debunkeveryday science

i mean, do collagen supplements even work? science says… meh

I’m sure you have heard about the collagen supplements craze. Collagen drinks, pills, powder, you name it … they will miraculously provide you with youthful, wrinkle-free skin, thick, voluminous hair, and no more brittle nails. Sounds fantastic, sure, but what does scientific research on this topic has to say?

According to the marketing-speak — at this point, miraculous collagen is a promised one-stop shop for aging skin, hair, and nails. $2 billion spent on collagen supplements in 2021 is there to testify to the hype in question.

Although some studies suggest there *may be* some potential benefits, especially for the appearance of the skin, most of the results are still unclear.

I’m afraid we have to go deep dive into the available research on collagen supplementation.

However, the buzz around oral collagen is not backed by science, experts say. As an oral supplement, data linking collagen to noticeable skin changes is well… not overwhelming.

In a 2021 meta-analysis of 19 studies that included 1,125 participants (mostly women), researchers from Brazil found evidence of improvement in the firmness and moisture content of the skin with wrinkles appearing less noticeable. BUT.

As much as that sounds promising, it’s unclear if these skin improvements were actually due to collagen or other ingredients included in every single one of the supplements participants used.

So, the benefits of oral collagen most definitely came as a result of a joint effort of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, coenzyme Q10, hyaluronic acid, and chondroitin sulfate added to the collagen supplements in question.

A few randomized, controlled trials done with a small number of participants show that drinking collagen supplements with high amounts of the peptides prolylhydroxyproline and hydroxyprolylglycine can improve skin moisture, elasticity, wrinkles, and roughness.

One small 2017 study of 25 people with brittle nails found that taking 2.5 grams of collagen daily for 24 weeks improved brittleness and nail growth. However, this small study had no control group taking a placebo compared to the group receiving collagen supplements.

As an added bonus, there haven’t been any studies in humans examining the benefits of collagen supplementation for hair.

No medical evidence supports marketing claims that collagen supplements or drinks can improve hair growth, shine, volume, and thickness — at least not at this point.

Beyond skin, some studies have linked collagen supplements with improvements in joint mobility and knee and joint pain for athletes and people with osteoarthritis. Research is ongoing, writes Emily Sohn, National Geographic.

But to learn whether commercially available products are truly helpful and safe for the beauty side of the benefits, we need large, high-quality studies.

So, you ask: should I even try one of those collagen supplements?

At this time, there isn’t enough proof that taking collagen supplements will make a difference in skin, hair, or nails.

Our bodies cannot absorb collagen in its whole form. To enter the bloodstream, collagen must be broken down into peptides to be absorbed through the gut.

To make the scientific point clear, not a single human study has proven that collagen you take orally will end up in your skin, hair, or nails — yet.

If your goal is to improve skin texture and minimize wrinkles, experts recommend focusing on high sun protection and using topical retinoids. Extensive research has already demonstrated that both of these measures are safe, sound, and effective.

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