There’s huge hype these days around anti-aging collagen supplements – and claims that consumable collagen can help offset the loss of this protein that naturally occurs as a person grows older.
With so many anti-aging collagen products on the market today, the biggest question is: do anti-aging collagen supplements really work for your skin?
We previously addressed part of this topic in our Best Collagen Supplements Buying Guide, in which several experts supported the claim that anti-aging collagen supplements can be beneficial for the skin.
This article offers a differing viewpoint from experts who believe the opposite. For instance, we’ve interviewed a Medical Doctor who said the biggest myth is that the collagen in the supplements will somehow find its way to the skin and either deposit there – or cause an increased native production of collagen.
The global market purchased $4.1 billion of collagen supplements in 2014 and is estimated to increase to nearly $9.5 billion by 2023. The purpose of this article is to provide you with as much information as possible about anti-aging collagen supplements so you can decide if this option is right for you.
Keep in mind that this article is not intended as medical advice. Before you put any kind of anti-aging collagen supplement in your body, it’s important to talk to your medical provider, first.
Let’s begin with our two experts who do not believe that anti-aging collagen supplements actually work.
Anti-Aging Collagen Supplements ‘Inconsistently Proven as Beneficial’
Collagen is essential to support and rebuild connective tissue damage which helps maintain healthy muscles, skin, and joints. It also strengthens the structure of bones, tendons, cartilage, and ligaments.
“However, the delivery of the oral supplements to the skin where they are most essential is inconsistently proven to be beneficial, because the path from GI absorption to delivery to the skin is not proven,” said Dr. Neal Bhatia, Director of Clinical Dermatology at Therapeutics Clinical Research in Southern California.
As far as what these collagen supplements are typically made of, “that is actually the paradox,” Dr. Bhatia said. “Can we trust what these ingredient lists state when they aren’t under the same regulation as pharmaceuticals?”
Dr. Bhatia added that there are so many variations of collagen that also contain soy, variations of amino acids and delivery of the proteins, and other additives that could make them less efficacious.
Collagen supplements for anti-aging skin is a hot topic right now – and “completely bogus,” according to Dr. Ted Lain, a board-certified dermatologist and Chief Medical Officer at Sanova Dermatology in Austin, Texas.
“I think consumers deserve to know the truth,” he said. “I mean, if all you need to do is take collagen pills to improve your wrinkles, then why worry about skincare, sunscreen? It is actually dangerous for people to think like this.”
For one thing, according to our experts, collagen supplements don’t actually contain collagen, which we cover in the next section.
Collagen Supplements Do Not Actually Contain Collagen
Collagen supplements contain animal-derived sources of collagen – cow, pig, chicken or fish – that are then dried and hydrolyzed, or broken up into smaller pieces of collagen, called collagen peptides, Dr. Lain explained.
“Collagen supplements, therefore, do not actually contain collagen, which is too large to absorb into the bloodstream,” Dr. Lain said. “The supplements contain small pieces of the collagen molecule, which can be absorbed. The idea is that these pieces find their way to where collagen is being lost – like the skin – and trigger the body to produce more collagen.”
According to Dr. Lain, the only randomized, double-blind trial involving collagen supplements and rejuvenation or skin health showed that the people who took the supplement had better skin hydration.
“In my opinion, all the other claims, including improvements in skin thickness, wrinkling, texture, and tone have not been supported by studies with enough scientific rigor,” Dr. Lain warned. “Hydration is a measurement of the water content in the skin, and this can also be increased by applying lotions with humectant ingredients, such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid.”
There are other myths about anti-aging collagen supplements, which we discuss next.
Myths About Collagen Supplements for Anti-Aging Skin
According to Dr. Bhatia, a big myth about anti-aging collagen supplements is that such products deliver to the dermal collagen stroma and replace what is defective.
“The reality is that it doesn’t happen,” he said. “The myths are based on aggressive marketing strategies and the influence of the internet on the consumer that has placed mistaken fidelity.”
Dr. Lain believes the biggest myth is that the collagen in the supplements will somehow find its way to the skin and either deposit there, or cause the increased native production of collagen.
“The issue with this is that supplements do not contain full collagen molecules, and that the cells that produce collagen become less and less efficient with age,” Dr. Lain said. “I think it is more useful to do things that support these collagen-producing cells and make them more efficient, by using good skincare and sunscreen.”
Dr. Lain believes it’s dangerous to think that taking anti-aging collagen supplements actually work because a person consuming them might dismiss a consistent healthy skin care routine, which we cover in the next section.
Potential Dangers of Anti-Aging Collagen Supplements
Collagen supplements certainly are not a replacement for sunscreen and sun avoidance behavior – and using them as such just increases the risk of premature aging and skin cancer, Dr. Lain warned.
“Otherwise the risk is more of an opportunity cost, especially if the supplements are being used instead of skincare that is actually effective,” he said.
Collagen typically comes from animals – and any animal-based product has the potential of causing an allergic reaction, Dr. Lain added.
“In addition, there is the theoretical risk of the mammal-based collagen harboring disease,” he said.
Fortunately, there are healthy habits that a person can incorporate into daily life that can contribute to anti-aging skin, which we explore in the following section.
Healthy Lifestyle Options for Anti-Aging Skin
A diet high in anti-oxidants that minimizes animal protein and focuses on whole grains, olive oil, and unprocessed, plant-based foods is the best for body and skin health, Dr. Lain advised.
Additionally, he said that daily application of broad-spectrum sunscreen, avoiding mid-day sun exposure, and seeking shade are behaviors that will delay and minimize skin aging.
“Finally, skincare regimen including appropriate cleansers, collagen-stimulators, cell renewal agents, and moisturizers are incredibly important,” Dr. Lain recommended.
Dr. Bhatia added that retinol-based regimens have been programmed to work better to date.
Do Marine Collagen Supplements Work?
There is a trend towards marine collagen, as this collagen is smaller and easier to absorb, according to Dr. Lain.
In 2016, the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health published the findings of a single-blind, case-control clinical study on skin anti-aging and systemic redox effects of supplementation with marine collagen peptides and plant-derived antioxidants.
According to the study, marine collagen peptides obtained by enzymatic digestion of fish skin have been shown to exert several health effects mainly in two directions: metabolic disorders and skin/bone repair. The study also indicated that the oral intake of marine collagen peptides stimulated the synthesis of extracellular matrix macromolecules, such as endogenous collagen.
The study involved 41 Caucasian adults – five males and 36 females – for four months, in which the volunteers took two capsules a day for 60 days. The capsules, under the commercial name of CELERGEN, contain marine collagen peptides derived from the skin of deep-sea fish. Other ingredients in the capsules include grape-skin extract, coenzyme Q10 of plant origin, luteolin, and selenium.
In a comparison of digital photos taken before and after the clinical trial, the pictures showed visible qualitative improvement of the aesthetic aspect of the face with a pronounced lifting effect.
Our Final Thoughts on Collagen Supplements for Anti-Aging Skin
According to Dr. Lain, collagen supplements for anti-aging skin do not really work.
“As mentioned earlier, nearly all studies performed on collagen supplements and the skin are flawed in that they are not double-blind, placebo-controlled, or they have too few patients involved, or they showed results that were not significant,” Dr. Lain said.
He noted that a large-scale, controlled study with well-defined endpoints is sorely needed in order to truly understand the benefits – if there are any – of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation.
“I currently cannot recommend taking them,” Dr. Lain said.
Until better studies have been performed, “I don't see these supplements as beneficial,” he added. “Since collagen is a type of protein, taking the pills is akin to a protein supplement, which most of us do not really need in our diets.”
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