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Does Collagen Work? How To Make Sure Your Supplement Does*

When trends emerge, my first look is always a critical one. It's important to question and be skeptical as so much of this industry is about marketing.

So when collagen supplements exploded in the market, I raised an eyebrow. As did many people, I might add.

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All it takes is a quick Google search and you'll see scores of dated articles talking about how "collagen supplements aren't worth the hype" and they're just a passing fad. 

Well, with research comes changing opinions. There's robust research that points to many benefits of collagen supplements,* and it's time to put to rest the myth that they're ineffective. 

Now that being said—not all collagen supplements are created equal. You can absolutely find a less-than-stellar formula, which can affect the efficacy (perhaps why the myth keeps persisting).   

What is collagen?

Before we get into collagen supplement efficacy, we need to understand collagen itself.

If you're into skin care, you've probably heard of collagen before. It's what helps keep your skin tight, structured, and firm.* But it's so much more than that. 

Collagen is an impressive family1 of proteins that are actually the most abundant proteins in the animal kingdom.

There are also different types of collagen in our bodies. There are at least 28 kinds of collagen1 that we know of that exist in vertebrates (yes, us included). Types I, II, and III are the most common in the human body, and thus what we talk about the most in skin and body care.* 

Let's talk about what it does. Collagen's role in the body is both simple and complex (at the cellular level): It helps make up the architectural matrix or structure of our skin, bone, cartilage, and muscle, with the purpose of helping tissues be more elastic and withstand stretching (So, for example, it keeps skin looking young and supple).* 

We synthesize our own supply of collagen, via our cells' fibroblasts2 (assuming they have the amino acids and other required nutritional building blocks they need).

This process happens throughout our lifetime; however, it also decreases with age. "Our bodies always balance collagen production and degradation," says board-certified dermatologist Gary Goldenberg, M.D. "When we are young, our bodies produce more collagen than we break down. That balance tips the wrong way with age since tissue regeneration decreases."

Additionally, your natural levels can also be reduced by environmental factors and stressors.

Summary

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the animal kingdom. There are at least 28 kinds of collagen that we know of that exist in vertebrates. Types I, II, and III are the most common in the human body. 
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How do collagen supplements work?

Collagen supplements are broken down, digestible forms of collagen (derived from animals like cows, fish, and chickens), usually in a powdered form.

These are often referred to as hydrolyzed collagen, collagen hydrolysate, collagen peptides, or gelatin.

They are broken down through controlled processes called hydrolysis, where water molecules rupture the chemical bonds in these animal-derived collagen proteins. 

"Collagen is a complex protein made of three chains of amino acids, whereas hydrolyzed collagen is collagen that is broken down into small protein chains, called collagen peptides, that are made of a few amino acids," explains Nour Zibdeh, M.S., RDN, CLT.

Those amino acids are things like proline, lysine, alanine, and glutamate (to name a select few).

Once ingested, these short peptides and amino acids are absorbed into the body through the small intestine. In the body, they travel throughout, supporting your body's natural production of collagen via the fibroblasts (or the things in our cells that create collagen and elastin).

You can then reap the benefits of this in your skin, bones, joints, hair, nails, and muscles.* 

Summary

Collagen supplements are broken down, digestible forms of collagen usually in a powdered form. They are broken down through controlled processes called hydrolysis. Once ingested, these short peptides and amino acids are absorbed into the body through the small intestine, supporting your body's natural production of collagen via the fibroblasts.
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What are the benefits of taking collagen, and how long does it take?

Speaking of those benefits, let's talk about them—and the scores of research studies that back up these claims.*

"There are, in fact, numerous published studies on collagen peptides, and the science continues to build. When there are enough clinicals to compile them in a systematic review or meta-analysis, that's definitely a sign that a certain bioactive or nutritional component has a noteworthy breadth of clinical evidence," says Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, vice president of scientific affairs at mindbodygreen.*

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If you want a more thorough guide to the specific benefits you can expect, check out our comprehensive guide to collagen supplements.

Summary

Potential benefits of consuming collagen regularly include improved skin elasticity, supported joint movement, gut support, and enhanced bone density.*

How long does it take collagen to work? 

So part of seeing if a supplement supports a particular targeted health area is knowing how long it takes. You can't try something for a few days, expect magic, and then deem it a failure if it doesn't work, no?

For our full guide on this topic on collagen timing, please see this piece on collagen supplement results. But for a quick list, we've broken the time frames out here:* 

  • Skin support benefits: 4 to 12 weeks (1 to 3 months)
  • Muscle mass and strength (combined with resistance training): 3 months
  • Less soreness after physical training: within a few days
  • Joint health support: 4 to 6 months
  • Tendon support (combined with strengthening exercise): 3 to 6 months
  • Bone-density support: 12 months
  • Hair: unclear
  • Nails: 6 months

Summary

Depending on your targeted health area, it could take anywhere between 1 to 12 months for collagen to take full effect.
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What types of collagen can you use?

