If there was only one nutrient we could recommend for younger, brighter skin (as well as healthier hair and nails), it would be collagen.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It’s found in bones and connective tissue. And while scraps from last night’s dinner may not sound overly beautifying, these parts contain nutrients and compounds that can help keep your skin plump and supple, prevent and improve cellulite, and help your hair and nails grow faster and healthier (1). Since one of collagen’s primary functions is to preserve skin firmness and elasticity, it’s also a major component in preventing fine lines and wrinkles. It can even help fight other signs of aging, such as arthritis and joint pain (2).
Let’s look closer at why collagen consumption is a must in your beauty routine.
Beauty Benefits of Collagen for Your Skin
1. Helps Reduce the Appearance of Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Approximately 75 to 80 percent of your skin is made up of collagen (3). As the most important nutrient to skin health, you can think of it as the “glue” that holds your skin together. Your body naturally produces collagen. But as you age, your body’s ability to produce collagen decreases, and your collagen levels naturally decline (4). This is when fine lines and wrinkles can show up, and skin moisture and plumpness may begin to disappear due to loss of skin elasticity.
The beauty industry has recognized this fact, which is why many anti-aging skin creams and serums are made from collagen and certain amino acids. But there’s one problem: most collagen molecules are too big to be absorbed through the deeper dermal layers of your skin, which is where collagen production takes place. Therefore, collagen creams sit on top of your skin and may not be able to do much more than moisturize.
On the other hand, plenty of research shows the beauty benefits of collagen. One recent study conducted on women ages 45 to 65 showed that taking collagen peptides as an oral collagen supplement had a significant improvement in eye wrinkles after only eight weeks — no Botox required (5).
2. Helps Heal Inflammatory Skin Conditions (Including Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis)
The beauty benefits of collagen are widely documented, especially for inflammatory conditions. If you suffer from inflammatory skin conditions (such as eczema, acne, or psoriasis), collagen may help reduce the pain, frequency, and severity of flare ups — and there are a few reasons for this.
First, collagen contains several important amino acids, such as proline and glycine, which can help reduce inflammation from the inside out (6). Second, collagen acts as a “glue” for the intestinal wall and helps “heal and seal” the gut lining. Collagen is often recommended to improve chronic digestive health conditions, such as leaky gut syndrome, because it may help coat your digestive tract. This is relevant because skin issues are a sign of compromised gut health.
For hundreds of years, doctors of traditional Chinese medicine have said that your skin is like a mirror for what’s going on inside your body — particularly in your digestive system. This link is called the gut-skin axis, and it’s why so many chronic digestive conditions, such as candida, leaky gut, gut dysbiosis, and SIBO all have inflammatory skin issues listed as potential symptoms (7).
By improving your gut health, collagen can simultaneously improve your skin’s appearance from the inside out.
3. Helps Prevent Cellulite and Stretch Marks
Oh, cellulite. It’s something many women seem to encounter at some point in their lives — whether it’s with age, pregnancy, or a sudden weight gain or loss. And it can be one tough cookie to get rid of.
The reason why cellulite appears in the first place is due to your skin losing elasticity and becoming too thin. This can happen as a result of genetics, hormonal fluctuations, age, and (you guessed it), as collagen production declines throughout your entire body (8).
We love how health expert Ben Greenfield explains it:
“If your collagen isn’t formed properly or becomes damaged, then that connective tissue can become too thin or full of holes, and the fat underneath your skin can poke through in that unsightly, lumpy fashion that we affectionately refer to as cellulite. You can think about it this way: Collagen is like a paper bag and the fat is like the groceries inside that paper bag. If the bag gets damaged, wet, or stretched too thin, all the groceries can bulge out.” (9)
Collagen may help reduce the appearance of faint stretch marks, which occur when the elastic fibers of your skin are pulled too quickly or beyond what your skin’s elasticity can currently handle (for example, after a rapid weight gain or loss, or after giving birth).
