Topical vs. Ingestible Collagen: Which One Is Better?
Collagen is as big a beauty buzzword as they get, and for good reason: Your skin is literally made up of the stuff, and it plays a key role in keeping your complexion looking tight and healthy as the years pass.
But when you see collagen infused into creams, serums, and supplements left and right, you may start to wonder: Is it better to ingest or apply this molecule? To come, a quick explanation.
How topical & ingestible collagen stack up
There's no doubt that topical collagen creams hydrate the skin. However, it's not scientifically possible for collagen to be absorbed or penetrate the skin from the outside. "Collagen is a huge molecule that sits on the surface of the skin and cannot be absorbed into the dermis," board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D., previously explains to mbg.
She adds, "When applied topically, it is not possible for collagen to penetrate, which is why we use other actives to stimulate collagen production." Think retinol, glycolic acid, etc. She confirms that any product that claims this benefit is simply a marketing tactic. Board-certified dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., seconds the falsehood: "Unfortunately, the hype behind topical collagen is just that: hype," she says.
We should note that the beauty industry evolves every day with new biotechnology to help mimic standard ingredients found in nature. Recently, formulators have discovered a few biotech ingredients that can, in fact, boost your skin's natural collagen production when applied topically—and brands have started to market these as topical "vegan collagen." But not every brand uses these high-tech innovations (plus, the tech is still pretty young), so we advise you to do your research.
Still, most topical collagen serums haven't been researched enough yet to confirm major skin aging benefits. But what about ingestible forms? Luckily, there's promise in that department.* Here's what we know:
- As you age, your skin structure suffers because aged fibroblasts produce less collagen1. This results in signs of aging, like sagging and fine lines, which are usually most prominent on the face.
- Research shows that hydrolyzed collagen peptides are able to support skin elasticity and dermal collagen density2.*
- Hydrolyzed collagen peptides have been shown to help promote your body's natural production of collagen3 and other molecules that make up the skin, like elastin and fibrillin.*
Now, the most important part is to find a high-quality collagen supplement that's worth your money, as they can get a little pricey. Be sure to look for hydrolyzed collagen peptides, plus any other skin-loving ingredients that level up the blend, such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, biotin, etc.* Here is a curated list of a few A+ options, all recommended by a nutrition Ph.D., to ease your search.
We won't say that topical collagen won't ever work, as the beauty industry evolves every day. But for now, it's safe to say that ingestible collagen supplements have been further researched than topical collagen products, and with more promising results.* If you want to dive deeper into the comparison, check out the full story here.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.