Collagen Supplements: The (current) Truth and Myths!

Collagen - it’s everywhere and in everything! But does it really do all that people say? Keep reading to find out!


I’m sure you’ve seen many posts promoting collagen for healthy hair, skin, nails, digestion, joints, and more. Ingestible collagen supplements have become very popular - there are over 9 million Instagram posts with the hashtag "collagen"!


In a culture so focused on avoiding visible aging, promises of reducing wrinkles and a more youthful appearance appeal to many. But these supplements are very costly, so is it worth it?


I saw these claims, and was curious. I started a project to investigate comparing what is scientifically established compared to what social media claims, specifically for hair, skin, and nails. Our research was recently published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology in an article called "Myths and media in oral collagen supplementation for the hair, skin, and nails: A review"(linked here)! I’d love it if you read it!



Here is a quick summary:


What is collagen? Collagen is an integral building block in the extracellular matrix of skin, hair, nails, joints, bones, tendons, and cartilage. It is also worth noting that all collagen is animal-derived, so there is no true vegan collagen – just collagen “stimulants” with sneaky marketing. You may see vegan or plant-based "collagen boosters" and "collagen builders", which contain important vitamins your body needs to use and create collagen, but this is not the same as collagen peptides themselves.


Overall, there aren’t many scientific trials on collagen. Although some studies show it can enhance skin properties, which is promising, the molecular mechanism for how this could work has not been proven.


How can protein you eat somehow stay intact, get moved around the body, and be targeted specifically to change joints or skin? This is a big question remaining to be fully answered for collagen supplements.

We digest proteins into their amino acid building blocks, which are distributed throughout the body for many cellular processes. Interestingly, some evidence shows that some collagen peptides may be resistant to some breakdown into their amino acid components, as levels of peptides can be found in the blood after ingestion.

The small amount of literature data is very different from what is being claimed on Instagram and YouTube. Over 75% of posts recommend collagen supplementation; those who were financially biased (over half!) were more likely to recommend it. Financial bias includes those who are affiliated with collagen companies, and/or those who earn a profit from their sales.

However, most social media posts and YouTube videos about collagen are made by those without health or medical expertise, and lack scientific evidence or citations. The majority of posts overall claimed it helps the skin, while only half of dermatologists’ posts did.


There is also a potential placebo effect - when you spend a lot of money on something and see so many positive claims, you subconsciously want to feel that this investment is justified. Furthermore, people who use supplemental collagen tend to be focused on their health, so they are generally more likely to be eating a healthy diet and follow other health practices that optimize their health and appearance, potentially confounding determining the effect of the collagen.

A BIG issue with current research is that the studies are often funded by collagen companies, which means they may be biased!

Overall, there is promising data that oral collagen supplements may have a beneficial impact on the skin, hair, and nails, but media claims surpass the evidence.

Right now, we need more research, especially larger trials with standard doses and formulations, to establish the effects and mechanism of collagen supplementation.

However, the risks of oral collagen supplementation are minimal - the main downside is cost and the lack of standardization of dose and quality. Outcomes may vary per person, so established topical skin treatments may be more cost-effective.


I am definitely not criticizing anyone for posting about or using collagen (as long as you aren’t making or perpetuating unsubstantiated claims for your own financial benefit…). If you like collagen and are able to afford including it in your routine, there isn’t much harm in that! But if you don't want to spend money on it, this doesn't mean you can't have healthy hair, skin, and nails without taking collagen - there are plenty of affordable, dermatologist-recommended skincare options out there! I hope you learned something new, and now feel more empowered to choose whether or not to use collagen supplements!


*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice; please discuss risks and benefits with your healthcare provider.*


References:


1. Rustad AM, Nickles MA, McKenney JE, Bilimoria SN, Lio PA. Myths and media in oral collagen supplementation for the skin, nails, and hair: A review. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021;00:1–6. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.14567


2. Mistry K, van der Steen B, Clifford T, et al. Potentiating cutaneous wound healing in young and aged skin with nutraceutical collagen peptides. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2021;46(1):109-117. doi:10.1111/ced.14392