Hailed as the "fountain of youth," collagen is a hot topic in the beauty sphere. As the amplest fibrous protein found within bones, muscles, tendons, and skin, it is the main component of connective tissue that provides the structure to hold our bodies together and withstand the stretching of tissues.
“There are four main types of collagen, with Type 1 being the most common, but in actuality, there are at least sixteen different types,” says Laura DeCesaris, functional medicine consultant and clinical nutritionist. “In simple terms, think of it as a ‘glue’ that helps form strong structures in our tissues, and is also important in blood vessel structure and health.”
Most commonly, collagen manifests positive connotations for its role in maintaining the firmness of our skin. "Collagen has great tensile strength and, along with soft keratin (another protein), it is responsible for skin strength and elasticity,” says Maggie Luther, ND, care/of’s medical director and formulator. This explains, in part, collagen’s role in lessening the appearance of wrinkles and loose skin.
Whether you’re on a mission to boost your skin’s elasticity or maintain a head of lustrous hair, keep reading for top-notch advice from the experts to boost your body’s production of collagen.
Meet the Expert
Does More Collagen Mean Better Health?
We know that collagen plays an integral role in building and supporting important tissues within our bodies, but do we need more of it? “Given collagen’s beneficial components for the skin, hair, nails, and joint structures, it’s important we maintain an adequate amount, and collagen-supporting nutrition will help preserve a healthy structure,” says DeCesaris. “For women, in particular, collagen supplementation has been linked to the appearance of healthier skin, hair, and nails, and may also have benefits for the gut, such as aiding in healing an inflamed gut.”
Luther also points to the effects of collagen in combating visible and physiological aging. “Consuming collagen can help fight the effect of collagen degradation in our skin, with clinical studies finding that its consumption can result in fewer, shallower wrinkles and fine lines, smoother hydrated skin, and improved skin elasticity.”
A 2019 blind study on 72 females 35 years or older who consumed a drinkable blend of collagen peptides confirmed that skin aging could, in fact, be combated with nutrients that restored skin hydration, elasticity, density, and roughness, following three months of intake. The study also highlighted the safety of the collagen drink.
Aside from this, a lesser-known benefit of collagen is its use for burn injuries. “It can be injected into the skin to help correct scarring and/or depressions caused by these types of accidents,” says Luther.
What Impacts Our Collagen Levels?
Our collagen peaks around 25-34 years old before beginning to naturally decrease, resulting in a higher likelihood of thinning skin, loss of elasticity, and the formation of wrinkles. “Over time, the quality of collagen we produce lowers and is reflected in reduced suppleness to our skin structure, as well as impacting our joints as cartilage weakens,” DeCesaris says.
Other reasons for a loss of collagen include smoking, “which has been linked to lower collagen production,” as well as excess sugar and refined carbohydrates, given sugar interferes with collagen’s ability to repair itself, according to DeCesaris.
Many changes also occur during pregnancy: “During pregnancy, a woman’s hormones alter the metabolism of collagen to make the skin more elastic to expand with the growing fetus,” Luther explains. It’s therefore essential to support skin health and elasticity during these months.
“In doing so, it may help with stretch marks and loose skin post-pregnancy, but perhaps more importantly, collagen can help strengthen the soft tissues which undergo increased strain during pregnancy,” offers DeCesaris. “Many women also experience hair loss or thinning after pregnancy, and collagen supplementation can combat this by encouraging new hair growth and better hair strength.”
Another key component to boost the natural production of collagen is vitamin C. “Without it, the body is unable to produce collagen,” says Luther. “It, therefore, shouldn’t come as a surprise that scurvy [resulting from lack of vitamin C] is a disease associated with collagen degradation, with the first signs being visual blemishes of the skin.”
How to Boost Your Collagen
To build collagen, our body makes procollagen, a precursor from which all collagen starts. “It combines the amino acids glycine and proline, along with vitamin C,” outlines DeCesaris. By ensuring we consume foods rich in these nutrients, we might help build natural collagen products.
- Proline: egg whites, wheat germ, dairy, mushrooms, asparagus
- Glycine: chicken skin, gelatin, pork skin, bone broth
- Vitamin C: Citrus, bell peppers, berries
She also highlights the benefits of focusing on a protein-rich diet, as it provides a solid amino acid profile for making new structural proteins.
Consuming supplements is another method of potentially boosting your overall collagen. “Most supplements are either hydrolyzed collagen or gelatin, forms which have already broken down collagen into peptides and are smaller and better absorbed. Aiming for supplements that include bone, tendon, and ligament will help increase collagen.” For those of us who follow specific diets, vegetarian and vegan options are also available. And if you prefer to skip the tablet altogether, Luther’s solution is to opt for blendable collagen. “Many consumers add collagen to their morning coffee as an easy way to fit your skin routine into your caffeine routine.”
From a holistic angle, she suggests a facial massage to “increase collagen production and stimulate blood flow to help keep a youthful appearance.”
Or, taking a medical standpoint, she recommends collagen-boosting dermal fillers as an alternative to stimulate your body’s natural production of collagen. DeCesaris explains: “This can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and smooth out the skin. Or, as an alternative, red light therapy (photobiomodulation) has also been linked to improved collagen production in the skin.”
Bolke L, Schlippe G, Gerß J, Voss W. A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2494. doi:10.3390/nu11102494
Reilly D, Lozano J. Skin Collagen Through the Lifestages: Importance for Skin Health and Beauty. Plast Aesthet Res. 2021;2021. doi:10.20517/2347-9264.2020.153
Michalak M, Pierzak M, Kręcisz B, Suliga E. Bioactive Compounds for skin Health: A Review. Nutrients. 2021;13(1):203. doi:10.3390/nu13010203