the results, Giancoli explains.
The Bottom Line on Collagen Powder and Skin
Taking collagen powder to bump up the collagen production in your body doesn’t appear to be unsafe, says Giancoli, as long as you’re getting the pure stuff without added fillers or potential contaminants. A few good collagen powders to try include:
- Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides: Derived from the bones of grass-fed cows, this collagen powder can be used in everything from coffee to soups, smoothies, and overnight oats.
- Ancient Nutrition Multi Collagen Protein Powder: This blend of hydrolyzed chicken, bovine, fish, and eggshell collagen peptides is free of antibiotics, growth hormones, and other unwanted chemicals.
- Physician’s Choice Collagen Peptides: This brand of collagen powder is double hydrolyzed and includes digestive enzymes to help enhance absorption, according to the company.
While food sources will have a higher bioavailability of collagen, supplements “As with any supplement, we need to be cautious about taking things like collagen because the supplement sector isn’t as highly regulated as pharmaceuticals and food is,” adds Emily Tills, RDN, CDN.
It’s also important to note that collagen powders are only derived from animals, including cows, chicken, and fish. There are no plant-based collagen powders because collagen only exists in animals, not plants.
The bottom line? Simply adding collagen powder to your diet can potentially have a positive impact on your skin and it probably won’t hurt anything other than your pocketbook.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.