November 13, 2018
Woman taking a supplement
Ask the Experts

Collagen Pills for Youthful Skin?

by Wellness Letter  

Q: Can taking a collagen supplement make skin look younger?

A: There’s no reliable evidence to substantiate such claims, but it’s unlikely that these products would have significant effects on skin.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, notably in skin, bone, cartilage, muscles, tendons, teeth, nails, and hair. It helps give connective tissue its strength, and skin its structural stability. Our bodies make collagen from the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) we consume or produce.

As we age, collagen quantity and quality decline, which is one reason why skin thins, develops lines and wrinkles, and becomes baggy and why nails become brittle. Thus, some people hope that collagen dietary supplements, which come as capsules, tablets, and powders, may help. (Collagen injections, used for minimizing scars and wrinkles, work as a temporary filler, until the body absorbs the collagen from the skin.)

Besides collagen (usually from cows, pigs, or fish), the supplements often contain other supposed (though also unproven) “anti-wrinkle” ingredients, such as vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.

One problem with the notion that collagen you swallow can revitalize various parts of your body is that when digested, collagen, like other proteins, is broken down into its amino acids. There’s little good research on most collagen supplements or multiple-ingredient formulas. When there are studies, often they have not been published, or the products were not compared to a placebo, or the outcomes were not objectively measured.

Some preliminary research, mostly in animals, suggests that small subcomponents of collagen (called peptides) may be better able to survive digestion and thus have effects in the body. Some of this research has involved a patented German product called Verisol and has often been done by researchers associated with the company that makes it or holds the patent. A few human studies on it have suggested small benefits on skin but have methodological problems. Whether any collagen supplement has meaningful real-world effects remains unclear.

In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority reviewed Verisol and determined that there wasn’t enough evidence to support claims that it improves skin elasticity. Since then additional studies have suggested benefits, which apparently convinced Health Canada (similar to our FDA) to allow marketers of Verisol to claim that it can help improve skin elasticity and reduce wrinkles and fine lines.

Bottom line: We would like to see additional, longer studies on collagen supplements by independent researchers. Meanwhile, we remain highly skeptical of the claims.

Also see Facial Fillers: A Wrinkle in Time?

This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.