Everyone is buzzing about the health benefits of collagen. There are claims that collagen helps a myriad of things from eczema and acne to joints and leaky gut.
Are these real benefits backed by science and the FDA, or is all the hype anecdotal? And with a crazy amount of collagen supplements hitting the market every day, what’s important and what’s just fluff?
We decided to do all the heavy lifting and put together this comprehensive guide to everything collagen.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a protein in your body that is responsible for producing connective tissues. Not only does it form the “glue” that holds your body together, but it increases skin elasticity, improves hydration, helps to make hair follicles strong, and provides the building blocks of bones, muscles, and other connective tissues.
Because of this, collagen protein is a very important compound. Its absence can lead to a variety of chronic and acute diseases, injuries, and other painful conditions that can impair normal living and reduce quality of life.
How Collagen Supplements Work
Collagen supplements come in a variety of forms:
- Skin creams
- Coffee creamers
With all these options, you should be able to find something to fit your lifestyle and make collagen supplementation easy.
Fibroblast cells in our body produce collagen naturally. In order to make these vital proteins, fibroblast cells need full access to several amino acids. Collagen supplements work primarily by supplying your fibroblasts with enough amino acids to continue collagen production, regardless of internal amino acid reserves.
Do I need to take collagen?
The truth is that collagen production in the body peaks at 25 and then slowly declines as you age. Unless you consume bone broth, organ meat, or other collagen-rich foods, chances are you may have a collagen deficiency.
Adding a collagen supplement to your diet is easy. You can add collagen powder to smoothies, baked goodies, or even your favorite drinks. Gym goers can combine collagen with protein powder to protect joints and build more muscle in the process.
The most cost-effective method is to look for a flavorless collagen formula that blends easily, quickly, and without clumping. There are some brands of collagen that fare significantly better than others. Thoroughly inspect the labels and discard any supplements with obvious fillers (like sugars).
The most effective way to consume collagen is though hydrolyzed collagen supplements (also known as hydrolyzed collagen peptides). These supplements are made by breaking down collagen in a reaction with water. This increases bioavailability, making it easier to digest, absorb, and distribute the amino acids throughout your body.
Because collagen has a large molecular size, not all forms are absorbed equally. Always take a variant that is easy to digest so that it gets where it is supposed to go.
Types of Collagen
There are around 16 collagen types (including 28 sub-types). Most of them fall somewhere under the three main categories.
All three main collagen types share the same overall goal: to produce and maintain your body’s main connective tissues. They each have their own unique benefits.
- 90% of human collagen
- Found in tendons, bone, skin and other organs
- Gram for gram stronger than steel 
- Helps heal wounds
- Bolsters bone formation
- Primarily in cartilage
- Protects the immune system
- Provides digestive support
- Helps repair leaky gut
- Connects intestines, lungs, and uterus
- Gives skin elasticity and firmness
- Building blocks of blood vessels and cardiovascular tissue
Benefits of Collagen for Skin, Gut, and More
1. Skin Health
Want beautiful, glowing skin? Collagen is a very important factor in making it happen.
Collagen makes up about 80 percent of the skin and works in conjunction with another protein called elastin to help skin hydration and strength. Basically, it helps skin elasticity, hence the name elastin.
Collagen production declines from age 25 onward — individuals start losing approximately one percent of collagen each year. Under the microscope, you can notice fine lines of collagen network fragmentation. This is the most prominent sign of skin aging.
Additionally, other factors are working against your skin health, like ultraviolet light (sun exposure), and smoking activate enzymes responsible for breaking down collagen fibers. Even with a healthy lifestyle, there’s no way to completely avoid things that break down skin’s elasticity.
Hydrolyzed collagen peptide supplementation is a proven way to boost your collagen production, increase your collagen stores, and improve how your skin looks.
As we’ve seen, collagen can be described as a necessary component in wound healing. Because of this, the production of collagen is also a very effective agent in treating acne wounds.
