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There’s one skincare ingredient that never goes out of style—collagen. You see it touted in everything from topical creams to drinkable powders... but why? “Collagen is the major protein in the human body, providing the structural support for our body’s connective tissue, including the bone, joints, and skin,” says Dr. Yunyoung Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist. It acts as what she calls, “a scaffolding structure,” giving skin firmness and elasticity. (In other words, making it look youthful.) The only issue? Everything from Father Time to UV rays triggers the breakdown of collagen and can contribute to an aged appearance.
“Given the importance of collagen for the skin, numerous collagen-rich products have entered the market in the form of topical skincare and oral supplements purported to fight the aging process,” says Dr. Chang. But not all of these are created equal. When it comes to using collagen topically, keep in mind that most of the collagen particles in these products are too large to actually absorb into the skin, points out Dr. Devika Icecreamwala, a board-certified dermatologist in Berkeley, CA. To that point, the collagen is usually providing more of a moisturizing effect, whereas other ingredients in the mix—good ones to look for include vitamin C and retinoids—are helping to stimulate collagen production, she adds. The bottom line: Collagen serums can be great to add to your anti-aging routine just keep in mind that the collagen itself isn’t the end-all, be-all solution.
Below, we’ve researched some of the best collagen serums to prevent premature aging.
Best Overall: Algenist Genius Liquid Collagen
By definition, collagen comes from animals, but this boasts a unique, synthetically-derived vegan collagen—and it’s the first ingredient on the list, so you know you’re getting a good dose of the stuff. There’s also a combo of microalgae oils, plus omegas 3, 6, and 9, plus vitamin E.
Best on Amazon: InstaNatural Anti-Aging Collagen Serum
Amazon shoppers are verifiably obsessed with anything and everything from this brand, this collagen serum included. It’s paired with a peptide complex, plus stem cell technology created by, wait for it, NASA that more closely mimics the youth-boosting benefits of our natural stem cells. (We’re impressed.) Not to mention that it’s cruelty- and paraben-free, and doesn’t use a litany of different synthetic dyes and chemicals.
Best Drugstore: Olay Wrinkle Correction Serum Vitamin B3 + Collagen Peptides
This affordable little guy’s claim to fame is a promise of reducing the look of wrinkles in just four weeks—which many happy users say is legit. Credit a dynamic duo of collagen peptides along with vitamin B3 (AKA niacinamide). Ultimately this serum makes skin appear both smoother and more lifted, as well as leaves it nice and hydrated.
Best Brightening: Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
Vitamin C is one of Icecreamwala’s favorite collagen-boosting ingredients to seek out, largely because it’s also a top-notch antioxidant. Collagen amino acids are prevalent in this formula, and it's joined by vitamin C. Using this serum results in smoother, fresher, better-looking skin.
Best Retinol Alternative: Elemis Pro Collagen Renewal Serum
Retinol is undeniably the gold standard, but if your skin can’t tolerate it, this formula is a choice solution. It touts two retinol alternative extracts, which have similar effects when it comes to reducing fine lines and increasing firmness.
Best Bargain: The Inkey List Collagen Booster Firming Peptide Serum
This option technically doesn’t have any actual collagen in the mix and instead relies on two different peptides, claimed to help with collagen production. Users love how lightweight it is, and not only does it ring in at a very wallet-friendly price, you only need to use a pea-size amount to reap the benefits, giving you even more bang for your buck.
Best Multi-Tasker: Derma E Advanced Peptide & Collagen Serum
There’s a little bit of pretty much every good-for-your skin ingredient mixed into this formula. There’s plant-based collagen, yes, but also green tea extract and vitamin E, plus glycerin for hydration, peptides, and soothing allantoin, too. In short, there’s not much this (very wallet-friendly) formula can’t do.
Best for Eyes: Peter Thomas Roth Firmx Collagen Eye Cream
With the thinnest skin on your body, the eye area is where signs of aging tend to show up first. The good news? Because the skin is so thin, it’s also where you’re likely to see the positive effects of topical products first. And this is one topical that’s definitely worth trying. It contains not one, not two, but seven different types of collagen (including hydrolyzed collagen, which Icecreamwala says is one of the kinds that’s best able to penetrate). As if that weren’t enough, there are also extra collagen-boosting ingredients in the mix, such as amino acids and peptides, too.
Best for Lips: BeautyBio The Pout Sparkling Rosé Hyaluronic Acid Collagen Plumping Lip Serum
Don’t forget that your pucker needs just as much TLC as the rest of your face. The formula increases elasticity in the lips, and hyaluronic acid spheres work to plump up lips with hydration pretty much right away. Bonus points for the vanilla-mint flavor and ever-so-slight tingle.
Best Ingestible: Vital Proteins Original Collagen Peptides Powder
We know, we know it’s not a serum, but when it comes to straight-up collagen, the ingestible benefits may have more of a direct effect than topical use. This flavorless powder mixes well with pretty much any beverage (you can even mix it into baked goods), and it’s packed with collagen that can do good things for the body.
While topical collagen isn’t necessarily a single magical ingredient, it can be a good addition to your skincare routine. The Algenist GENIUS Liquid Collagen is our top pick for an effective collagen serum, relying on a unique type of vegan collagen. At the drugstore, check out the hydrating and smoothing Olay Wrinkle Correction Serum Vitamin B3 + Collagen Peptides (view at Walgreens). The Peter Thomas Roth Firmx Collagen Eye Cream (view at Ulta) boasts a whopping seven types of collagen and is great for smoothing out crows’ feet and signs of aging around the eyes. And if your concern isn’t just wrinkles but also skin tone, try the Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum (view at Dermstore), a multi-tasker that combines collagen with vitamin C.
What to Look for in a Collagen Serum
According to Icecreamwala, because collagen is such a large molecule, you’re more likely to get effective penetration when using products that contain hydrolyzed collagen, which is smaller and better able to get into the skin.
Since topical collagen can only do so much, you can enhance the effects by seeking out formulas that contain collagen-stimulating ingredients, such as retinoids, vitamin C, and peptides.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She’s well-versed in the many (many) collagen products out there and has covered the topic multiple times in her career.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Y. Claire Chang is a board-certified and fellowship-trained cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. Dr. Chang is an expert in skin of color and Asian beauty trends, and she frequently travels back and forth from Asia to bring the latest cosmetic trends to her patients.
Dr. Devika Icecreamwala is a board-certified dermatologist in Berkeley, CA. She’s the founder of Icecreamwala Dermatology, a practice specializing in both medical and cosmetic dermatology.