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Do Collagen Supplements for Skin Work?

Ep 25: Can Eating or Drinking Collagen Supplements Improve Skin Health?

Collagen supplements

Dr. TWL: Hi guys and welcome to today’s episode of Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty. I’m Dr. Teo Wan Lin, an accredited dermatologist of TWL Specialist Skin and Laser Centre. We’re gonna be chatting about the evidence behind the use of oral collagen supplements for skin aging.

Chelsea: Ah yes, I’ve heard of collagen supplements! These days, they come in so many forms like chewy gummies, vanilla-flavored coffee creamers, single serving powder sachets, or capsules that are easy to swallow. The theory behind collagen supplements is that they claim to improve and stimulate our body’s collagen production. Leading to improvement in skin quality, anti-aging benefits, and other benefits like joint or muscle improvement.

Can you give us a brief introduction of what collagen supplements are? 

Dr. TWL: First up, internal and external factors both contribute to aging of the skin. Internal factors or intrinsic factors, include your own genetic biological makeup. External factors are related to your environment, also known as extrinsic factors. That includes elements such as pollution, UV exposure, nutritional status, smoking status, as well as the ongoing fitness of the individual. There has been a rise in the nutraceutical market in the last decade. This is primarily by pharmaceutical companies or beauty companies who claim that taking oral collagen supplements can help to reduce skin aging. Ingredients that are in the supplements include collagen peptides. Essentially, these are amino acid based peptides. When the body digests these peptides, they break down into mini peptides we call di and tripeptides. The body uses these as building blocks for proteins such as collagen.

How do collagen supplements claim to work? 

Dr. TWL: The theoretical basis is that these proteins can help to maintain and increase the amount of collagen in the skin which is responsible for maintaining youthful appearance, skin smoothness tightness and plumpness. There is also a theory that ingesting peptides made bioavailable can engage in cell talk and increase the production of hyaluronic acid by your skin fibroblasts – which are the same cells that produce collagen. Also, overall increase the retention of moisture in the topmost layer of your skin – the stratum corneum.

It’s been marketed to consumers as an anti-aging remedy. Benefits include a wrinkle reduction, skin rejuvenation, reversing skin aging and skin plumping. However, do these products really live up to their claims? The key here is, whenever a dermatologist reviews such claims, it’s important to base it on sound peer review evidence.

What does the science say? Can drinking or eating collagen improve skin health? 

Dr. TWL: We’re going to talk about some of the studies that have been done on our collagen supplements, and we will have our verdict by the end of this podcast. The very first study we’re going to examine by Seren et al, includes 66 Japanese women within the age of 40 to 59. They had treatment of half with 10 grams of the oral collagen supplementation for 56 consecutive days, and a placebo arm that did not receive the actual collagen supplementation.

The results actually demonstrated a statistically significant increase in skin moisture for the treatment group. Which is those that received the oral collagen treatment. In the second part of the study, they recruited 106 French women between the ages of 40 to 65. The same study design was for 84 consecutive days, measuring the results with high frequency ultrasound. The results show that there was greater collagen density in the group that underwent treatment.

In another study, Kim et al enrolled 64 Korean women in a study which investigated the effect of this low molecular weight collagen peptide on skin hydration, wrinkling and elasticity. Again, at the monitoring period of six weeks in 12 weeks, there were significant increase in skin hydration in the treatment group comparing to the placebo group. Notably, measuring the parameters of skin wrinkling – which were roughness, smoothness, depth – they were significantly higher in the treatment group.

However, for skin elasticity, only one parameter – which was the overall elasticity – was significantly higher in the treatment group. There were a couple other studies, which were done in the European setting. These did not show statistically significant benefits of taking oral collagen supplementation.

Studies in human models

Dr. TWL: In terms of human models, the studies are rather limited. So, we also want to examine if there has been evidence in animal studies. So in a study by Wang et al, administering these collagen hydrolysates to nine month old mice for a period of six months led to statistically significant increased collagen. This is on top of improvements in the density and distribution of collagen fibers. There was also a dose dependent effect which means that if they were to increase the dose of the oral collagen supplementation, then there was a proportionate increase in the additional collagen content.

On top of that, there was increased expression of the genes in the skin that’s been associated with development of the epidermis in a hair cycle. So this is interesting. In another study with mice, they found improvements in the stratum corneum water content and skin elasticity.

How can we interpret these studies? What should be the takeaway point? 

Dr. TWL: The key thing here is that the observations of genetic changes were actually before observation of changes in the skin barrier function and mechanical properties after collagen supplementation. This means that with oral collagen supplementation, the skin barrier function improves. A Japanese study also supported a reduction in transepidermal water loss and increased water content of the stratum corneum.

Limited studies

Dr. TWL: Overall I feel that there are a few issues here. First of all, these studies seem to be in patients of particular geographic regions. For example, most of these studies were in Asian women in Japan, China and Korea. We do know that Asian skin, ethnic skin, and skin of color in general tends to have a fuller dermis because of the innate photoprotection that melanin confers. This itself is possibly a confounding factor in the assessment of how effective these collagen supplements were.

Also, in terms of the mechanism of action, it is rather doubtful to suggest that anything that is orally ingested and digested in the form of a supplement actually becomes preferentially localized to any part of the dermis, as opposed to other parts of the body. Besides, one can also support this idea that since the amino acids that are required for collagen synthesis can actually be found from a normal protein diet – which includes many other micronutrients – this makes the need for additional collagen supplementation redundant.

As a dermatologist, after reviewing the evidence, what is your verdict? 

Dr. TWL: My view is that we need a variety of foods and balance. While it doesn’t seem to have any detrimental effects so far, it’s important for us to understand that until we have a lot more information and larger scale studies involving individuals of varying ethnicities, then we’re able to make a definitive comment on this topic. 

Well there you have it! That’s it for this week’s Dermatology Weekly Flash Briefing. You can follow Dr. Teo on instagram @drteowanlin where she posts updates on the latest podcast episodes, and remember to subscribe to keep updated on new episodes every week!

The best way to restore moisture to your skin barrier is by using a moisturizer formulated as a Prescription Emollient Device “PED”, such as the Dr. TWL Dermaceuticals Multi-Ceram which has an ideal ratio of skin lipids with anti-inflammatory botanicals.