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Collagen for Skin Health: Everything You Need to Know

Dr. Sandy Skotnicki

Medically reviewed by Dr. Sandy Skotnicki

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 11/15/2019

Collagen is a protein your body naturally produces and it plays a key role in skin structure and support. It is also a popular ingredient in skin care products, particularly those marketed for wrinkle reduction.

Many women use these products indiscriminately in the hopes of regaining the smooth, supple skin of their youth. But the big question is: do these products actually work? 

Not only are collagen creams popular for wrinkle reduction, but collagen supplements have gained a large following, as well. 

But before you go out and buy collagen supplements or skin care products for yourself, we’re here to break down the information out there about what collagen is and the potential role it plays in helping maintain firm and wrinkle-free skin. Read on to learn more.

Your Skin in Three Layers

Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it is made up of three primary layers — the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis.

The epidermis is the skin’s outermost layer. It is the thinnest layer, but plays a key role in protecting you from elements in your environment. 

The dermis, or the middle layer, is what determines the strength and structure of your skin. Here is where you’ll find the blood vessels, hair follicles and sebaceous glands. The dermis also contains fibroblasts, which are cells responsible for synthesizing important proteins like collagen and elastin.

The lowest layer of skin is the hypodermis, or the fatty layer. This is where you’ll find the sweat glands as well as additional collagen that supports the structure of the skin. This layer is also responsible for conserving body heat and protecting the body’s organs.

Collagen and Skin

Skin is made up of a complex combination of blood vessels, glands and lipids, but its structure and strength are determined by three primary proteins:

  • Collagen — The most prevalent protein in your skin, collagen is a primary component of connective tissue and helps keep your skin looking young.

  • Elastin — This protein works along with collagen to keep your skin firm and tight, giving it the elasticity that prevents fine lines and wrinkles from forming.

  • Keratin — A primary component of hair and nails, keratin also makes up the surface layer of skin to create a protective barrier.

When you are born, your body has a plentiful supply of these essential proteins which work together to keep your skin smooth and supple. Unfortunately, factors like sun exposure, pollution and the inevitable passing of time results in the break down of collagen.

Your collagen production starts to decline after the age of twenty. Collagen production slows at a rate of about one percent per year and, as a result, the skin becomes thinner and more fragile over time.

This is why you may start to notice fine lines forming around your mouth and eyes, as well as deeper wrinkles on your forehead. Your skin may also take on an uneven tone or texture as you age.

Collagen Supplements for Anti-Aging

When your collagen levels are high, your skin may be smoother, firmer and more supple.  As you age and your collagen levels decrease, you’ll probably notice some changes in your skin. Thus, collagen seems to be an important part of the skin care puzzle. 

Unfortunately, you can’t actually measure your collagen levels. You can, however, look for visible signs of aging in your skin to signify that your collagen levels are in decline:

  • Roughness, dryness and itchiness.

  • Sagging and wrinkling.

  • Increased fragility.

  • Increased tendency to bruise and break.

When these signs of aging first become apparent, your first instinct may be to panic. Before you take any drastic measures, however, you should know what works (and what doesn’t).

There is some scientific evidence showing a positive correlation between oral collagen supplements and anti-aging benefits.

A study of 70 women age 40 to 60 explored the benefits of oral intake of collagen peptide supplements for skin hydration, elasticity and wrinkling. Participants were assessed at baseline and after six and 12 weeks of receiving either a placebo or a 1g collagen supplement.

At the conclusion of the study, participants who took the supplements exhibited improvements in skin hydration, wrinkling and elasticity. 

Another study found that women who drank a collagen supplement beverage daily for 12 weeks experienced a significant reduction in wrinkle depth and skin hydration compared to the control group.

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Additional Benefits of Collagen Supplements

There are a number of additional studies showing similar results to those already mentioned, leading researchers to suggest that collagen supplements stimulate the body to increase natural collagen production. Collagen supplementation is thought to provide other benefits, as well.

Not only is collagen potentially important for bone and joint health, but it is necessary for healthy muscle function as well.

As much as 10 percent of your skeletal muscle tissue is made up of collagen and some studies suggest that collagen supplements may boost the results of strength training and stimulate muscle growth after exercise.

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The Final Word

Though taking collagen supplements could help improve the appearance of your skin, more research is needed to determine how well these supplements work to support other aspects of your health.

For right now, it seems the verdict is still out.

If you want to add collagen to your diet to see if you see any results, you could try adding protein-rich foods like meat, fish, dairy and bone broth to your plate. If those aren’t your thing, you can try adding a collagen supplement to the mix. 

The overall point here is that collagen — whether you’re adding collagen-rich foods to your diet or delving into the world of collagen supplements — may not be a magical cure-all or wrinkle reduction miracle, but if you’re interested in seeing what it can do for you, there are plenty of ways to give it a try.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.