Do Collagen Supplements Really Work?

Written by: Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN

Do Collagen Supplements Really Work?

Collagen supplements promise dewy skin, shiny hair, and strong nails – but how do we know if they actually work? Ann and I were curious about the claims, so I dug into the research so we could all consider the options and decide for ourselves!

As I enter my 40’s, I have become increasingly aware of the inevitable aging process.

I look back at photos of myself from 20 years ago and see clearly how the lines of my face have changed. I’ve lost that glow, that turgor, that baby-face, those full cheeks that just scream youth.

And though I’m not usually the biggest cheerleader for supplements, especially for cosmetic purposes, the promise of collagen supplements – and how they could dial back the last few years of aging skin – has piqued my interest. Could they really help?

I investigated further to see if it was worth a shot…

What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein that makes connective tissue strong and elastic–to withstand stretching for example. Collagen naturally declines with age, and even more so with excess sun exposure, smoking, poor sleep, and excess alcohol to name a few.

Collagen supplements
In an attempt to compensate for this process, collagen supplements have become a popular intervention. They can be taken as powders, drinks, or pills and are often advertised to improve hair, skin, and nails.

They’ve become a huge hit. The global collagen supplement market was valued at $1.8 billion in 2019 and is expected to double by 2027. I even checked the collagen hashtag which accompanies about 10 million posts on Instagram alone.

Do they work?
There are some studies that hydrolyzed collagen – meaning already broken down to enhance absorption – improves skin elasticity, minimizes wrinkles, and increases hydration after a few months of use compared to placebo.

But not all dermatologists recommend collagen supplements. It’s somewhat controversial because there are not many peer-reviewed studies on the topic, and the ideal dosing is vague.

Of note, collagen supplements are different than collagen creams that are less effective because they are not ingested. Additionally, studies on the effect collagen supplements have on hair and nails are lacking.

What are the downsides of collagen supplements?
Here are a few things to consider before running to the store:

  • There have not been any notable side effects, but as always there is a lack of regulation on the supplement industry as a whole. Meaning, you can never really be sure what’s in them.
  • Collagen is made from animals – if you are vegetarian or vegan, be aware that the vegetarian versions don’t tout the same results.
  • Supplements cost money without guaranteed results. And importantly, you will need to keep taking them to maintain the effect (if there is any!).

Will I personally take them?
After reading the research, I’m certainly tempted. But as a supplement skeptic in general, I plan to consider the following, and you may want to do the same before committing to a regular supplement regimen:

  • If supplement companies or stores make claims regarding collagen, ask who funded this study? Because no matter how straightforward a study seems, bias will be present if a company is funding its own research.
  • Who is touting the benefits of collagen? Is this a celebrity, or a medical professional? Meaning, what may they have to gain if I purchase said supplement?
  • How do I know the collagen supplement I take will fill in that line above my eyebrows? The point being, collagen will go where it’s most needed, just like any food or nutrient we eat.
  • Would I be better off focusing on the other things that can affect collagen production and overall skin quality such as sleep? (I certainly need more.)
  • Do I need to look younger to feel worthy or good about myself?

Can we get hydrolyzed collagen from food sources instead?
Yes, red meat (as well as bone broth) and the bones and skin of fish are high in collagen. Other protein-rich foods contain amino acids that help boost collagen production, but there is no research indicating that consumption of these foods will improve aging skin.

A note on bones & joints
Of note, collagen supplements have also been promoted for osteoarthritis and joint pain. These results are also not definitive. I like this researched report (or white paper) as a nice overview, but best to consult a physician before self-treating. 

Bottom Line
Every individual is unique – just because many people have seen an improvement in skin wrinkles, hydration, and elasticity, doesn’t guarantee everyone will. Perhaps adequate protein intake, sleep, and a varied diet will yield the same results.

If I do decide to try, I will report back. I also welcome all comments as well as specific anecdotes from those who have taken collagen.

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  1. Karen

    I can tell a big difference since taking Collegen , it is not fast , takes about 6 months of taking every day

    1. Emily Post author

      Karen thanks for your input, I love personal anecdotes! Studies do indicate that it takes some time to notice a difference. I got about half a week doing powder in my morning coffee and then forgot the rest of the week so I haven’t been a very consistent user. But I can report I felt no negative side effects and it was completely dissolved and tasteless!