What Are Collagen Supplements?

Collagen is a protein found in connective tissues throughout your body. It is located in your skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments. Its primary function is to help tissues withstand stretching.

As you age, your body makes less collagen. Some people attempt to restore collagen by taking collagen supplements.

Some research has shown that collagen supplements may benefit specific parts of the body, including: aging skin, bone density, and joint health.

While results are promising, more research is needed to fully understand whether or not supplementation is effective.

This article discusses the potential benefits and possible side effects of collagen supplements. It also explains how to take collagen and what to look for in collagen products.

Does Collagen Have Any Benefits?

Collagen supplements claim to combat the effects of aging by:

  • Firming up skin
  • Fighting age-related damage
  • Boosting bone health

However, few rigorous independent studies have tested the effects of these supplements.

Many studies investigating the benefits of collagen supplements are small or limited in scope. Also, collagen suppliers fund some of the research. The fact that these large corporations may benefit from positive study outcomes must be considered.

Here are some findings from the available research.

Skin

Collagen makes up 75% of the dry weight of your skin. As you age, your skin's inner layer loses collagen and becomes less elastic and more vulnerable to damage.

Studies on collagen's impact on the skin include:

  • Hydration: In a 2015 study, scientists evaluated if supplementation could improve skin tissue in a lab setting. Their results suggested that supplements could improve skin hydration and the skin's collagen network. In addition, collagen also showed potential to improve aging skin.
  • Elasticity: Skin elasticity starts to decline in your 20s. Some studies have focused on whether collagen supplements can help with this. In a 2014 study in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, women ages 35 to 55 took either a collagen supplement or a placebo (fake treatment) once daily for eight weeks. At the study's end, those who took the collagen had improved skin elasticity compared to those who took the placebo.
  • Hydration and elasticity: A 2018 study published in Nutrition Research investigated the role of a specific brand of oral collagen supplement. This supplement also contained joint-supporting ingredients, including chondroitin sulfateglucosamine, L-carnitine, and other vitamins and minerals. The research showed the supplement increased skin elasticity and hydration.
  • Wound healing and aging: Lastly, a 2019 review of studies evaluated collagen supplements' effects on wound healing and skin aging. Study authors concluded that supplements are generally safe and can increase skin elasticity, hydration, and density. They added, however, that further studies are needed to determine proper dosing and determine medical applications.

Bone Health

Studies on collagen supplements' impact on postmenopausal bone health are conflicting. So, it is unclear whether collagen supplements can improve bone health.

Study findings include:

  • No effects on bone health: In a 2010 study published in Maturitas, researchers found that collagen supplements did not improve bone health in postmenopausal people. For the study, 71 women with osteopenia (low bone density) took either collagen supplements or a placebo every day for 24 weeks. Results revealed that the collagen supplements did not produce any effects on bone metabolism.
  • Increased bone mineral density: A 2018 study published in Nutrients concluded that the intake of a specific collagen supplement brand increased bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. In addition, the study concluded that supplementation might increase bone formation and reduce bone loss.

You can't choose where your body will use collagen. For example, you might take a collagen supplement to improve your skin, but if your bones or your muscles are collagen-deprived, extra collagen will likely be used by your bones and muscles first.

Body Composition

Some people may take collagen to preserve muscle or decrease fat. However, studies on this are limited and have provided mixed results. Among them:

  • Muscle: A 2019 study published in Nutrients investigated if collagen supplements combined with resistance training could affect the proportion of fat to non-fat in your body (body composition) in active men. A 12-week program with 57 participants combined resistance training with either collagen supplement or a placebo. Researchers found that both groups increased muscle to the same extent. However, those who took a collagen supplement showed a slight increase in fat-free mass. This was thought to be related to improvements in connective tissue.
  • Lean body mass: Another small trial compared hydrolyzed collagen protein supplements to whey protein supplements in older women. The 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that taking hydrolyzed collagen supplements may help maintain lean body mass.

