Collagen is one of the primary proteins responsible for healthy skin. Your body produces it in abundance, naturally, while you're young. Unfortunately, like many aspects of the body, as you get older, your production slows down. This leads to lower elasticity and less resilience in your skin and is what eventually results in wrinkles.
Taking collagen supplements – whether it's bone broth like the people of antiquity or capsules like a modern health-conscious individual – comes with a lot of benefits.
- Collagen supplements can improve the elasticity of your skin, at least when consumed orally.
- Collagen supplements can help improve wound healing, both as a supplement and as part of modern skin grafts.
- Collagen supplements can help restore your body's natural cartilage, which can reduce joint pain caused by that cartilage wearing away.
- Collagen supplements can help your body heal and restore your bones from injury or aging.
There are many more potential and actual benefits of taking collagen supplements. If you'd like to read more about them, we wrote a piece on just the benefits of collagen over here. Give it a look; this post will still be waiting when you come back.
Of course, if you're wondering how long collagen takes to work, we probably don't have to do much to convince you it's worth taking. You're either convinced and just want to know how long before you can expect results, or you're already taking it and want to know if you should be seeing results by now or not.
Unfortunately, there's no simple answer. A lot of different factors impact how quickly collagen will take effect and how strong those effects will be. So, rather than give you a quick and inaccurate answer, we're going to discuss those factors.
Factor 1: Your Age
One of the primary factors that will influence the kinds of results you see from collagen supplements is your age.
When you're young, your body is still producing plenty of collagen. Your skin will be perfectly elastic, your organs will thrive, and your wound healing will be fine. Taking a collagen supplement when you're young isn't really going to do anything.
The one potential exception to this is if you're young and suffering from one of the handfuls of autoimmune systemic diseases known as "collagen diseases", which inhibit your body's ability to produce collagen. If you have one of these diseases, it's possible that a collagen supplement can help, but we're not the ones who should be giving you that advice. Talk to your doctor about those kinds of supplements instead.
Meanwhile, if you're elderly – around 70 or older, generally speaking – your body's natural collagen production has tanked quite a bit. You can still get some benefit from collagen, but it's likely that you have other systemic issues that are inhibiting collagen production as well. Collagen might have some benefits at this age, but it's going to be harder to get them.
The best time to take collagen supplements and see tangible results is likely going to be when you're between 30 and 65, or thereabouts. Your body can still make use of collagen you give it, and you can see more tangible effects because the comparison is easy to make. Outside of this range, it's likely going to be a bit harder to notice the effects of the supplements.
That's not to say they aren't working, just that it's harder to tell when they are.
Factor 2: The Type of Collagen
"Collagen" is a name for a kind of protein that has a wide range of different effects on the body, but there are actually a ton of different types of collagen, which are all similar but distinct kinds of protein. Generally, if you're making a bone broth or another homemade collagen preparation, you're going to be getting a natural mixture of all of these kinds of collagen, or at least the kinds present in the items you're boiling to make your broth.
There are, in fact, over 15 types of collagen, but there are generally thought to be 4-5 "main" types. These "main" types of collagen are categorized based on the organs they are found in. Type 1 is in skin, tendons, bone, and organs. Type 2 is in cartilage. Type 3 is found in reticular fibers and is common alongside type 1. Type 4 found primarily in connective tissue. Type 5 is in hair, cell surfaces, and the placenta.
As you might expect, the type of collagen you want to take depends on the type of effects you want out of it. If you're taking a type 1/3 mixture, you may see benefits to your skin, but that won't help you if the primary effect you're looking for is joint pain reduction.
The type 1/3 mixture is one of the most common kinds of collagen out there because the vast majority of people looking to take collagen are doing it to improve their skin's elasticity and minimize the formation of wrinkles. Make sure you're finding the right mix of collagen types for the effects you want.
Factor 3: The Amount You Take
As with many medications and supplements, the more you take, the more potent it will be. Note that we say "potent" and not necessarily "effective" here. Many medications and even many healthy supplements, when taken in too-large doses, can have negative side effects. These can range from "it doesn't really do anything and might make your stomach hurt" to "it can make your liver and kidneys fail or kill you".
Now, collagen isn't really dangerous to take in large quantities. There's a disease called Scleroderma, which is when your body produces too much collagen, but you can't get this disease by taking collagen supplements.