Acne inflames the skin, and each clogged pore increases the chances of bacteria overgrowth. It is this bacteria that cause redness, irritation, swelling and urge you to scratch. When you suffer from chronic acne, it’s not just an inconvenience — it can be a painful, frustrating way to live.
When skin gets damaged by an acne breakout, collagen can play a major role in closing up scars and forming new skin in affected areas.
What about inflammation? It turns out glycine (an amino acid in collagen) is a very powerful anti-inflammatory agent as well.
Eczema is a health condition where a certain area of the skin gets inflamed and leads to a rash. Eczema is a more serious condition than acne since it can lead to wounds all over the body. This can take putting on clothes from an everyday activity to one of the most painful experiences of the day.
Currently, there is no conclusive evidence that collagen peptide supplementation is directly correlated to treating eczema; however, scientists have seen that hydrolyzed collagen helps play a crucial role in the healing wounds.
An eczema breakout is very similar to any other type of breakout on the skin. Because hydrolyzed collagen has a major positive impact on acne-caused wounds, the same mechanisms might be applicable to eczema wounds.
Hair loss is an issue that affects both women and men. Women actually make up about 40 percent of total hair loss sufferers, which can be devastating for women of all ages. Losing some or a large part of your hair can hurt anyone’s self-esteem.
Thankfully, collagen supplements work to help combat hair loss and achieve glowing, thicker, and fuller hair.
A 2016 study from Japan showed that subjects with lower collagen levels near hair follicle stem cells had lost the most hair. They demonstrated that hair loss was less noticeable in older mice that continued to produce collagen or produced more than their younger counterparts. 
Now, researchers believe that the same mechanism is true for human hair follicles in relation to collagen production.
Scientists found that a regular scalp massage is beneficial to improve hair thickness. So, massaging in collagen lotion is definitely something to consider. 
Secondly, hair is mostly built from an antioxidant called keratin protein, which is made when there is a sufficient amount of the proper amino acids. This supply of amino acids can be achieved by taking a high-quality collagen peptide.
Together, collagen and keratin make for an interesting duo that improves the thickness, look, and volume of the hair, all the while keeping tabs on free radicals and preventing these harmful substances from doing any further damage.
2. Joints and Arthritis
Hydrolyzed collagen peptides are a proven way to boost your collagen production and increase your collagen stores.
In a 2008 study, researchers examined the effects of collagen hydrolysate on athletes who had trouble with activity-related joint pain. Participants took 25 ml of a liquid mix that contained 10 grams of CH-Alpha (collagen hydrolysate).
The subjects in the collagen group saw significant improvements in all monitored parameters compared to the placebo group. Scientists concluded that collagen hydrolysate is very effective treating joint health and could possibly reduce the risks of joint-deterioration in high-risk subjects. 
The evidence for collagen in helping to ease arthritis pain is mixed and inconclusive. The idea behind hydrolyzed collagen treating arthritis, or more precisely, osteoarthritis, is that the body will use the amino acids to repair joints and connective tissue. And thus repair the damage, given enough time.
Unfortunately, the problem might not be that simple. From a nutritional perspective, the body cannot distinguish between the different collagen types. Foods like a piece of grilled chicken, black beans, and hydrolyzed collagen peptides are, to an extent, all treated like protein, which is later broken down into amino acids.
But there is a difference in the way some amino acids are processed upon entering the body.
We recommend hydrolyzed collagen since the smaller molecules are more easily absorbed than the original collagen molecule, which is larger.
The experts agree that hydrolyzed collagen supplementation provides a significant boost in the specific amino acids abundant in collagen. Although more research is needed, it looks like collagen does indeed play a role in helping joint pain.
Undenatured type II collagen showed significant improvements in relation to pain and stiffness relief, as well as demonstrated better joint function over the course of 180 days. 
Some studies reported mixed results as to the effectiveness of UC-II in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
But a 2009 double-blind study included more than 500 RA suffering individuals who went through an undenatured collagen supplementation program. The majority of subjects experienced significant improvements in all areas. The research team concluded that undenatured type II collagen is viable and safe in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. 
