Can Collagen Really Be The Fountain Of Youth Your Skin Needs? Here's What We Know

Collagen is a protein. It gives skin the strength and elasticity that it needs. Over time, the body naturally loses collagen, and its production slows down. This is partly why older skin is more prone to wrinkles and flab.

Many skincare products promise to increase collagen production rates for bouncy, smooth, and youthful skin. However, collagen creams aren't all they're cracked up to be. They might be hydrating, but they often don't deliver on restoring the skin-plumping protein. It's actually collagen supplements that may be the answer to reverse the effect of aging.

You can find collagen in red meats, chicken, fish, nuts, beans, and grains, but the epidermis can't absorb the protein just from eating these ingredients, because enzymes have to break down the amino acids in the food before the skin can absorb the collagen. With this protein in the supplement version, the enzymes and amino acids have already had a face-off. But does taking them really return your youthful glow?

Collagen supplements may improve skin elasticity

Oral collagen boosts come in different forms of powders and pills. A daily dose for youthful skin sounds too good to be true, but these protein nutrients have some health advantages. As Dr. Uma Naidoo told USA Today, "Collagen supplements usually contain various forms of collagen, amino acids, peptides and additional nutrients like vitamin C and biotin." You want to look for supplements that have collagen hydrolysate, hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen peptides.

"Some research suggests that supplementation may improve skin appearance as well as joint mobility," Naidoo, the director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, explained. A 2018 study published in Nutrients found subjects taking collagen supplements had an improvement in skin hydration and elasticity. Another 2019 study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology supports these findings.

Patients in these reports saw significant changes in their skin after 12 weeks of added collagen. However, different lifestyle factors impact how long collagen takes to work, and more research is required to say with certainty that taking these pills will help reverse the skin's clock. It may not hurt to try if wrinkles and sagging skin are your enemy. The most prominent side effects of these supplements are stomach aches and loose stool. Talk with your dermatologist or primary physician to know if this treatment is right for you. In the meantime, eating right and diligently applying sunscreen can go a long way.

How to reverse signs of aging

While the endless aisle of skincare and the bounty of medicine seems like an easy fix to combat aging skin, a healthy foundation can prevent and slow down the process. Sun protection is the first defense from environmental factors that increase signs of aging. "Sun exposure depletes collagen, which keeps the skin smooth and firm," Dr. E. Victor Ross shared with Scripps. "It can dilate blood vessels to give skin a red tone. And it causes the brown pigment in the skin to be more pronounced, which can make the skin look blotchy. It also creates something called elastotic material, which creates a cobblestone appearance in the skin." As a dermatologist, Dr. Ross recommends a broad-spectrum sunblock with at least 30 SPF.

Just like harmful UV rays, an unhealthy diet can expose your skin to free radicals, which cause an aging effect and harms your collagen production. Dermatologist and clinical assistant professor Dr. Patricia Farris told U.S. News, "A high-sugar diet can damage collagen and elastin fibers, causing them to lose their elasticity, leading to more wrinkles and sagging skin." While cutting down on sugar helps, so does adding nutrients. "Vitamin C is not only an antioxidant to fight free radicals, but is also needed to help enzymes make collagen," Dr. Farris said.

Collagen supplements can be a helpful boost, but don't forget about the basics.