Collagen is pretty similar to vitamin C in that if you take more than your body can use, you'll just pass it through. It's a protein, after all. Taking more than the recommended dosages aren't going to give you a suddenly youthful appearance, it'll just give you a few more calories and a higher price tag on your supplement budget.
Different collagen supplements have different recommended doses. Some might ask you to take a smaller amount twice a day, some a larger amount once a day, and some might have a limit to how much you can take because they have additives other than just collagen in the mix.
In general, taking too little means you may never see tangible results. Taking enough will show you any results you're going to get while taking too much isn't going to increase the efficacy of the supplement in any way.
Factor 4: What Else You're Taking
One thing you might notice if you've looked into how vitamins, minerals, and supplements all interact is that often times you need more than just one supplement to get the full effects of them all. There are some ingredients your body needs in order to process collagen. Without them, your collagen isn't going to be as effective.
So what should you take?
- Vitamin C. This catch-all vitamin has a wide range of beneficial effects, and it's pretty impossible to overdose on it. Taking some vitamin C every day is a great health boon.
- Amino Acids. Getting high-quality amino acids allows your body to adapt and make use of collagen, as well as produce more of its own. You can get these amino acids from meat, seafood, dairy, and tofu.
- Copper. You need trace amounts of copper for your body to function properly. You can get this from organ meats, or from sesame seeds, cashews, and lentils.
At the same time, you're going to want to avoid eating too much sugar and too many refined carbohydrates. All of these processed ingredients interfere with your body's ability to produce collagen and to repair existing collagen. It fights against your goals.
Factor 5: Your Desired Effects
What do you want to get out of your collagen supplements? Your desired list of effects has an impact on how quickly collagen will "work" for you. It may be working in that your body is processing it, but if you're asking too much of it, you won't get those desired effects. Essentially, it's all about your expectations.
If you're taking collagen because you want to fill up on long-lasting protein that works as an appetite suppressant, it will work pretty much immediately. It might take a couple of days for your body to get used to it, but it can help cut down on your cravings quickly.
If you're taking collagen because you want stronger nails and more vibrant, lustrous hair, you can often see results in as little as a week. Collagen works quickly in places that are frequently changing, like nails themselves.
If you're taking collagen because you want to minimize wrinkles and boost the elasticity of your skin, you're typically looking at a matter of months. Skin takes a long time to adjust to different kinds of treatments, and it generally takes things like the topical application of steroids or injections to get faster effects.
If you're taking collagen because your joints ache and you want to alleviate that pain, you're looking at several months of taking supplements before you notice a reduction. Cartilage takes a long time to restore.
Factor 6: Your Overall Health
We've already mentioned a few different diseases and disorders that can impact collagen production, but you also have to consider your overall health. In particular, there are three factors to keep in mind.
The first is any diseases you may have. Your body has to dedicate energy and resources to fighting off illnesses, whether they're chronic or acute. The more energy your body is dedicating to, say, fighting off the flu, the energy it can't spend on healing your skin's collagen. Now, your skin is a fairly high priority for the body in general, but it's not at the top of the books; it will let your skin fail if it means saving your internal organs because you can heal from skin damage later, but you can't heal from heart failure if you die.
The second is smoking. Smoking is an external factor, but it's also a huge health detriment. Smoking is hugely damaging to basically every part of your body, and your skin will definitely suffer for it. Taking collagen supplements is not going to undo the damage that smoking causes, so you'll need to quit.
The third is any medications you may be taking. Collagen is a simple protein so it's pretty unlikely to interfere with your medications. However, medications operate in a wide range of different ways, so it's possible that a medication can interfere with your collagen absorption and production.
Factor 7: External Factors
Another factor you have to consider are external factors, in particular sun damage. Exposure to sunlight damages the skin, and that damage primarily means breaking down existing collagen.
That's why people who live a long time outdoors tend to have wrinkly skin much younger than those who do not. Protecting your skin with sunscreen can go a long way towards helping this factor as well, but long-lasting sun damage can be hard to overcome.
There are practically as many different estimates for the effective time for collagen as there are people who sell collagen. Taking all of the factors above into consideration, you're looking at anywhere from a few days to a few months before you see the effects you want.
What about other sources? Let's look. AbsoluteCollagen says their customers see skin benefits in as little as 3-4 days. Proplenish claims customers see benefits in 4-6 weeks. Fit Households says they tend to see results in about 4 weeks, with max results coming in around three months.
What about you? Have you taken collagen with particular effects in mind? If so, how long did they take to kick in, and where do you stand with these factors above?