"Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, making up about a quarter of our weight," Jennifer Herrmann, a Beverly Hills dermatologist at MFC Dermatology, says. "It's considered the key structural component of bone, blood vessels, cartilage, tendons, and skin."
Considering how pervasive—and vital—collagen is to our overall health, it's not something that usually garners much interest. Instead, it's easier to notice what happens when collagen production lessens. We complain about the lines circling our eyes and lips, the small folds that appear above our eyebrows and below our necks, and the brittleness of our hair and nails. This transformation can start as early as our 20s, so it's especially important to get a handle on this protein's longevity as soon as possible.
While the most straightforward solution for boosting collagen in the body can be found in a diet that contains adequate protein, it's also not uncommon to take collagen pills to help, too. "Ingestible collagen bolsters the body's natural production by being absorbed through the bloodstream and reaching the underlying layers first, offering a longer-term solution," says Fern Olivia, founder of Thyroid Yoga.
Herrmann and Olivia agree that if you're eating enough protein, then you probably won't see any other results by also taking collagen pills. But if you are curious about how collagen pills work, we asked both women to describe their benefits and potential issues when taken regularly. Olivia also recommended her favorites, in case you're looking to give this trend a try.
What role does collagen play in the body?
"Collagen is a large, complex protein that goes through an elaborate synthesis process," Herrmann says. "When we consume collagen in the form of food, its long-chain proteins are digested and broken down into smaller building blocks called amino acids."
"These are absorbed into the bloodstream and then are delivered to parts of the body where they become available for new collagen synthesis," she continues. "Some of these make it to the skin, hair, and nails to provide healthy, stronger tissues. But the reality is that your body doesn't care if you eat a collagen pill, chicken, quinoa, or chickpeas. They are all sources of protein, and they all reach your bloodstream as amino acid building blocks."
How do collagen pills work?
"When you ingest collagen in a supplement form, you increase the pool of special amino acids available to the cells in your body that make collagen," Olivia says. "Flooding the body with collagen can stimulate or optimize your own collagen formation, especially in cases where the supply is declining due to age or diet."
"I often suggest plant-based collagen supplements to my clients," she continues. "They notice their skin becoming brighter, nails becoming stronger, hair becoming more luminous, and they often experience less joint pain. And while reduced joint pain may seem like a strange benefit, it's because collagen is found in connective tissue all over the body. In addition to obvious skin benefits, collagen is remarkable for its ability to improve bone health and promote a healthy gut."
What are some things to be careful of as someone introduces collagen pills into their diet?
"Too much supplementation could lead to high levels of calcium," Herrmann notes. "Collagen tablets that come from marine sources, such as shark cartilage and shellfish, contain high amounts of calcium that can contribute to this. Allergic reactions are also possible, especially in people who have shellfish allergies, if pills are derived from shellfish. Again, because of the marine derivation of many of these products, they can have an unpleasant taste in the mouth. I'd try to get those derived from sources other than marine because of the potential side effects."
"I personally choose high-quality vegan sources for supplements," Olivia adds. "Other collagen supplements that come from eggs and their derivatives can also cause food sensitivities, especially in children. As with all other vitamins and supplements, the FDA does not regulate the safety or usage of any collagen powders, drinks, or pills. Be sure to look for a brand that uses cruelty-free, non-animal, third-party testing and that has been branded clear of any potential contaminations, like heavy metal toxicity.
And always make sure that you're buying from a high-quality and reputable source."
Is there anything else to keep in mind?
"There is nothing wrong with taking collagen pills or supplements," Herrmann says. "But because collagen is derived from animals, these supplements aren't vegetarian or vegan. Vegans can support collagen production by eating fruits and veggies with nutrients that boost collagen synthesis, like vitamin C."
What are some of your recommendations?
"This is my all-time favorite collagen source because it was created by my amazing herbalist in Costa Rica," Olivia says. "It supports metabolism and helps restore balance to the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems. And in addition to naturally boosting collagen in the skin and body, this blend of medicinal herbs also benefits the thyroid, liver, cardiovascular system, kidneys, and pancreas."
"Developed with vegan superstar Alicia Silverstone, this is a special combination of plant ingredients featuring antioxidants, biotin, and a bunch of other good-for-you vitamins," Olivia says. "Plus, the brand supports certified USDA organic and non-GMO farms."
"I love this product," Olivia says. "It's a bit pricey, but it has lasted me a long time—a little goes a long way. Most people see results within 10 days."
"This is also a great supplement that's packed with vitamin C to help stimulate natural collagen production," Olivia adds.
"Moon Juice just released a collagen-boosting, skin-protecting superfood blend to help preserve your natural collagen while hydrating skin from the inside out," Olivia notes. "Nourishing and detoxifying, this supplement helps minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while helping to protect skin from free radical damage."