Top 10 Collagen Questions Answered
Collagen is one of the trendiest supplements of the day. It’s become a popular addition to smoothies, coffee, and skin care products. Fans and influencers swear by its health and beauty benefits. And while the science on these benefits is still emerging, early studies look promising, particularly for skin and joints. But many people have questions about just what collagen does in the body, how collagen is made, and how it should be taken for best results. If you’ve got questions about collagen, we’ve got answers. Let’s start with the basics.
Q: What is collagen?
A: Collagen is a structural protein that’s found naturally in the connective tissues of your body. The word collagen comes from the Greek word “kólla,” which means glue, and that’s pretty much what collagen does: it’s the glue holding your body together. Its strong fibers make up a key component of your skin, hair, nails, tendons, bones, joint cartilage, blood vessels, and gut lining, helping to keep these tissues pliable and resilient.
Q: If it’s already in my body, why take it as a supplement?
A: Our bodies produce less collagen as we age. This starts in our 20s, but accelerates in our 40s. Women can lose as much as 30% of their collagen in the first 5 years of menopause.1 Smoking and sun exposure also increase collagen loss. As a result, our skin loses its elasticity and tautness and our bones, joints, and muscles weaken. In other words, some of the most obvious signs of aging are linked to collagen loss.
Q: How do collagen supplements work?
A: Whole collagen protein molecules are large, making them difficult to absorb into the body when ingested. That’s why most collagen supplements and powders use hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen peptides. These peptides are smaller collagen molecules that have been broken into tiny snippets through hydrolysis. The theory is that collagen peptides are small enough to make it through the digestive system and be absorbed into the bloodstream, where they provide the building blocks for the body to produce more collagen.
Q: What’s the evidence for collagen supplements?
A: While research is still limited, early evidence suggests that oral collagen supplements can improve skin appearance and health.2 A recent review of eight clinical studies concluded that collagen supplements have “promising short- and long-term benefits" for skin aging and healing.3 Clinical studies have shown positive results for skin elasticity,4,5 hydration, and smoothness.6,7,8 Preliminary evidence also suggests collagen may have benefits for joint comfort and exercise recovery.9,10,11,12,13,14,15
Q: Which collagen is best for skin, oral supplements or topical skin products?
A: There’s no evidence that collagen can actually be absorbed through the skin. Most researchers think the molecules are just too big to penetrate the skin’s layers. Research suggests you’ll have better luck building collagen from the inside out.
Q: Will collagen help with hair loss or thinning?
A: We don’t have studies to prove that it does, but there are some good reasons to think it might.16 Hair grows out of the dermis layer of your skin, which is 70% collagen. Loss of collagen in the aging scalp is thought to be linked with hair thinning. So in theory, a healthier dermis layer should promote healthier hair growth. Collagen is also a rich source of several amino acids that the body uses to make keratin, the primary protein that makes up your hair.
Q: Where does collagen come from?
A: Since collagen is part of the connective tissue of the body, it is only found in animals, not plants. The collagen in supplements is generally derived from the hide, bones, scales, or cartilage of cows, chickens, or fish. While there’s no such thing as vegan collagen, you can support healthy collagen production with key nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, silica, and copper, which are crucial for collagen synthesis. These nutrients will help your body produce collagen normally, but won’t necessarily increase collagen production.
Q: Can I get collagen from food?
A: The animal parts that are rich in collagen are not the parts we usually eat: bones, cartilage, feet, beaks. The notable exception is bone broth, which is made by slowly simmering the bones (and sometimes other parts) for 8-10 hrs to extract their collagen. Bone broth is a rich source of collagen, as well as many other nutrients that are good for your connective tissues, like glucosamine and chondroitin, calcium and other bone-building minerals. Keep in mind, though, that the collagen in bone broth is whole collagen molecules, not collagen peptides, so we don't know how well they are absorbed. There’s no research to show whether drinking bone broth can actually increase collagen in the body. But it’s a healthy, nutrient-dense food nonetheless.