Collagen supplements come in many different forms: powder, capsules, gummies, drinks, to-go packets, and more.

Of course, what option you decide to use is largely a personal choice. Some people like the ease of capsules, others enjoy the taste of gummies, and still others like the variety of powders, as they can blend in practically anything. 

Your preferences and lifestyle will influence your choices, but as far as efficacy: Powders are the best, as they are able to deliver the most potent amount of collagen.*

In powders you'll get dosages as high as 15 to 20 grams per serving—as opposed to gummies and drinks, which are usually much lower.

Of course, it's fine to choose a supplement with a lower dose if the collagen supplement comes with additional bioactives, but it's just something to note. 

Want some recommendations that include all of the above? Here are our all-time favorite collagen supplements

Summary

Collagen supplements can come in many different forms. For efficacy, powders are the best, as they are able to deliver the most potent amount of collagen.*

4 things to make sure of so that your collagen works:

1.

Dose

Collagen dosage can get quite nuanced. You may find definitive recommendations on intake levels (like a Recommended Daily Allowance, or RDA) and status blood biomarkers for things like vitamin D, with specific needs depending on your age, sex, dietary pattern, and lifestyle; it's just not the same for collagen at this time (yet). But we recommend looking for a supplement that delivers 10 to 20 grams per serving. As we've noted, collagen powders are the best delivery format for packing in these higher doses.*

2.

Source

Look for brands that describe in detail where their collagen is sourced from (the animal, the country or region, etc.), be it on the packaging or website. Phrases like "grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine collagen," or "sustainably, wild-caught cod" are all good signs. Ideally, they'll also note what collagen types (type I, II, or III) and share the amino acid profile. You can find "vegan" collagen; however, it's important to clarify that those products don't actually contain collagen itself—instead, they are simply nutrients and bioactives to help you produce or maintain your natural collagen levels.*

While deciding sourcing will likely depend on your dietary needs, we prefer a grass-fed bovine collagen supplement, which contains collagen types I and III9, the types of collagen that are widespread in the human collagen network and, thus, vital in promoting overall health.*

3.

Clean formulas

As with most things we recommend, make sure the formula is clean. Less is more here: Skip artificial colors, sweeteners, and flavors, as well as fillers, chemical preservatives, gluten, GMOs, soy, and other known food allergens. If your collagen product is flavored, look for natural and responsibly sourced varieties (such as organic cocoa and organic vanilla). If there's a sweetener, we recommend premium options like organic monk fruit extract or organic coconut sugar.

4.

Timing

There are plenty of claims out there about the best time to take collagen, be it morning, as an afternoon snack, or right before bed. Here's the deal: There is no scientific consensus on the "best time" to take collagen or even that the time of day matters at all. "Think of collagen as more of a general in-your-system-type supplement," says Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., CSCS

Side effects of collagen

Overall, collagen peptides are safe for consumption, and few cautions are reported. (As far as supplements go, they fall into the "benign" bucket.) However, every body is unique, and may react in different ways! This is why some side effects are reported anecdotally. 

We have more information on the potential side effects of collagen here, but as an overview these are the some anecdotal comments:

  • Bad taste in mouth. Some report unpleasant taste with their collagen powders. The most common tastes reported are from the collagen itself (it can be strong for some folks) or from the flavor profile (which can be either too sweet or comes with a bitter aftertaste).
  • Stomach upset. Anecdotally, some individuals report bloating, stomach upset, and fullness. This isn't common, and may have more to do with the specific formula and additives on a brand-by-brand basis than collagen peptides in general. 
  • Allergens. As a best-practice for anything you're consuming, keep an eye out for any ingredient that you may personally have sensitivities to: Always be sure to check out the full ingredient list (not just the marketing material), and where the collagen is sourced from.
  • Vegan status. No collagen is vegan because collagen peptides are derived from animals (cows, fish, and chicken most often). This can be a pain point for strict vegans.

Can you get collagen from food?

Yes, you certainly can get collagen from animal sources. You can also eat various nutrients that will support your natural collagen levels and production. Here are some of the best options if you're looking to enhance your diet, but we identify more sources of collagen here if you're hungry for more information.

  • Bone broth contains a bioavailable form of collagen.
  • Chicken cartilage contains collagen. Just make sure to leave the skin on for collagen-boosting benefits.*
  • While not collagen itself, eating citrus (i.e. lemons, limes, oranges) or berries boasts vitamin C, which is a nutrient that helps the body produce collagen.
  • Egg whites contain large amounts of proline, one of the amino acids necessary for collagen production.

Conclusion

Yes, collagen supplements do work (and have the research to back it up).* But you have to find one that is high-quality and clean, with no added sweeteners and flavors, if you want results.* 

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.