Collagen is a very common protein in the body. It's a part of the connective tissues that hold your body together, including tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin. Without it, these tissues lose their elasticity and firmness.
Your body naturally produces collagen, and uses it as the scaffolding for other cells to provide strength and structure to tissues. Unfortunately, over time, collagen production in the body slows down. Collagen production is also inhibited by exposure to UV light, smoking, and other external factors.
Collagen is used in a number of different ways, from beauty products to wound care. Collage scaffolds are part of skin treatments for burns and large wounds, for example.
Today, though, we're talking about the beauty side of things. Collagen is what gives your skin its youthful elasticity. As you age, you accumulate wrinkles, right? That's the collagen scaffolding in your skin breaking down and failing to be replaced. If you've ever seen someone with a lot of sun exposure throughout their lives, you'll find they tend to have a lot more wrinkles than others.
If your body isn't producing collagen fast enough to maintain beauty, perhaps you can take collage supplements to add to it. At least, that's the theory. Does it hold up?
The Benefits of Collagen
Since collagen is so abundant, and aging is such a concern for millions of people, science has spent quite a lot of effort studying the effects of the protein when taken as a supplement.
Collagen can have beneficial effects on the skin. This isn't theory; numerous studies have shown that collagen supplements can slow aging, reduce wrinkles, and reduce skin dryness. It's not a magic serum, it won't completely reverse wrinkles or other signs of aging, but it can minimize their effects.
Note that this refers to wrinkles and skin dryness, not other skin conditions. There is no evidence to suggest that collagen can help with acne or other skin conditions in any way. That's not to say it can't, but there's no proof that it does, so be aware of that when you're using the supplements.
Collagen helps with joint pain. Your skin isn't the only place where connective tissues are found. Collagen in your joints makes up cartilage, which is the softer, rubbery tissue that keeps your bones from grinding against one another. As you age, this too breaks down, which leads to conditions like osteoarthritis, general joint pain and swelling, and other joint issues.
Studies have, again, shown that collagen supplements can decrease joint pain. The exact mechanism isn't known, but the current theory is that collage supplements accumulate in the cartilage, and stimulate it to produce more natural collagen and reduce inflammation.
Collagen reduces brittleness in hair and nails. Who doesn't want more lustrous hair and firmer nails? There are other supplements to take for these benefits, but collagen can help.
There are numerous other benefits to taking collagen supplements, many of which are backed by science. Overall, it's quite a useful protein.
There are two kinds of collagen; natural and synthetic. Natural collagen can be obtained by consuming collagen-rich foods, primarily bone broth, though pork skin also includes quite a bit. Synthetic collagen comes from the same sources, but is hydrolyzed, which breaks it down and makes it easier for your body to absorb. The vast majority of the collagen supplements you will find are these hydrolyzed collagen varieties.
The Five Ways to Take Collagen
Though we only mention three in the title of this post, there are actually five different ways you might take collagen.
The first way is through a topical cream. There are a few lotions and skin creams out there that claim to have rejuvenating properties, to reduce wrinkles and make you look younger the more you use them. Often, they will list collagen as an ingredient responsible for these effects.
Unfortunately, collage is a huge molecule. Like, way larger than most of the other things you use as skin treatments. In fact, it's too large to actually be absorbed by the skin. Any skin cream or lotion that claims to include collagen, well, might be able to, but won't have any effect.
The second way to take collagen is as a powder, added to something you eat or drink. Luckily, unlike skin creams, internal uses for collagen are real. Collagen powder is much like any other powdered supplement; just a nondescript white powder that you add to food or drink.
This form of collagen is already close to being broken down and is ready for your body to absorb. It's one of the most common and most readily available forms of collagen supplement to take.
This form of collagen is generally preferred because it's easy to buy in bulk, measure out the exact amount you want to take, and adjust over time. Some people, however, find that the taste of collagen is too noticeable, and there's a rare chance of some digestive issues, particularly if you take too much at once.
The third way you can take collagen is as a capsule. Collagen capsules are easy to take, don't disrupt the taste of your food or drinks, and are almost as readily absorbed into the body as the powder. The only reason it's not as easily absorbed is because your body has to fully dissolve the pill, which takes a bit more time.
There's not really much difference between a pill or a powder form for collagen. The main potential drawback is that it becomes harder to adjust the dosage by small amounts unless you want to start cutting pills in half.