Q: Can I use collagen as a protein powder?
A: Collagen is not a complete protein. It’s missing one of the nine essential amino acids (tryptophan) and has smaller amounts of a few others. For this reason, it’s not a good dietary substitute for protein. However, it’s a great source of supplementary protein. The protein content in collagen powder is very dense, so you can get plenty of protein bang for your buck.
Q: Are collagen supplements safe?
A: Collagen supplements have been safely used for many years with no evidence of negative side effects. Since collagen is basically just protein, there’s no reason to think it would be harmful to the body, as long as the supplements come from a reputable brand with good manufacturing practices and standards. Our Naturelo Collagen Peptides Powder is sourced from grass-fed cows (not factory farm) and tested by third-party labs to ensure purity. However, it’s always a good idea to consult a healthcare professional before taking a new supplement if you’re pregnant, nursing, or have a health condition.
1. Marshall, Lisa. “Collagen: ‘Fountain of Youth’ or Edible Hoax?” WebMD, Dec. 2019.
2. Vollmer, David L et al. “Enhancing Skin Health: By Oral Administration of Natural Compounds and Minerals with Implications to the Dermal Microbiome.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 19,10 3059. 7 Oct. 2018, doi:10.3390/ijms19103059
3. Choi FD, Sung CT, Juhasz ML, Mesinkovsk NA. Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019 Jan 1;18(1):9-16. PMID: 30681787.
4. Proksch E, Segger D, Degwert J, Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(1):47-55. doi: 10.1159/000351376. Epub 2013 Aug 14. PMID: 23949208.
5. Czajka, et al. Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing. Nutr Res 2018 In Press
6. Schwartz SR, Park J. Ingestion of BioCell Collagen(®), a novel hydrolyzed chicken sternal cartilage extract; enhanced blood microcirculation and reduced facial aging signs. Clin Interv Aging. 2012;7:267-73. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S32836. Epub 2012 Jul 27. PMID: 22956862; PMCID: PMC3426261.
7. Asserin J, Lati E, Shioya T, Prawitt J. The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015 Dec;14(4):291-301. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12174. Epub 2015 Sep 12. PMID: 26362110.
8. Proksch E, Schunck M, Zague V, Segger D, Degwert J, Oesser S: Oral Intake of Specific Bioactive Collagen Peptides Reduces Skin Wrinkles and Increases Dermal Matrix Synthesis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2014;27:113-119. doi: 10.1159/000355523
9. Effects of oral administration of type II collagen on rheumatoid arthritis
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10. Zdzieblik, et al. Improvement of activity-related knee joint discomfort following supplementation of specific collagen peptides. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2017 Jun;42(6):588-595
11. Moskowitz RW. Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2000 Oct;30(2):87-99. doi: 10.1053/sarh.2000.9622. PMID: 11071580.
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13. Lopez, et al. Evaluation of the Effects of BioCell Collagen, a Novel Cartilage Extract, on Connective Tissue Support and Functional Recovery From Exercise. Integr Med. 2015 Jun;14(3):30-8.
14. Schepetkin IA, Kirpotina LN, Hammaker D, Kochetkova I, Khlebnikov AI, Lyakhov SA, Firestein GS, Quinn MT. Anti-Inflammatory Effects and Joint Protection in Collagen-Induced Arthritis after Treatment with IQ-1S, a Selective c-Jun N-Terminal Kinase Inhibitor. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2015 Jun;353(3):505-16. doi: 10.1124/jpet.114.220251. Epub 2015 Mar 17. PMID: 25784649; PMCID: PMC4429673.
15. Bello AE, Oesser S. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature. Curr Med Res Opin. 2006 Nov;22(11):2221-32. doi: 10.1185/030079906X148373. PMID: 17076983.
16. Streit, Lizzie. “5 Evidence-Based Ways Collagen May Improve Your Hair.” Healthline, Jan 2019.