3. Gut Health
Gelatin and bone broth have long been used to aid with digestive ailments. In fact, the unique chemical structure of collagen, paired with its powerful amino acid profile, allows this molecule to help with digestion, gut inflammation, stomach ulcers, abnormal acid secretion, acid reflux, and more.
This is mainly owed to the fact that collagen is an essential ingredient that the intestinal lining cannot do without. Two of the amino acids may potentially help repair damaged stomach lining and prevent stress-induced stomach ulcers.
In fact, studies have identified glycine as an effective agent in combating harmful gastric secretions in the lining of the stomach. 
Glutamine is one of the key amino acids for healing and decreasing the risks of leaky gut syndrome. It has been linked to preventing inflammation and oxidative stress in the intestinal lining.
One animal study determined that L-glutamate supplementation may help improve the structure of the intestinal walls. 
There is a clear link between inflammatory bowel disease and lower collagen levels. Supplementing with collagen peptides may help to solve this problem in a matter of months. 
Stomach Acid Secretion
Collagen regulates gastric juice secretion by maintaining a good acid balance in the gut.
Additionally, the abundant protein also prevents an excessive amount of gastric juices from forming. This often leads to stomach ulcers, heartburn, acid reflux, and other gut problems caused by the surrounding environment becoming too acidic.
Collagen is considered a hydrophilic molecule. Meaning that it attracts acidic molecules and water, both of which aid the digestive process when found in proper amounts.
Upon ingestion, collagen “collects” water and stomach acid as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract. This process helps in the breakdown of carbohydrates and other proteins found in the intestines.
Plus, the extra water in the intestine creates an environment where food can move more smoothly, therefore decreasing the risk of acid reflux.
Glutamine is one of the key amino acids for healing and decreasing the risks of leaky gut syndrome. It has been linked to preventing inflammation and oxidative stress in the intestinal lining. In fact, an animal study determined that L-glutamate supplementation may help improve the structure of the intestinal walls. 
There is a clear link between inflammatory bowel disease and lower collagen levels. Collagen peptide supplementation may help to solve this problem in a matter of months. 
Unhealthy life choices including poor nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and lack of exercise will decrease collagen production. Conversely, by eating the right foods, you can naturally stimulate the body to produce more collagen.
These foods do not contain collagen; they are ingredients that help stimulate collagen production by allowing collagen synthesis to occur.
Vitamin C Foods
Vitamin C helps with a process called “pre-collagen production” that aids your body’s ability to produce collagen effectively. 
It also works together with the amino acids proline and glycine to make hydroxyproline, another amino acid responsible for the triple helical structure of the collagen molecule. 
Here are some of the most nutritious vitamin C foods to enhance collagen production:
- Bell Peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Dark Leafy Vegetables
Vitamin E Foods
Vitamin E is a powerful micronutrient with antioxidant abilities. This vitamin plays a major role in neutralizing free radicals in order to prevent any potential damage to healthy collagen cells. Plus, vitamin E works together with vitamin C to stimulate collagen formation in the body.
Interestingly, the way vitamin E protects collagen and helps kickstart its production may be one reason many skin health products contain this nutrient.
Try vitamin E foods like these:
- Sunflower Seeds
- Wheat Germ Oil
- Green Leafy Vegetables
Copper — a trace mineral that our bodies need to finalize collagen synthesis in a healthy manner.  Copper-rich foods include:
- Dark Chocolate
Sulfur — trace mineral known to improve collagen synthesis. In addition, sulfur also prevents collagen fiber breakdown, making it a great choice for preserving healthy bones, skin, and joints.  You can get sulfur from:
- Green Leafy Vegetables
Zinc — another essential trace mineral required for bone formation and collagen production. In fact, zinc has been shown to slow down the rate of collagen cell breakdown in granulation tissue. This process enables wounds to heal faster.  Eat zinc-rich foods such as:
- Pumpkin Seeds
Vitamin A Foods
Vitamin A is a micronutrient essential for restoring, repairing, and rejuvenating collagen in the skin. You can get more vitamin A in your diet with:
- Sweet potatoes
- Goat Cheese
Dark Green Vegetables
If you haven’t heard by now, eat dark green veggies. They are some of the most nutrient-dense and rich sources of vitamins A, C, and E.
