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What is collagen, and why do people use it?

Written by: Jack Levinson



Time to read 6 min

While the beauty world is discovering new skincare strategies every day, there's one skin health ingredient that's been part of wellness rituals for generations: collagen. Known for improving skin elasticity and hydration, reversing signs of aging, and strengthening our blood vessels, collagen is a protein comprised of three vital amino acids whose multifaceted health benefits have attracted skincare aficionados for decades. In fact, each of us already produces collagen naturally – it is the most abundant protein in the body and the substance that comprises our connective tissue.

So why take collagen supplements if it already occurs naturally within the body? In short, because our bodies don't always naturally supply us with the collagen we need to see its benefits to skin health. Our collagen synthesis declines as we age, and other lifestyle habits can lead to decreased collagen production. By taking collagen supplements and replenishing the amino acids proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline, we can actually boost collagen production naturally.

The rise of collagen supplements

In this day and age, there are numerous types of collagen supplements on the market that are designed to produce different benefits. These are available in a variety of forms, from oral collagen supplements to collagen powders and even collagen injections. Most of these supplements contain collagen peptides (also known as hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate) or collagen tripeptides, which take the substance collagen and break it down into its simplest form for the easiest absorption possible. The body isn't capable of processing collagen in its whole form, so these modified versions can offer stronger, more streamlined results.

Peptides or hydrolyzed collagen supplements are typically sourced from animals, which also are abundant sources of the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Increasingly, there are also synthetic collagen options becoming available that don't make use of animal products.

Are there different types of collagen?

Collagen is a key part of the extracellular matrix, the network of molecules that works together to keep our connective tissues strong. There are numerous types of collagen in the body, with five main types whose different structures have different physical effects.

In fact, collagen has benefits beyond providing structure to skin and tissues, with some types being shown to expedite wound healing, others improving bone density, and still others easing joint pain. This means that different supplements are formulated with specific collagen peptides to aid with different issues.

Of all collagen types, the most commonly found is type I, which accounts for 90% of collagen in the body. It is a chief component of our connective tissues, holding the body's cells together. Most collagen supplements, such as the collagen powder many add to their daily smoothies, feature type I and type III collagen, which are the ones most closely linked to healthy skin. Some individuals with joint issues such as osteoarthritis take oral collagen supplements containing collagen type II, which have been shown as effective tools for symptom management. Breaking down collagen into singular uses such as these is one reason why so many supplements on the market feature collagen peptides or collagen hydrolysate.

Collagen-rich foods

Collagen rich food

As mentioned above, collagen is produced by the body and is also available in supplement form. But those aren't the only sources of collagen. There are also numerous foods rich in collagen, which also provides the additional ingredients needed for proper absorption, such as vitamin C, zinc, and copper. The body cannot absorb these whole, meaning they will not be able to provide the targeted benefits of a collagen supplement. However, consuming these foods can still help support collagen production overall.

Some of the top foods rich in collagen include leafy greens, citrus fruits, eggs, meat (from poultry and seafood to red meat), and beans. Many of these have numerous other benefits that already make them part of a healthy diet. With so many options for collagen consumption, it shouldn't be too challenging to incorporate natural collagen into your dietary regimen.

Medical and cosmetic uses of collagen

As mentioned above, collagen plays a significant role within the human body, and science has taken major steps to harness these powers for both medical and cosmetic purposes. Indeed, on the level of molecular cell biology, there's much we have learned about the benefits of collagen, which has contributed to its uses in the following procedures:

  • Wound dressing and healing

  • Tissue regeneration

  • Osteoarthritis treatment

  • Rejuvenation of the skin

As we learn more about the science behind collagen, we're likely to see even greater advances in treatment methods for a host of medical concerns.

Collagen loss

Unfortunately, while the body produces collagen naturally, its ability to maintain healthy collagen levels also naturally wanes over the course of our lives. This should not be taken as a sign that you're not healthy (though certain unhealthy habits can impact our collagen levels – more on that below). However, many have begun to take collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen to offset this natural decline.

What happens to collagen as I age?

woman taking collagen supplement

Bad news first: collagen production begins to slow as we age. This can be one of the primary factors behind aging skin, as decreased plumpness and skin elasticity can visibly alter our appearance. Don't be discouraged if you have found that this is beginning to happen to you; it's a natural part of human skin physiology.

Now, the good news is that collagen supplements can work wonders to help fight skin aging and improve skin hydration, restoring vibrancy and suppleness. By supporting healthy collagen production, they can help return your skin to its fullest potential.

What lifestyle habits damage collagen?

Everyone experiences some amount of collagen loss in their lives, but certain habits are particularly damaging to our collagen production. If you're concerned about skin aging, it's worth keeping this in mind, as prevention can mean more than taking collagen supplements retroactively. There's also plenty you can do – or not do – to support your skin now.

Below are some of the leading lifestyle factors that can interfere with healthy collagen production:

  • Excessive drinking. Hangovers aren't the only reason not to drink too much. Alcohol use can also limit collagen formation, depleting our skin's ability to repair and restore itself over time.

  • Consuming a high-sugar and/or ultra-processed diet. Just as a healthy diet can improve collagen production, an unhealthy diet can cause our natural collagen structures to become rigid, reducing its ability to keep our skin supple.

  • Smoking cigarettes. Among the many adverse effects of cigarette smoking on one's health is aging skin. This is because smoking breaks down collagen, weakening one's skin elasticity and making wrinkles more visible.

Preventing collagen loss

collagen powder and capsule

Collagen loss will affect us all, but fortunately, there are many defenses we can take to reduce signs of aging and improve our overall skin quality.

To combat collagen loss, many undertake oral collagen supplementation methods to increase their collagen levels. These can appear in a variety of forms, including collagen capsules, collagen powder, and liquid forms of collagen that can be consumed alone or added to drinks and smoothies. If you're looking for an easy way to replenish your collagen levels and revitalize your skin, these are easy and effective ways to do so.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant structural protein in the body. It is a key component of our connective tissue and is known for a range of benefits, including improving skin hydration, strengthening bone mineral density, easing joint pain, and more. Each collagen molecule contains three primary amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.

What does collagen do to the body?

Collagen molecules play an important role in the body, providing structural support to tissues and impacting a host of cellular functions, including tissue growth and repair, intra-cellular communication, immune response, and more.

What is collagen for the skin?

A collagen supplement for the skin will decrease signs of aging by improving skin elasticity and hydration, reducing wrinkles, and promoting further collagen production.

Written by:


Jack Levinson

Jack Levinson is a writer born and raised in Los Angeles. He received his bachelor’s degree from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. When not writing, his interests include the arts, cooking, and exploring the California coast.

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Reviewed by:


Sanober Pezad Doctor, MD

Dr. Sanober Doctor is a dual-board certified dermatologist, & a leading expert in Integrative and holistic Dermatology. She is a proactive, compassionate medical practitioner with a thorough understanding of mind-body-spiritual wellness.

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