Joint Pain

Collagen helps stimulate production of cartilage, a rubbery material that covers and protects bones and helps joints move smoothly. Production of both of these declines with age.

There is some evidence that collagen supplements may reduce joint pain and other symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Heart Disease

Some people take collagen supplements to boost heart health, although there is limited independent research to support this.

Researchers affiliated with a Japanese company that makes collagen-based functional foods published a study in 2017. They concluded that when taken regularly for six months, collagen tripeptide offered heart benefits, including:

Other Uses

Some people also take collagen supplements to improve other aspects of their health, including:

  • Eye health
  • The appearance of skin and nails
  • Weight reduction

However, little evidence is available to support these benefits.

Recap

Evidence to support collagen supplements for specific health benefits is limited, and the results are mixed. Some research may support the use of collagen for skin hydration and elasticity, bone density, joint stiffness, and heart health. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

Possible Side Effects

Collagen supplements, like all supplements, do not need to be approve by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before hitting store shelves.

If you decide to use one, consider choosing a product that has been certified for quality by a third party, such as USP. In doing so, you can at least ensure that what's on the label is exactly what you're getting in the bottle.

In addition, always discuss any supplements you plan to take with your healthcare provider first.

Certain people should avoid collagen supplements unless they are used under the careful guidance of a qualified healthcare provider. These groups include:

  • Those with medical conditions
  • Those who are taking medications
  • Children
  • Pregnant people
  • Breastfeeding people

In addition, those with a fish, shellfish, or egg allergy should avoid collagen supplements as many of them contain these ingredients.

Concerns

Some concerns to watch out for include:

  • Side effects: Collagen supplements' side effects generally consist of mild digestive symptoms or a bad taste in the mouth.
  • Oxidative stress: Stimulating collagen production may also increase oxidative stress (when free radicals enter your body and overwhelm its defenses). Oxidative stress can lead to cell and tissue damage.
  • Recalls: The FDA has recalled some collagen products because of false claims. Products that stimulate collagen production or claim to remove wrinkles are considered drugs (rather than supplements) by the agency. Therefore, these products must provide evidence of safety and effectiveness before they go on the market.

Recap

Collagen, like other supplements, is not regulated by the FDA. Therefore, there may be some risks with taking supplements. So, always talk to your doctor before taking any OTC medication or supplement, including collagen. Side effects may include digestive symptoms or a bad taste in the mouth.

Collagen supplement tablet
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage and Preparation

Collagen supplements are available in several forms, including:

Studies on the benefits of collagen supplements have evaluated doses ranging from 2.5 to 10 grams per day. However, some supplement makers and practitioners recommend up to 30 grams per day.

Your healthcare provider is the best source of advice to determine the proper dose for you.

Collagen supplements are not the only way to increase your body's collagen production. You can also boost collagen production by consuming foods such as bone broth and gelatin.

What to Look For

Many products marketed as collagen supplements contain hydrolyzed collagen, which is animal-derived collagen that has been broken down into small peptides so that your body can absorb it more effectively.

Be aware that collagen supplements often contain fish scales, cow bones, or other animal parts. Those who follow a strict vegan diet will want to find an alternative.

Lastly, keep in mind that a more expensive supplement is not necessarily a better one.

Summary

Some people use collagen supplements to combat the body's reduced production of collagen as they age.

Some studies have suggested that collagen supplements may have certain health benefits, including skin elasticity and joint, bone, and heart support. However, studies on these benefits are limited and conflicting.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What about collagen creams? Do they work?

    There is currently a lack of scientific evidence for the anti-aging effects of creams, lotions, or other beauty products containing collagen. But experts note that creams are the least likely form to be effective because it is hard to absorb collagen through the skin.

  • Are collagen injections safe?

    One cosmetic procedure involves injecting certain substances ("fillers") into the skin to temporarily reduce fine lines. Poly-L-lactic acid fillers, for instance, help fight the effects of aging by stimulating collagen production in the skin.

    Although generally considered safe, fillers sometimes lead to side effects like skin discoloration and allergic reactions.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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