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Collagen is a protein that provides building blocks for many of the body’s tissues, including your bones and skin. It allows tissues to stretch and be flexible. As we age, collagen production naturally decreases, and taking collagen supplements may have health and cosmetic benefits.

Last Modified: March 5, 2024
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What Is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the body. These proteins form a mesh of fibers that help provide support and flexibility to the body’s tissues and form key components that lead to healthy muscle, skin, bones and tendons.

younger skin vs. aging skin
Collagen depletes as people age, causing skin to lose its firmness and other changes in the body.

As you age, collagen production decreases and the body is less able to repair and replace it. This leads to less firm skin, weaker cartilage in joints and other changes. Because of this, collagen supplements have become popular.

Collagen vs. Collagen Peptides

When we eat protein-rich food, the body uses amino acids to make collagen. But collagen in its natural form is difficult to digest because it’s made of tightly packed, long fibers.

Most collagen supplements use smaller forms of collagen believed to be easier to digest. These are called collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen. Manufacturers apply chemicals or high heat to collagen to break it down into smaller pieces to produce collagen peptides.

There are three main forms of collagen supplements:
  • Hydrolyzed Collagen: Also known as collagen peptides of collagen hydrolysate, this form is exposed to high heat and broken down into small proteins.
  • Gelatin: This form is partially broken down into smaller proteins.
  • Raw: This form is also called undenatured and contains whole collagen proteins.

What Does Collagen Do?

Collagen’s main role is to provide building blocks for body parts and to keep them strong and supple. Each type of collagen has different properties and functions differently.

Researchers have identified at least 28 types of collagen. Those classified as type I, II and III — which are found in the skin, bones and blood vessels and organs — make up 80% to 90% of all collagens.

Some of the main collagen types are:
  • Type I: The most plentiful amount of collagen; made up of long, tightly packed fibers found in skin, ligaments, teeth, bones and tendons.
  • Type II: Shorter fibers found in cartilages that form tough, flexible tissues in body parts such as the joints, ears and nose. This type of collagen is rich in hydroxyproline, which helps build keratin and is essential for skin health.
  • Type III: Found in body parts such as blood vessels, intestines and skin; helps blood clot and wounds heal.

Like a rope of interwoven strands, each collagen fiber is composed of millions of proteins called peptides. All types of collagen help the body’s tissues maintain their shape, elasticity and strength.

What Are the Uses for Collagen?

Collagen naturally produced in the body is used for a diverse array of functions, including supporting vision, hair growth and recovery from injuries. It’s believed that the broken-down form of collagen found in collagen supplements is easily converted and absorbed into the body. This potentially makes it useful for several medical and cosmetic purposes.


Collagen supplements may be useful in reconstructive, cosmetic and oral surgery. They can potentially help wounds and burns heal, promoting new tissue growth. Some people may use collagen supplements to decrease osteoarthritis symptoms. 


The natural properties of collagen make it appealing for cosmetic applications. Because it helps retain moisture, manufacturers add it to some skin creams and hair treatments. In cosmetic medicine, injected collagen fillers improve the quality and density of skin. 

Collagen for Hair Growth

While there is limited scientific evidence suggesting collagen can encourage hair growth, collagen has become a popular hair growth supplement thanks to media attention and personal reports from consumers. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and it provides strength, structure and flexibility to bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, hair and skin, including the scalp.

Some studies have shown that taking collagen improves hair growth, but most of these studies were cosmetic and supplement industry-funded. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, this presents a conflict of interest because the industries funding the studies may benefit from positive results.

Consumers have claimed that collagen supplementation can help regenerate hair follicles to regrow hair, thicken hair density, stop hair loss and possibly impact hair graying. More objective and controlled studies are necessary to determine whether collagen supplementation may live up to these claims.

What Do We Know About Collagen and Hair?

Collagen contains amino acids used to build keratin, which is the protein that hair is primarily made of. As a result, collagen plays an important role in the health of the scalp and hair follicles.

Collagen is the primary component of the dermis, which is the connective tissue layer that contains hair follicles. Collagen plays a role in repairing the dermis and the skin on the scalp at the base of the hair follicle, and it may impact age-related hair growth.

The following studies reported no conflicts of interest and their findings shed light on the relationship between hair and collagen:

  • Hair Follicle Regeneration: Tests showed younger cells at the base of hair follicles used more collagen, while aged cells used less. This suggests declining collagen levels as people age may contribute to subsequent hair loss.
  • Collagen Type 17: According to a study in Experimental Dermatology, people born with an inability to make collagen type 17 develop junctional epidermolysis bullosa, a genetic condition causing fragile and blistering skin, serious hair loss and graying.

Type 17 collagen is not available in supplement form. Supplementing with different types of collagen may provide a wide range of amino acids the body needs to produce type 17 collagen.

Type II collagen is considered one of the best types for skin and hair, and is found in both marine and bovine sources of collagen. 

Factors Affecting Collagen Production

Age is the number one factor that leads to decreased collagen production. People produce 1% less collagen in the skin each year after age 20, according to Suzan Obagi, assistant professor in dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center.

In addition to age, several other factors contribute to decreased collagen production as well.