Additionally, dark green leafy vegetables contain chlorophyll. Besides being the main reason for the green color of plants, chlorophyll has been shown to increase procollagen in the skin. Procollagen is the precursor to collagen.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, an amino acid that protects the skin from sunlight exposure. Excessive exposure to sunlight leads to collagen fiber damage in the skin, which triggers the aging process prematurely.
Eating ample amounts of tomatoes can help preserve the skin, protect against wrinkles, and even act as a preventative solution against skin cancer. 
Bone broth is made by simmering animal bones and connected tissue. The collagen from the bones, ligaments, and other connective tissue is then slowly dissolved into the broth.
But, is bone broth a great way to increase collagen?
Well, collagen is made of three long chains of over 1,000 different amino acids twisted into a helix form. This is the main reason why collagen is so strong and has the strength to act as a connective molecule that literally “binds” our bodies together.
However, collagen is a relatively large molecule, making it difficult to digest and not easily cross the intestinal wall. Because of this, in its un-hydrolyzed form (like in bone broth), collagen is not considered a very effective supplement.
That doesn’t mean you should avoid bone broth, though — it provides a ton of great nutrients to your body! It’s just not the most effective way to get more collagen.
Gelatin is actually collagen that’s undergone incomplete hydrolysis. These partially hydrolyzed amino acid chains retain a lot of water, which causes the gelling.
Due to its thickening property, gelatin is often used in stews and desserts. It is also great for producing healthy jelly, gummies, and other half-solid collagen food forms.
A collagen drink, or liquid collagen, is a consumable product that often comes in 250 to 950 ml bottles. In this form, the supplement is usually mixed with water for better bioavailability and to aid with digestion.
They often come in a variety of flavors, making it tastier and easier to consume. Collagen drinks will save you time dissolving collagen powders yourself.
Collagen peptides are found in very fine supplement powders. Assessing the quality of the powder through purity, color, and taste is important.
Not all collagen powders are made equal, so there can be some trial and error involved until you find the one best suited for your nutritional needs and morning smoothie.
Collagen tablets, capsules, or ampoules are an easy pill form to get your daily dose of collagen. Generally speaking, one capsule can provide up to 1,000 milligrams of collagen.
To reach the recommended daily serving of 10 grams of collagen, you would need to take 10 tablets daily.
Candies & Gummies
For those who get tired of taking 10 capsules every day, there are some collagen alternatives. But buyer beware, collagen candy, gummies, and jelly are usually filled with artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and other ingredients that easily outweigh the benefits.
Be sure to read the labels carefully before consuming these forms of collagen.
How about a collagen facial in New York City? It sounds relaxing as creams are topically applied to improve elasticity, add firmness, rejuvenate, replenish, and moisturize the skin.
Some creams and lotions are only meant to be applied to the face. Check the label thoroughly to see if these are the right choice for your needs.
The main difference between creams and collagen body lotions is viscosity. Body lotions are usually thinner than creams.
Plus, lotions can normally be applied all over, while creams tend to be more specifically designed for the face.
Collagen bars are just that — edible bars with collagen in them. If you make your own, you can add ingredients to increase the benefits provided.
Things like whey protein, dried figs, dates, peanut butter, and more. Here’s a quick collagen bar recipe:
- 1 cup of coconut butter
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon of coconut oil or grass-fed ghee
- ½ cup of hydrolyzed collagen peptides (preferably grass-fed)
- Sweetener (stevia), lemon juice, cocoa powder, or turmeric to taste
How to make: Add all ingredients to a blender and mix until even. Taste the mixture and add additional vanilla or sweetener to taste. Line a medium-size baking dish with parchment and spread the mixture. Freeze until firm (45 minutes to 1 hour). Slice into bars and serve. Store leftovers sealed in the refrigerator.
