Ingredient Intel: The Truth About Collagen and Skin

You don’t have to be a skincare guru to realize that collagen is core to healthy, youthful-looking skin. It’s part of every conversation about skin aging, and ingredients that address collagen are in all our skincare regimens. Yet for as much as we talk about it, there’s still some confusion around how to best care for our skin’s most precious resource, particularly when it comes to all those beauty and wellness products that contain collagen. So what actually benefits and boosts skin’s collagen, and what’s merely hype? We’ve got the facts right here.

What is collagen?

Dermatologists often call collagen “the skin’s scaffolding,” but it functions as the scaffolding throughout our entire anatomy. Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the body and the main component of our connective tissues, giving them strength and resiliency. Collagen is in just about every part of our body, including skin, muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, even our eyes and teeth.

The older we get, the less collagen our body produces, and the quality also degrades as we age (and unfortunately, this all starts in our 20s). Environmental factors like sun exposure and pollution along with lifestyle factors such as smoking, stress, and lack of sleep and exercise all contribute to slower, weaker collagen production and damage to existing collagen.

The skin is composed of 70 to 80% collagen—it’s the main support structure that keeps skin plump, smooth, and firm. When the skin starts losing more collagen than it’s making, its underlying structure starts to falter. Think of it like springs inside a mattress: as the springs give out, the whole mattress becomes uneven, less firm, and less bouncy.

There’s no question that protecting and increasing collagen makes the greatest visible impact on your skin—you just need the right game plan.

Ask any dermatologist about the best ingredients to stimulate collagen, and the response will undoubtedly be retinoids and peptides. 

These gold-standard ingredients are backed by years of scientific research proving that they increase skin’s collagen production and lead to fewer wrinkles and smoother, firmer, more even-toned skin.

Retinoids—available in prescription creams and lower strength, over-the-counter retinol skincare—are derived from vitamin A and speed up skin’s natural cell turnover process, which in turn triggers the skin to produce more collagen. Dermatologists hail retinoids’ ability to keep our skin’s collagen continually cranking, but some people find their side effects (namely dryness and irritation) to be a dealbreaker.

Peptides are short chains of amino acids that serve as the building blocks of skin’s proteins, including collagen. The synthetic peptides used in skincare act as little messengers, telling the skin to make new collagen or stopping certain enzymes from breaking down existing collagen. Peptides are very well-tolerated by most skin types, and irritation or sensitivity is rare, so they’re fantastic for people whose skin can’t tolerate retinoids.

There’s also promising research on new collagen-enhancing ingredients. Our PUREVOC All Day Glow Serum contains Sepilift DPHP™, a plant-derived antioxidant powder shown to support collagen fibers (one study found the ingredient reduces wrinkles by 32%.) Our PUREVOC All Day Glow Cream has Sirhamnose™, a synthetic ingredient that helps promote healthy collagen production.

It's equally important to protect your skin’s collagen from damage by the sun and environmental factors, so your daytime skincare regimen should include powerful antioxidants like vitamin C, niacinamide, and caffeine to fend off free radicals. (All our Wonderskin skincare formulas contain potent antioxidants.) And smooth a broad-spectrum, SPF 30 or higher sunscreen on your face and neck every single day, year-round.

Creams and serums that contain collagen

You would think that slathering on skincare rich in collagen would infuse your skin with more collagen, keeping it firm and smooth—but, sigh, it’s not that simple.

First, the collagen molecules found in skincare aren’t the same as what your body naturally produces. The topical molecules are way too large to absorb past the top layer of skin, so they can’t get down deep enough to replenish lost collagen. And while some skincare formulas use hydrolyzed collagen—molecules broken down into smaller bits so that, in theory, they’re able to penetrate skin better—there’s no data indicating that this is effective. In fact, there’s no evidence at all that topical collagen impacts your skin’s natural collagen in any way.

But there is one great benefit that collagen creams and serums do offer: they’re highly moisturizing. One study found that applying a product with 10% collagen to the face for a month improved skin’s moisture content. And remember, when skin is plump with moisture, it looks and feels softer and smoother, and lines are less noticeable.

Collagen drinks and supplements

Everyone from Jennifer Aniston to the Kardashians is promoting ingestible collagen these days. Pills, powders, teas, and gummies make tossing back collagen a quick and tasty treat, and devotees swear they see improvement in their skin after jumping on the supplement bandwagon. The science, however, is still up in the air, and experts are divided as to what, if anything, collagen supplements do for the complexion.

When you eat or drink collagen, it gets broken down in your digestive system, so whatever amount makes it your skin (and it’s unclear if any of it does) is not the complete collagen molecule that your skin needs to stay firm and smooth. A 2019 review in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology compiled data from nearly a dozen double-blind placebo controlled studies on collagen supplements and found some evidence suggesting that they may increase skin’s elasticity, hydration, and collagen density. Which is promising, though dermatologists stress that a lot more evidence is needed before any definitive claims can be made.

On the flip side, there’s no real harm in trying collagen supplements as they’re generally considered safe, though keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so it’s best to consult with your doctor first. And experts advise looking for supplements with collagen types I and III and that do not contain any animal by-products.

Foods that may increase collagen production

Of course, if you’re eating a balanced diet with enough protein, then you don’t even need supplements because high protein foods are believed to help boost the body’s collagen production. Fish, poultry, eggs, and legumes top the list, and foods with high vitamin C content—like citrus fruits, berries, and leafy greens—are also believed to support collagen synthesis. Specialty foods that actually contain collagen, like bone broth and gelatin, may also be beneficial.

While there are no simple shortcuts to load up on collagen, maintaining good, consistent skincare and lifestyle habits will nurture your skin’s collagen and keep it healthy and thriving for years to come.