There are also collagen capsules, which are more like liquigels or gel caps that contain collagen, more likely in a liquid or gel form. This, again, is basically the same thing.
The fourth way to take collagen is in liquid form, usually bone broth. You can get this as normal bone broth from a soup aisle at the grocery store, or you can get them at health food stores as more refined forms of collagen.
Bone broth tastes better than just plain collagen, but it still tastes like broth. If that's not something you want to drink, look for the health food versions.
Health food versions of collagen typically are just collagen powder mixed up into a beverage and ready to drink. They may be small "shots" like a 5-Hour-Energy style shot, or they may be larger beverages meant to be sipped over the course of an hour or so. The former are easier to take quickly, while the latter are often usually flavored in a way that makes them more pleasant to drink. Which you prefer comes down to your own preferences; they both contain plenty of collagen.
The fifth and final way you can take collagen is by injection. Collagen fillers are a different way to take collagen. They have the benefit of working directly on your face, immediately upon getting the injection. Conversely, they have the drawback of not really stimulating your body's production of collagen. They're dermal fillers, not supplements.
Injections will give you immediate results, but they have a range of drawbacks for those results.
- Injections must be done carefully by a trained dermatologist. You never want to be sticking random needles into your face on your own.
- Injections require testing before you can take them. Any time you inject something into your skin, there's the chance for an adverse reaction, so testing is required to make sure it won't happen.
- It's always possible an allergic reaction can still happen with a full-scale injection when tests didn't show a reaction.
- Injections, due to the presence of a dermatologist and specific environment, are much more expensive than collagen supplements.
So as you can see, while there are five different ways to take collagen, we left two of them out of the main discussion. One because it's not real, and one because it's expensive and potentially dangerous.
Which Method Should You Use to Take Collagen?
So, between the powder, the pill, and the liquid, which method should you use to take collage supplements?
The answer may surprise you: it's whatever's best for you.
Collagen supplements work the same regardless of how you take them. Pills might take slightly longer to work, but when we're talking about something that takes months of dedicated use to show results, taking an extra ten minutes to digest a pill isn't going to make a difference.
If you don't like the taste of collagen, go ahead and take it in pill form. It's easy to swallow a single pill or two each day, get your supplement out of the way, and move on with your life.
If you don't like the taste of collagen, but you don't mind it if it's masked behind something else, you can use any form of it you like. Powder can be a bit up front with the flavor depending on what you mix it in, but the liquid mixed drinks can mask the flavor quite well.
If you're in the mood for something soup-like, using regular bone broth as a beverage can be a tasty idea, especially on cold days. You can also use it as part of cooking, though it's possible that cooking the broth too much can break down some of the collagen.
Really, it all comes down to your own personal preferences. Experiment with different forms of collagen supplement. Figure out which is right for your own tastes.
Other Collagen Considerations
Other than the form the collagen comes in, you might have a few other considerations. Let's talk about a few of them in brief.
First of all, "collagen" is just a name for a type of protein; there are actually sixteen different forms of collagen. They are generally grouped into Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3. Type 1 is used for hair, skin, nails, and bones. So is Type 3. Type 2, meanwhile, is more focused on cartilage and joint health.
You'll often see collagen products marketed as having more different collagen peptides than the competition. There is also some information circulating that you should avoid mixing types 1/3 and type 2 collegens at the same time. Science hasn't come forward proving whether this is true or not, though, so it's not too important to basic supplements at the moment.
Another consideration is that, since collagen comes primarily from animal proteins, you may want to consider the source. Some people are very concerned about the ethical treatment of animals from which supplements are made. If this is one of your concerns, you will want to research the origin of the collagen in the products you consume.
Collagen is generally not vegan for the same reason. There are some plant-based sources for collagen, but getting a collagen supplement from those sources may be less effective and may be more expensive. It's up to you how much this matters to you.
Finally, you might wonder when the best time of day is to take your collagen. Thankfully, it doesn't really matter. Follow the instructions of the supplement you choose. If they aren't specific, simply take it with some food, whenever you feel like it. There's no evidence to suggest that taking it during the day or at night is better than the other.
What's your favorite collagen routine? Do you like it in coffee, as a pill, or simply as broth? Let us know below.