There has been a big focus in the media and among health consumers about collagen and its benefit for skin health recently. This blog post is to break down the science behind collagen so that YOU the consumer can decide if it’s the right choice! We get bombarded by the next “great thing” for our health on a daily basis and it can be overwhelming to separate what is worth it from what is just marketing.
So, what is collagen exactly?
Collagen is a protein made up of several amino acids (the building blocks of protein) – these are proline, hydroxyproline and glycine. These amino acids join to create our connective tissue – think skin, hair and bones to name a few. Collagen itself is a strong structure that is difficult to digest and is too large to be absorbed through our intestinal wall. Companies have found a solution around this by hydrolyzing the collagen to create collagen peptides, which are easier to absorb.
Does research support the benefit of collagen for skin health?
Overall, research does show that there is a benefit to skin health of consuming collagen, however, this benefit may be not be as significant as you think. You will see many companies or articles promoting that collagen can improve the barrier function of your skin, induce synthesis of new collagen, increase hydration, improve skin sagging and wrinkling, and so on. All of this is true! However, what is failed to mention is that while these changes occur they may not be as significant as you would think.
Here are some research highlights:
- Women taking 10 grams of collagen peptides for 8 weeks had a 12-28% increase in skin hydration (1).
- Women taking 10 grams for 12 weeks had a 9% increase in the thickness of the collagen layer of the skin (1).
- Individuals taking a mixture of several vitamins and nutrients plus 5 grams of collagen for 8 weeks had a 20% increase in collagen density where crow’s feet develop and 37% increase in skin firmness (2). Similar effects were seen among eye wrinkles in women taking 2.5 grams (rather than 5 grams) (3).
To give you an idea of what a 20% change looks like, if you had $100 dollars, and somebody offered you a 20% increase, you would get an additional $20, to total $120.
Now, I am not saying that this is not a valid change or that these results aren’t meaningful, HOWEVER, it is important that individuals know the amount of impact their products can have.
What other factors should be considered for optimal skin health?
Whether you choose to take collagen or not, there are many other factors that can influence a person’s skin health to consider:
Diet: Increased intake of fruits and vegetables, especially those high in antioxidants (think the bright yellow or orange, or leafy green vegetables) is beneficial in reducing oxidative stress on the skin
Exercise: Allows for increased blood flow to the skin, PLUS has the added benefit of stress relief
Stress reduction: Stress can have BIG impacts on our skin – from causing dehydration contributing to wrinkles and fine lines, to the inflammation caused by our stress hormone (cortisol) that allows for increased breakdown of collagen
Your Skincare Routine: While there are so many fancy products on the market, sometimes simple is better! This could not be more true for your skincare routine. Too aggressive of products can make the skin too alkaline, damaging the skin’s ability to act as a barrier.
Smoking: Stopping smoking is likely THE best thing you can do for your skin (as well as so many other health benefits)! Smoking causes the skin to prematurely age, leading to increased wrinkles, as well as speeds the rate at which collagen breaks down in the skin
Sleep: You know how they say beauty sleep? Turns out it is true! During sleep your body produces growth hormone, which allows for repair of the skin, as well as melatonin, which is an antioxidant that protects the skin of oxidative stress
UV Exposure: While a tan may have your skin looking temporarily nice, UVA exposure contributes to DNA damage and causes premature aging of the skin
Hormone balance: As females age our estrogen naturally declines (with the biggest changes over 40 and at menopause) which results in our collagen synthesis declining and therefore thinner, drier skin. One of the ways this can be buffered in menopause is through bio-identical hormones.
Healthy Oils: GLA, evening primrose oil and fish oil all have benefits in improving skin health. Check with your Naturopathic Doctor or other healthcare provider to see if these treatments are right for you!
It is great to see that as a society we have shifted towards a focus of skin health originating from inside the body. I have seen too many times individual’s make changes to their skincare routine or topical treatments, without considering the affect their diet and lifestyle can be having on their skin health. However, I caution people to realize that each aspect of your health, skin included, is made up of so many factors; ONE supplement, such as collagen, will not make up for a poor diet, history of smoking and lack of sleep. It is important to consider ALL of these factors when optimizing your skin health!
Yours in Health,
Naturopathic Doctor and Co-Owner of Abaton Integrative Medicine
- The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Asserin J, Lati E, Shioya T, Prawitt J. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015 Dec;14(4):291-301. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12174. Epub 2015 Sep 12.
- Daily consumption of the collagen supplement Pure Gold Collagen® reduces visible signs of aging. Borumand, M, Sibilla, S. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2014 Oct 13. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S65939
- Dietary Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides Has a Body Mass Index-Dependent Beneficial Effect on Cellulite Morphology. Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S, Proksch E. J Med Food. 2015 Dec;18(12):1340-8. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2015.0022. Epub 2015 Nov 12.