Factors that may decrease collagen production include:
  • Smoking: This damages collagen and decreases the amount of oxygen that gets to the skin, making it difficult for tissues to regenerate.
  • Diet: Eating diets high in processed meats and refined sugar can cause inflammation and collagen hardening and fragmentation.
  • Sleep: Getting enough sleep is important because the body produces new cells and collagen during sleep.
  • UV Rays: Too much exposure to ultraviolet light breaks down collagen and encourages skin cells to rebuild incorrectly, causing wrinkles.
  • Health Conditions: Autoimmune disorders and connective tissues diseases cause inflammation and cause antibodies to attack collagen in the skin, joints and other body parts.
  • Avoid Stress: Too much stress decreases collagen production.

Speak with your doctor about ways to help manage stress, support restful sleep and support in quitting smoking. Wearing sunscreen and working with your health care team to manage any conditions can also help improve overall health.

Can You Boost Collagen Production?

People may be able to help their bodies make more collagen, even if production naturally decreases with age. Collagen is found in many food sources, and science is focused on the possible benefits of collagen supplementation.

Natural Sources of Collagen

Natural sources of collagen include poultry and fish, though research hasn’t definitively proven that eating collagen directly can benefit the skin or joints because it breaks down when it’s digested. 

A good way to support natural collagen production is to eat a healthy diet of foods rich in amino acids and nutrients.

Foods that may help the body produce collagen include:
  • Animal bone broth made from simmering bones in water and a small amount of vinegar anywhere from 4 to 24 hours.
  • High protein foods such as poultry, fish, meats, dairy, eggs, legumes and soy.
  • Foods that contain zinc, such as nuts, whole grains, legumes and shellfish.
  • Foods that contain vitamin C, including berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, leafy greens and bell peppers.
  • Sulfur-containing foods, such as broccoli, onions and garlic.

Collagen creams and injections may offer some benefits, although research on their effectiveness is still conflicting. Additionally, collagen injections may prompt allergic reactions. Speak with your doctor about your medical history, including any allergies you may have before trying collagen products. Many contain ingredients that are common allergy triggers such as fish.

Synthetic Collagen

Because the chemical structure of collagen is so complex, scientists have had a difficult time recreating it. However, researchers are getting closer to making synthetic collagens for biomedical applications that don’t come from animals or humans.

For example, scientists at Rice University have developed a synthetic collagen that could help wounds heal. Scientists at Emory University have developed shape-shifting collagen that may be used to control drug delivery and in tissue engineering.

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Collagen Supplements

Collagen supplements have grown in popularity for their purported ability to rejuvenate aging skin, increase muscle mass and lessen arthritis pain. Supplements come from animal sources of collagen such as cows, fish or chickens. You can buy them in powder, liquid or capsule forms.

Collagen supplement benefits may include increased elasticity of bones, helping to prevent brittle bones, reduction of joint pain with activity in athletes, increased muscle mass and strength when accompanied by strength training, reduction of joint pain in people with osteoarthritis, increased skin elasticity and hydration, and decreased wrinkles.

Collagen Powder vs. Collagen Pills

Outside the method of administration, collagen powders and collagen pills are typically very similar.

Similarities include:

  • Ingredients: The ingredients found in most powders and pills are largely identical, especially when produced by the same manufacturer.
  • Dosage Per Serving: The dosage between powders and pills, particularly those from the same manufacturer, are generally similar.
  • Cost Per Bottle: The cost per bottle between powders and pills tends to be comparable. However, this may not be the most effective metric to look at when determining the price of the product.

While pills and powders offer similar collagen benefits, it’s the differences between them that users should focus on when making their decisions. The differences can vary based on the manufacturer.

When deciding which product to purchase, be sure to consider:
  • Additional Ingredients: Dependent on the manufacturer, ingredients and calories per serving may vary. For example, powders may have more sodium per serving than pills — something to consider for users with specific dietary restrictions.
  • Dosage Per Day: Maintaining a consistent dosage per day can also be a challenge depending on the product. While recommended daily doses for collagen powders can be 1-2 scoops, recommended doses for collagen pills can be excessive.
  • Cost Per Serving: As mentioned above, cost per bottle is not the most relevant metric to consider when determining the overall cost of the product. Bottles of collagen powder tend to cost more than bottles of pills, however, they tend to contain more servings.

Which Form of Collagen Is Most Effective?

Despite the increase in popularity of collagen supplements, the effectiveness of these supplements is still being debated among researchers. While some researchers believe that pills are more effective in delivering medication as a whole, powdered medications are typically easier to use. Certain thyroid conditions require the use of liquid medication for proper absorption and other health conditions make swallowing pills considerably difficult.

However, the research on the overall effectiveness of collagen supplements in any form is currently inconclusive. Many of the studies conducted so far have taken funding or partial funding from related industries, a conflict of interest that makes it difficult to ascertain the actual effectiveness of these supplements.

“We’re not actually sure if collagen supplements benefit us,” said Cedars Sinai dermatologist Dr. Ohara Aivaz. “The issue is that most things we ingest are broken down by stomach acids and are not absorbed into the bloodstream. It’s unclear if we absorb ingested collagen or if it’s totally broken down in the stomach.”

Additionally, these supplements are not strictly reviewed by regulatory agencies and fall outside the scope of “evidence-based” medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates collagen supplements as food rather than as medications, which means they’re subject to less strict standards than pharmaceuticals. Some experts are concerned supplements may contain heavy metals or other contaminants.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.