Things You Need to Know About Collagen For Hair, Skin, Nails, & Beyond – Collagen has been all the rage in recent years and is touted as the new must-have supplement for everything from wrinkle prevention to healthy joints, building lean muscle tissue, hair and nail strengthening, promoting strong bones and teeth, as well as supporting fat loss/weight loss. But before we dive into collagen’s many (well-supported) health benefits, let’s start at the beginning – what exactly is collagen?
Collagen is a hard, insoluble, and fibrous protein, and the most abundant protein in the body.
Collagen is also the primary building block for all of the body’s cells and tissues and is especially
concentrated in the skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and connective tissues, where it provides
strength, structure, elasticity, and flexibility. There are 28 known types of collagen, but only seven
types are important to human health. Just as interestingly, 80 to 90 % of the collagen in the body
is type 1, 2, or 3, each of which has a different structure and function, that dictate in which tissues
it can be found.
What is Collagen Made of and Where Does it Come From?
While we do make our own collagen, this natural production begins to wane as of our early 20s.
So much so, in fact, that by the age of 40, we’re likely losing about 1% of our bodily collagen per
year, and menopause only serves to speed up that loss. This correlates with the appearance of
fine lines and wrinkles, sagging skin, worn-down cartilage, stiff joints, and decreased muscle
Other factors such as smoking, and overexposure to UV rays/frequent suntanning further
contribute to depleting our collagen levels. Fortunately, you can effectively replenish your
collagen with supplements. You’ll likely have guessed that given where collagen is located inside
the body, collagen supplements are not vegan or vegetarian. Rather, they come from the bones,
skin, and connective tissue of animals, including cows, chickens, pigs, fish, and others. To make
collagen, animal bones, tendons, cartilage, and skin are boiled in water, after which the collagen
is extracted, dried, and powdered, and made into myriad forms of collagen supplements.
While plants do not have naturally occurring collagen like animals, they do supply proteins that
can mirror the effects of collagen, which is why there are several so-called “plant-based
collagens” on the market that supply the body with the key amino acids it needs to stimulate its
own natural collagen production.
So, now that you’re clear on where collagen comes from, let’s explore why collagen is good for
you and what collagen supplements offer.
Given the incredible amount of compelling research, it’s obvious that collagen supplements do
work. One of the most obvious benefits of adding a scoop of collagen to your daily protein shake
or smoothie bowl is that it can significantly decrease the visible signs of aging by raising your
body’s collagen levels. In fact, studies have shown that collagen supplementation not only
improves skin hydration, but also drastically improves skin elasticity and density, as well as its
collagen content, collagen fibers, and antioxidant activity.
Another impressive benefit of collagen supplementation is that it’s been shown to help protect
ligaments and tendons, so is ideal for anyone struggling with achy, painful joints, as well as
athletes, hard trainers, and anyone else that wants to maintain joint health throughout life and
prevent the onset of degenerative joint conditions like osteoarthritis.
Collagen supplements are also ideal to help strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis, as well
as to improve body composition, stimulate muscle building in athletes, as well as prevent
sarcopenia in the elderly (progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength
– often associated with aging).
There are many other uses for collagen supplements, such as improving gut health (repairing
leaky gut syndrome), stimulating hair and nail growth, boosting metabolism, and weight loss (no,
collagen does not make you gain weight!), preventing stretch marks and reducing the appearance
of cellulite, helping balance hormones, and supporting the health of teeth and gums.
What to Look for in a Collagen Supplement
Collagen supplements are available in a dizzying array of flavors, shapes, and sizes, from powders,
and liquids, to capsules, chewables, and even tasty gummies. Ideally, look for a product that is
hydrolyzed – typically an enzymatic process that breaks down the collagen peptides, into smaller,
easy-to-process particles, so your body can use it. You should also look for a collagen supplement
that is non-GMO, and sourced either from pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle, that is free from
antibiotics and added hormones, or if you’re leaning towards marine-sourced collagen, look for
one that is sourced from wild-caught fish. Some other important assets you should look for in
your collagen supplement include an allergy-friendly formula that does not contain artificial
ingredients, including colors, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners, and a blend that is third party tested and certified, for optimal purity and efficacy.
How Much Collagen Should you Take Daily?
When it comes to how much collagen you should take, this will largely be a function of the
purpose for which you’re taking it. For instance, studies have shown that a daily dose between
2.5 to 10 g is ideal for skin support. Whereas if you’re using it in sports nutrition to help pack on
muscle mass, enhance muscle strength, and speed up muscle recovery, 15 to 20 g may be a better
dose. Those using collagen to help support joint health likely need a lower dose – typically
somewhere between 2.5 to 5 g daily, and those hoping to help boost bone health, likely would
benefit from around 5 g daily. Collagen is generally considered safe and non-toxic even in high
doses, and most people do not experience adverse effects, however, occasional side effects can
include an unpleasant taste in the mouth, feeling overly full, and other GI issues. Though collagen
is a protein, and for all intents and purposes should have no bearing on pregnancy outcomes, it’s
always best to check with your physician before starting to supplement with collagen during
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that no matter what you’re using collagen for, studies have
shown that it typically takes at least 8 weeks to see noticeable results – this, in fact, is the
timeframe most studies use to evaluate collagen’s (many well-documented) effects on hair, skin,
nails, joints, muscles, and other tissues.
Roos Jonsin is a Canadian naturopath and researcher dedicated to helping people live healthier lives through education about vitamins, herbs, and nutritional supplements. Roos also consults with suppliers and manufacturers with product development and marketing. National Nutrition is Canada’s leading health & nutritional supplements store, also voted as the Best Health Food Store in Canada by the experts at Canadian Health Food Association.