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Do Collagen supplements actually help the skin? Let’s look at the research

In aesthetics I often find there are times when particular treatments or products suddenly become popular.  This is probably because the claims that are made relating to these products such as “anti-ageing” or “collagen boosting”.  However, many do not stand the test of time because they are probably not overly effective!  If you look at Botox or Tretinoin for example; these have stood the test of time and that’s because they work!


Collagen

My advice to patients is that the best thing to do is follow sound/high quality scientific evidence because this will not only let you know if a product is effective, there will often be studies to discuss side effects.  Trying new products that have not gone through this rigor can often mean you may be using a product that does not work and even worse could be causing harm. 


Now, you would notice above that I have used the word “sound” to describe scientific evidence and the reason is that just because it is a published research paper the outcomes may not be wholely accurate.  So not only am I suggesting you look at research papers, I am saying you need to look at particular ones! I can hear you saying “that is a tough ask!”  But this is where we, as medically trained professionals, can help!


As clinicians we spend a lot of our undergraduate and particular postgraduate training learning how to read, analyse and understand limitations of research papers and research reviews to make a judgement on the strength of evidence! This is why I prefer you ask me or a medical professional before you start using products or having treatments recommended on a blog article or opinion pieces or whatever product comes up first on Google shopping!  I am happy to help where I can!


Over recent times I have noticed that the number of patients taking collagen supplements or drinks have increased.  Collagen is almost a “buzz” word for the skin and so I guess people may think that in any format, collagen must be beneficial for it.  The skin market is very broad and highly commercial and so, like mentioned, there may be products that have very little or no scientific evidence to prove that they are effective.  Not only this even if there is research into a product or treatment, it could be biased (for example if it was sponsored by the company that the research was looking into!).  I think it is important for you to be aware of all of this and as practitioners we are here to guide you in the right direction.


So I will now explain what collagen is and why healthy collagen is so important for the skin and

what the scientific research and evidence says about the use of collagen supplements


Collagen Fibres

Collagen is a protein that serves as a major building block in the body, providing structure and strength to various tissues, including the skin. In the skin, collagen plays a crucial role in maintaining its elasticity, firmness, and overall youthful appearance. Think of collagen like the scaffolding of a building. Just as scaffolding provides support and structure to a building during construction, collagen provides support and structure to the skin, keeping it firm, elastic, and youthful-looking. As we age, collagen production decreases, leading to the formation of wrinkles, fine lines, and sagging skin.


Currently there is not enough strong evidence that collagen tablets or drinks help improve skin health (or nail or hair health also for those who are having it for these reasons. Collagen itself can not be absorbed directly into the body and instead it is broken down by the body into smaller components called peptides before it can be absorbed by the gut. These then need to be broken down further so that the even smaller peptides can then form the building blocks for proteins we need in the skin, such as collagen. However, these tiny peptides can be used by other parts of the body such as your bone, muscle or cartilage and so the amount that actually ends up in your skin is debatable.


There are studies that do say there may be some positive effects on the skin such as:

  1. de Miranda RB, Weimer P, Rossi RC. Effects of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation on skin aging: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Dermatol. 2021 Dec;60(12):1449-1461

  2. Pu SY, Huang YL, Pu CM, Kang YN, Hoang KD, Chen KH, Chen C. Effects of Oral Collagen for Skin Anti-Aging: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2023 Apr 26;15(9):2080

  3. Dewi DAR, Arimuko A, Norawati L, Yenny SW, Setiasih NL, Perdiyana A, Arkania N, Nadhira F, Wiliantari N. Exploring the Impact of Hydrolyzed Collagen Oral Supplementation on Skin Rejuvenation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Cureus. 2023 Dec 9;15(12):e50231


Many studies use commercially available supplements, which means that they contain other items as well as collagen such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and chondroitin sulfate. This means you can not definitively say that collagen has provided benefit as it could be one of the other items providing the benefit!


Collagen supplements

If your aim is to minimize fine lines and improve skin texture and elasticity there are items such as Retinol (or tretinoin if appropriate to prescribe) and the use of daily sunscreen that have shown in a huge variety of high-quality research to be very effective in doing this, as well as certain skin rejuvenation treatments. These are more certain in the scientific literature, unlike collagen tablets, and so are probably a better starting place. Please let us know and we can help make some recommendations!




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