Like BB cream and cloth face masks, Asia has once again spawned a skincare trend that’s slowly making its way to the U.S. This one, however, is a bit less traditional: ingesting collagen. The reality is much less Hannibal Lector-y than you’d imagine (it isn’t collagen from a living human being, for starters). However, it’s not exactly the most traditional means in our quest for J.Lo-status skin, either.
To help us separate fact from fiction, we spoke with dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic & clinical research at Mt. Sinai Medical Center. Keep reading to find out if collagen supplements really work!
Even if you’re not sure exactly how it works, you probably know that collagen is directly related to how plump and firm your skin appears. On a very basic level, the less collagen in your skin, the more wrinkles and sagging you’ll have. “Collagen is produced by skin cells called fibroblasts,” Zeichner says. “Topical treatments that stimulate activity of these cells to produce new, healthy collagen are a cornerstone of anti-aging skin treatments.” He refers to topical treatments like retinoids and peptides as major collagen boosters. Advocates of collagen supplements say that drinking and eating collagen will have the same effect—they’ll boost the collagen production in your skin and smooth out wrinkles.
Here’s the catch—collagen is actually a protein, so when you ingest it, your digestive system breaks it up before it ever really reaches your skin. Skeptics say that your body is unable to differentiate between protein from a collagen drink and protein from, say, a steak—your body breaks down both the same way.
But before you toss your supplements, there have been some recent studies that prove collagen supplements have promise. For example, a study by the Natural Medicine Journal showed that women who took the dietary supplement Collagen BoosterTM saw significant improvement in their percentage of pores and hyperpigmentation spots after six months. Other studies published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology found that a collagen supplement named Verisol improved skin elasticity and reduced wrinkles around the eyes by 20 percent after just eight weeks.
“Recently, there has been new data suggesting that oral collagen supplements may be effective,” Zeichner says. “The idea is that the active collagen fragments are absorbed through ingestion and circulate through your bloodstream to your skin. More data needs to be gathered to validate initial studies, but if effective, these supplements can help the way we treat aging skin.” Advocates of collagen drinks and pills say that traditional skin serums only penetrate the top layer of your skin—new types of ingestible collagen peptides are more easily absorbed by your body and can boost collagen in your skin’s deeper layers.