When your skin is stretched this way, it can cause permanent damage to what’s called the elastic fiber network in the dermal layer of your skin. This damage stops collagen synthesis from taking place, which makes it near impossible to repair the stretch marks in your skin (10). But research suggests collagen skin creams and topical treatments may not be the way to stimulate new collagen production, as there’s no legitimate research to back their effectiveness (11).
Instead, incorporating collagen supplementation in your diet, and consuming nutrients that help boost collagen production (such as vitamin C), are effective, natural ways to stimulate collagen production at the cellular level.
4. Helps Speed Up Wound Healing
Whether you’ve had a recent breakout or suffered a few scrapes and bruises from Crossfit, collagen has been shown to play a key role in all phases of wound healing. It can also help reduce the inflammation associated with wounds and injuries (12)(13). Part of the reason collagen is so powerful for healing wounds is because it contains arginine, an amino acid that’s needed to help restore damaged muscle tissue (14). If you are an athlete, the proline in collagen can also greatly improve joint health.
5. Promotes Healthy Hair and Nails
While collagen promotes the greatest side effects for skin, as a protein it also provides the building blocks for shiny, healthy hair growth and stronger nails. In fact, it’s said that increasing the protein in your diet through collagen can also help prevent split ends and give your hair a thicker, shinier, silkier texture (15).
How to Get More Collagen Into Your Diet
Getting more collagen into your diet is as simple as sipping on and cooking with bone broth.
Since we don’t exactly chow down on bones and ligaments, we can access the collagen they contain by boiling them into a broth. The collagen and gelatin from bones and tissue are released when they are simmered for 10 to over 20 hours, so collagen is easy for you to digest and absorb right away. You can easily make bone broth at home, or if you’re short on time, you can always buy some.
Here are a few of our favorite ways to get creative with collagen in the kitchen:
From the left to the right:
- Quinoa Buddha Breakfast Bowl
- Veggie Curry Over Quinoa
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
- The Easiest Beef Pho Recipe
- Hearty Bone Broth Chicken Noodle Soup
- Creamy Mushroom Chicken Risotto
- Mixed Berry Bone Broth Smoothie
- Raspberry Collagen Gummies
- Paleo Pumpkin Soup with Bone Broth and Coconut Milk.
Of course, you can also boost your collagen intake with collagen powder. You could also substitute your protein powder for collagen protein, also known as collagen hydrolysate or hydrolyzed collagen. However it’s important to be aware of the differences between bone broth powder and liquid. Many powder processing methods are questionable, and you’ll want to be sure they’re from an organic or grass-fed source (the better the bone health, the more nutrient rich the collagen will be).
Can You Eat Gelatin Instead of Collagen?
In short, yes.
You may have heard of gelatin as a beauty nutrient — and the terms collagen and gelatin are often used interchangeably. While they have identical nutrient profiles (which means they can both offer the same benefits for your skin, hair, and nails) collagen and gelatin are not the same thing.
The main difference between collagen and gelatin comes down to how they’re processed. Gelatin is what you end up with when bones and tissue are cooked down to become digestible. It’s the “gel” you see on top of bone broth. Gelatin powder is also formed during a process called partial hydrolysis.
Collagen peptides are powdered collagen supplements made of gelatin that has been processed more aggressively during hydrolysis, which forms smaller molecules. The benefit of taking collagen peptides is that they’re said to be easier to digest.
For a more in-depth look at the differences between collagen and gelatin, here’s everything you need to know.
Reap the Beauty Benefits of Collagen
As you can see, the nutrients you eat are just as important to your beauty routine (if not more important) as the cleansers, moisturizers, and toners you use. And you can fully receive the collagen benefits when you regularly add it to your diet. Whether it’s through a delicious soup recipe, a bone broth cocktail, or even as a replacement for your morning coffee, there are plenty of simple ways to drink your collagen every day. With so many beauty benefits of collagen, there’s no reason not to add it to your diet.