This mixture roughly contains:
- Calories: 208
- Carbs: 8.6 g (sugar: 2.3 g; dietary fiber: 3 g; sugar alcohols: 1.5 g)
- Fat: 15.5 g
- Protein: 9 g
- Sodium: 35 mg
- Cholesterol: 11 mg
- Potassium: 120 mg
- Calcium: 1 mg
- Iron: 5 mg
Collagen coffee creamers are somewhat new to the collagen bandwagon. They may be as beneficial as collagen peptides.
But it depends on the ingredients. Some collagen coffee creamers are enriched with protein (usually from grass-fed, cruelty-free raised cows) and some healthy fats.
Make sure they don’t contain artificial sweeteners, refined sugars, and gluten (when allergic). If the collagen creamer includes all the benefits, why not pour a dash into your morning coffee?
Even with the best collagen peptide supplements, results will usually take time. It can take a few days or even months to notice results. Collagen face masks may offer a faster alternative.
This includes a cloth, mask, or sheet enriched with hydrolyzed collagen peptides. They can help provide more than a dozen benefits for your skin, such as:
- Deliver type I collagen straight to the dermis layer
- Hydrate skin
- Improve dry, dull, and cracked skin
- Help smooth, tone, and firm wrinkles
- Promote healing
Collagen granules are mostly used as a cost-effective, alternative method for treating chronic wounds. Examples of chronic wounds are vascular and pressure ulcers, as opposed to acute wounds that include surgical and traumas. 
Collagen injections are used to provide a plumper, smoother, and more youthful-looking appearance to the skin. Additionally, injections are also used to fill thin lips. A special collagen solution is injected under the desired area and helps to promote natural collagen growth.
Notably, there are many types of collagen injection products on the market. The two most popular are human collagen injections and bovine collagen injections.
Bovine collagen is made out of cow skin and is a more cost-effective alternative to human collagen. But it is also associated with a higher percentage of allergic reactions.
Some may prefer bovine to human collagen because the former is actually thought to be more slowly absorbed by the body.
Human collagen causes little to no allergic reaction, but it is more costly to produce. Synthetic collagen is another option, made in a lab by combining human collagen, bovine, and some chemicals that make the product more stable.
In comparison, both human and bovine collagen are biodegradable and don’t stay in the skin for long after administering.
Currently, the health benefits behind collagen lip gloss or lipstick remain inconclusive. It often contains other ingredients besides collagen that make your lips tingle. Some of these products may even make the lips appear plump and pouty.
7 Steps to Finding the Best Collagen Supplement
Step 1: Look for Collagen Peptides
To make collagen peptides, collagen is put through a process called “hydrolysis” to make it easier to digest.
During hydrolysis, collagen peptides are enzymatically hydrolyzed. This just means collagen has been “pre-digested” with enzymes with the presence of water to provide a super easy way for you to absorb them.
The reason you’re looking for collagen peptides is that collagen is a massive protein and it’s difficult for your body to assimilate it quickly. It’s the difference between swallowing your food whole and chewing it.
Step 2: Locate the Best-Absorbing Collagen Supplement
Size is everything when it comes to collagen. The smaller the peptides, the better your body will be able to absorb them.
“Low molecular weight” takes peptides to the next level. Simply stated: it’s the gold standard for collagen supplements. It’s what you want to see on your label to ensure you can easily absorb the collagen peptides.
Step 3: Find the Best Collagen Source
The main four sources of collagen are marine (fish, usually), pig (porcine), cow (bovine), and chicken.
Though they all provide the key amino acids to help produce collagen, some sources are better than others.
- Porcine: Pig collagen is the lowest quality source of collagen as it is less controlled compared to other sources like chicken and beef. The hide and feet of pigs offer the highest concentration of collagen.
