It’s often associated with surgery to achieve fuller lips. But these days, collagen has become a lip-worthy word in the wellness world. It’s being used as an injection, people are drinking it and it’s being used topically for its beauty perks.
Collagen has also been praised as a new go-to ingredient for soothing achy joints, improving gut and liver health, increasing metabolism and enhancing athletic performance. But can it really make a difference in your health?
Smooth skin like a baby
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, says Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, owner of the Ash Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. “It makes up a third of all protein found within the body,” Lyon says. “Collagen, in essence, gives structure and strength to our bodies.”
It’s made up of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, which are needed to repair muscles, bones and joints, and also keep hair and skin healthy. The body naturally produces collagen from amino acids, vitamins and minerals that we eat. It also may help heal gut issues, boost metabolism and muscle mass, improve liver health and protect the heart.
But production naturally declines as we get older, which means the body can’t repair itself as fast as it once did. “Although the process starts in our 20s, by age 40, the typical loss of collagen is 1 percent per year,” Lyon says. “Collagen loss is a natural process of the body. … Genetics are the ultimate culprit.”
Collagen can help strengthen the skin and rebuild dead skin cells, as well as maintain the skin’s elasticity, says Dr. Shelena Lalji, founder of the Dr. Shel Wellness & Aesthetic Center in Sugar Land, Texas.
“Approximately 75 percent of the skin is comprised of collagen,” she says. “The loss of collagen as we age is what causes wrinkles, sagging skin and joint pain. Factor in other lifestyle factors, such as sun exposure, smoking and a high-sugar diet, and this also contributes to our bodies’ depletion of collagen.”
It’s not hard to tell when skin has sufficient collagen because it has a youthful and supple appearance. “Think of a baby’s face,” Lalji says. “Babies have so much collagen in their skin, which is what gives it that full and perfect appearance. Collagen is the adhesive that really holds the body together.”
Cost and safety
Collagen is typically safe to consume, Lyon says. Rarely, people may experience bloating, constipation or fatigue. Some may experience more severe symptoms if they have an allergic reaction, but the most common side effect is usually just a lingering taste in your mouth.
“When it comes to supplementing with a powder form of collagen, the benefits far outweigh the side effects, which affect less than 0.1 percent of the population that consume collagen supplements,” she says. “Collagen is very safe to consume in therapeutic doses.”
Jonny Bowden, a nutrition specialist based in Woodland Hills, California, echoes Lyon and Lalji. Bowden says the cost of products won’t break your bank account, either. “It’s not expensive at all,” he says, adding that prices for pills, powders and other supplements can range between $7 to $50. “Considering that some supplements … can run as high as 60 bucks a bottle, collagen is relatively cheap.”
Lyon says it’s hard to argue with the results. However, “The jury is still out when it comes to supplementing with collagen,” she says. “More rigorous studies are needed not just to know if they are useful but what the effective dosage may be for each issue.”