Lifestyle

Collagen supplements: do they actually work?

I am sent so many collagen supplements that barely anyone leaves my house without a box of overpriced gelatine foisted upon them. I receive frequent questions from you asking if, from a skincare point of view, collagen powders, capsules, jellies and drinks are worth the cash. It’s no wonder the US oral collagen industry’s value is set to double to $8bn (£5.85bn) by 2027.

Collagen – simplistically – is the protein that makes up around three quarters of the dry weight of human skin, helping it to remain firm, supple and plump. It decreases with age (less steadily in smokers and sun worshippers), accelerating sagging and wrinkling. This lost protein is what hydrolysed collagen supplements (animal derived or vegan) promise to replace.

There have been lots of credible studies, and some results have been very encouraging, suggesting that oral collagen can reduce lines, slackening, discolouration, even cellulite, in some people. But the variables are endless. We don’t yet know the optimal dose for intake, or even which type of collagen is most effective or for whom.

Some positive studies have been at least part-funded by collagen brands, and besides, the supplement industry is notoriously unregulated and non-standardised, so no two capsules need be alike. We’re not yet sure how much collagen the body absorbs and retains. There’s little doubt that some collagen-takers will see no improvement and are wasting their money.

Much as it’s too early to say whether oral collagen will come good, one could take the approach of a praying agnostic, and ingest as a precautionary measure. Studies suggest overwhelmingly that collagen is safe, and the punt paid off with antioxidant skincare – now broadly endorsed by cosmetic dermatologists – after all.

As a layperson working within that same community, though, I can observe – albeit anecdotally – one stark difference: every expert I know was an early adopter of antioxidant skincare, while very few industry professionals I encounter (myself included) are popping collagen capsules prospectively.

What dermatologists generally will hang their lab coats on are the benefits of eating a collagen-rich diet (with plenty of dairy, fish, meat, chicken, soy, tempeh, lentils) and topical retinoids like retinol, clinically proven to inhibit collagen’s breakdown and to stimulate its further production.

So if you’re playing the long game with oral collagen, my advice is to avoid the big-ticket supplements. Price is no indicator of quality and gambling is only harmless if losing won’t hurt.