- Chicken: Once again, the feet are a significant source of collagen. Understandably, it’s a lot easier to feel comfortable taking a collagen supplement if the chickens are free-range.
- Marine: Fish collagen is derived from their scales and skin—prime targets for potential contamination. You want to see wild-caught and sustainably fished or sustainably caught. “Sustainably” means the ecosystem won’t be upset by overfishing.
- Bovine: The undisputed best source of bovine collagen is grass-fed and pasture-raised.
To sum it up, be sure to verify the quality of the source of your collagen before you put it in your mouth.
Step 4: Check the Label for Vitamin C
Vitamin C assists with collagen synthesis, so you want to see at least 50 mg on the label.
In a study, researchers used vitamin C (ascorbate) on skin fibroblasts (cells responsible for producing collagen) and noted a 3-4 fold increase in collagen synthesis. 
Your body can still produce collagen if you don’t supplement with vitamin C—as long as you have enough in your body. Since vitamin C is water soluble (meaning it won’t stick around in your body for long), it’s best to have collagen with vitamin already in it.
So can you get by without taking collagen with vitamin C? Yes. Should you? No.
In almost every case imaginable, you should take vitamin C along with collagen.
Step 5: Make Sure it Tastes Good (Hint: Check Reviews)
Taste may be more important than you think.
Many collagen supplements are flavorless because that’s the natural state of collagen peptides.
But many have flavors added so you don’t have to worry about buying something else to mix it in or because a great flavor can make everything better.
Obviously, you can’t look at a label and figure out how it tastes. However, you can look at reviews to see what other people are saying about it.
Most importantly, it should taste good enough that you look forward to drinking it every day. If it doesn’t satisfy your taste buds, you’re less likely to consistently take it. As with anything health-related, consistency is key.
Step 6: Avoid Artificial Sweeteners and Flavors
Sweeteners or flavor additives may be an attempt to mask the quality of the collagen. Plus, research shows many artificial sweeteners and flavors just aren’t good for you. 
Natural flavors are far better and can provide interesting taste options without the problems associated with artificial sweeteners and flavors. If you’re looking for a sweetened collagen supplement, look for stevia leaf extract and stay away from aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and sugar alcohols like erythritol.
Step 7: Look for Superfoods
Sometimes, there’s more to a collagen supplement than just flavoring and peptides. In cases like these, it’s important to take a closer look at the ingredients to see what else is in the collagen supplement.
A superfood combo can provide benefits on top of the collagen supplement, though one with vitamin C would be best.
As mentioned previously, vitamin C would be a welcome addition to any collagen product since it can help the body synthesize collagen. If you’re eating a healthy diet and/or taking a multivitamin, it’s not necessary to have a high amount, but it should be present.
Superfoods like beets have naturally-occurring antioxidants that may be beneficial for a collagen supplement. Plus, beets may help support a healthy cardiovascular system.
Collagen Supplementation & Dosage:
- Hydrolyzed collagen should be taken in doses of 10 grams or more per day.
- Undenatured type II collagen (UC-II) generally should be taken in smaller doses between 20–40 milligrams daily.
- Various collagen forms like gummies, creams, and face masks should be brought to your doctor so s/he can check the label and suggest the best dosage.
- Look for “low molecular weight” because peptides are easily absorbable.
- Get clean collagen sources:
- Pasture-raised, grass-fed beef
- Free-range chicken
- Wild caught, sustainably fished
- Take collagen with at least 50 mg of vitamin C to assist with collagen synthesis.
- Look for great taste/flavor to ensure you’ll take it daily. Check online reviews.
- Choose supplements with only natural flavors and sweeteners, such as stevia.
Note: Most popular collagen supplements (including peptides) are usually derived from animal tissues or fish (also known as marine collagen). If you’re practicing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, look for products labeled as “plant-based.”
These plant-based collagen supplements work the same as their counterpart animal protein sources, even though they are not derived from animal sources.