Can You Eat Your Way To Better Skin? Here's What We Know About Collagen Supplements

Photographed by Natalia Mantini
Can you actually eat your way to a more beautiful complexion? That’s the dream that collagen supplements promise, which is probably why it might seem like collagen bars, powders, and liquids are everywhere you turn, from the smoothie bowls of Instagram to the shelves at Costco.
But there is evidence to back up some of the health and beauty hype surrounding edible collagen. (Notice we said some.) So should you consider adding collagen to your daily #selfcare routine or skip this skincare trend? Here’s what we know about collagen supplements, and what the research says about whether they work or not.
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What are the benefits of collagen powder?

The research on taking collagen supplements, such as a collagen powder, is still in its early days, but we do know that it’s been shown to improve the skin’s hydration and elasticity. There’s also promising data to back up the claim that taking collagen can diminish signs of aging, heal wounded skin, and improve joint tissue.
“Taking it regularly improves your skin’s texture and reduces wrinkling of the skin. It does help your skin look more youthful,” says holistic nutritionist and author Joy McCarthy, who is an ambassador for Genuine Health, which sells both marine and bovine collagen powders that can be mixed into drinks and food. (McCarthy adds hers to matcha lattes, smoothies, and even cookie bites.)
Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Sandy Skotnicki agrees. “There was a really good study [that] came out in January of this year, looking at all of the studies that are out there — and there are some randomized controlled trials — I'm actually quite surprised [by the benefits],” says Skotnicki.
One preliminary study showed that taking collagen supplements could benefit athletes recovering from cardio or strength training-related sports injuries, by protecting and supporting connective tissue.

Do collagen supplements improve gut health?

The jury is still out on whether our bellies can reap the benefits of collagen (the hypothesis is that it helps restore tissue in the stomach). Collagen supplementation in animals has shown improved gut health, but there has yet to be a study done on humans.
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But many of those aboard the collagen bandwagon believe it helps. Leah Garrard-Cole launched Sproos, a line of collagen powders and bars, after finding that collagen helped a stomach ailment that was sidelining her.
“I had quite serious gut trouble a few years ago,” says Garrard-Cole. “I developed anaphylaxis very suddenly. We still don't really know why, but one of the things I was doing with my naturopath was taking collagen to try to improve my gut lining. That's how I first heard about it, and how we ended up starting our business.”

How do collagen supplements work?

Collagen is found all over our body — in our skin, bones, connective tissues. As we age, our body loses its ability to make collagen, so by the time we reach 40, we’re producing 25 percent less collagen than when we were in our early 20s. That number reaches 50 percent by the time we’re 60. All this leads to a complexion that lacks firmness and a certain glow.
“What they think happens [when you take collagen supplements is] that it helps promote recovery of collagen and elasticity in skin that is degraded by UV radiation,” says Dr. Skotnicki. “It may also do this by reducing the enzymes, which are called collagenases, that break down dermal collagen.”

What’s the difference between marine and bovine collagen?

Collagen supplements generally can come in either marine or bovine formulas, and they may affect us differently.
“Marine collagen comes from fish skin and scales, and bovine from grass-fed cow hide,” explains Natasha Geddes, founder of Good Goddess Daily, a Toronto-based wellness brand that makes grass-fed collagen. If you have a fish or shellfish allergy, marine collagen is not the supplement for you.
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There are three types of collagen: Types 1 and 3 are most commonly found in supplements and can be taken together to improve the health of skin, hair, nails and bones. Type 2 collagen is found in the fluid of joints and cartilage and should be taken separately.
“Marine is typically made up of type 1 collagen, which is a smaller molecule making it slightly easier to absorb, and is fantastic for skin,” says Geddes. “Bovine is made up of both type 1 and type 3, so it’s great for skin and joints.”
Garrard-Cole, of Sproos, adds that both are considered sustainable because the collagen is sourced from animal byproducts that wouldn’t normally get used.

What's the best collagen supplement?

As mentioned above, there are two main types of collagen — bovine and marine — and there are different ways to ingest them — supplements come in bars, powders, pills, and liquids.
First off, look forhydrolyzed collagen, Garrard-Cole and McCarthy say, because it’s the most digestible, absorbable form of collagen. But beyond that, the type you take is personal preference. Garrard-Cole leans more towards powders or infused food (like the Sproos Chocolate Almond Butter Collagen Bar) for two main reasons: liquid collagen, which comes in capsules, can have unnecessary added ingredients, and you would need to take quite a few capsules to reach the daily recommendations.
Most powder formulations (like all the ones mentioned here) can easily be dissolved in water, so drinking your collagen supplement each day might be the way to go, depending on your preference.
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How much collagen should you take a day?

According to McCarthy, Garrard-Cole and Geddes, we should take 10 grams of collagen a day, but Dr. Skotnicki doesn’t see it so clearly. “Nobody really knows what concentration [to take],” she says. “It's like CBD oil. Everyone's jumping on the bandwagon, but no one knows the right dose, how long does it take it, etc.” Skotnicki also notes that across studies, the range varies from 2.5 grams to 10 grams per day, which she believes is a lot of collagen based on volume alone.

Are collagen supplements safe?

Yes, as far as we know. Research hasn’t linked taking oral collagen supplements with any adverse effects.

How long should you take collagen supplements?

While there’s no solid research to answer this question definitively, McCarthy, Geddes, and Garrard-Cole all believe you should take a collagen supplement for at least four to five weeks in order to see benefits. “It doesn’t work overnight, and it gets better as you use it consistently,” says Geddes.
“There is research that shows major benefits [of taking collagen for] up to five months, so I would say at least five months,” says McCarthy, who also believes you should take a one-month break from any supplement after taking it for an extended period of time, just to let the body reset. (McCarthy admits this is a personal preference.)
“If you're taking it for five months and you notice that your skin has improved and your joints are better, it's not like if you go off it the next day everything's going to go down hill,” says McCarthy. “It takes time for the collagen to degrade again.”
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