Collagen for skin health, should you eat it or apply it?

Is your skin starting to lose its youthful glow?

Or maybe it’s starting to look thin, a bit craggier, in a way that extra layer of moisturiser can’t quite address?

As we reach our 30’s, collagen the structural protein responsible for giving us that squishy, plump, skin, begins to breakdown.

Skin loses a lack of tone, and signs of ageing become more apparent.

So if you feel that replenishing collagen might help to caulk out your emerging lines or want more of that squishiness, then join us, as we travel under your skin, to examine one of the most lauded proteins available.

What is collagen?

Collagen is often referred to in the industry as our internal scaffolding because it’s the most important structural protein in your skin; in fact, it accounts for about one-third of your body’s protein composition.

Collagen. is found deep within the dermis and is more concentrated in connective tissues like tendons and ligaments; it is one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. HealthLine noted that one could think of collagen as the “glue” that holds everything together due to its abundance.

As we age, our body produces less collagen. According to dermatologist Whitney Bowe, starting in our 20s, we begin to lose one per cent of our collagen each year — making your skin drier with age. Aside from the natural decline in collagen production your body undergoes, excessive sun exposure, smoking, and environmental pollutants can also contribute to collagen’s breakdown.

There are four main types.

Collagen comes in 16 different types, but the main ones are type I, II, III and IV:

  1. Type I makes up 90% of your body’s collagen, providing structure to your skin, connective tissues, teeth, tendons, bones and fibrous cartilage
  2. Compared to type I, type II is more loosely packed and is, therefore, more plentiful in the cushions of your joints
  3. Type III, like type, also provides some structure and support to your muscles, organs and arteries
  4. Type IV aids with filtration and can be found in the layers of your skin

Can you boost your skin’s collagen by applying it topically?

Clever marketing terms suggest, that by applying collagen topically, you can replenish it. Sadly this doesn’t; work: simply put, collagen molecules are too large to penetrate your dermis, which is where it is required. A school of thought suggests that hydrolyzed collagen that has been enzymatically broken down into fragments can reach your dermis; however, until more clinical testing has been done to support this idea, the jury is still out for us.

When collagen is applied topically, it isn’t going to stimulate other collagen. Results-wise however, you may feel like certain areas of your face are plusher, jellier somehow, this is due to collagens wonderful moisturising benefits. And let’s face it if your skin is well-moisturised—it’s going to be healthier, and look younger—but it’s not because your skin absorbs the collagen.

Collagen supplements

One of the most well-researched benefits of taking collagen is an improvement in skin health. A recent study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology found that collagen can significantly boost your skin’s health and promote a youthful appearance in three different ways. First, it enhances skin elasticity by thickening the dermis. Second, it enables your skin to hold onto moisture, keeping your skin plump and youthful, preventing signs of premature ageing. Third, it increases the density of collagen fibres within your skin.

This is why the concept of taking collagen supplements is incredibly appealing from a dermatological standpoint. Usually, such products are made with collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen, which are more easily absorbed by your body.

In addition to providing the aforementioned benefits, studies also noted that collagen supplements could help slow down skin ageing, plump skin, reduce the appearance of fine lines, by stimulating the body’s natural production of collagen, elastin and fibrillin.

What nutrients increase collagen production?

If applying collagen topically won’t increase our skins squishiness, is there something more we can do, that will help to firm up our internal scaffolding?

Well yes there is, whilst taking collagen supplements does appear to have some positive benefits for your skin, there are other nutrients and products available, that can also encourage your body to produce more collagen which we discuss below:

Vitamin C

One of the ingredients that is extremely effective in encouraging your body to produce more collagen is vitamin C. PrettyMe’s review of frozen collagen supplement mentioned that; this is why collagen supplements are usually accompanied by components that are packed with this vitamin, such as strawberry, grape and raspberry.

Ascorbic acid is a great antioxidant that fights sun damage and, at the same time, inhibits the production of melanin to lighten dark spots. In one of our previous posts ‘Vitamin C for Skin Health: Your Complete Guide’, we also emphasized how this vitamin can rebuild your skin’s DNA at a cellular level and encourage the formation of barriers that protect your skin. This is the reason we recommend C+ ascorbic acid complex, which is extremely beneficial for those concerned with photo ageing, and who want to improve their skins resilience and restore it to a youthful, healthy glow.

Vitamin A derivatives (retinol and retinoid) and AHAs

You can also boost your body’s collagen production by investing in topicals with retinol and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid. A study cited by Everyday Health found that the aforementioned vitamin A derivatives can stimulate collagen synthesis in the skin. Similarly, products containing AHAs can trigger collagen formation. Vitamin A is one of the most researched ingredients when it comes to ward off signs of ageing — topically applied A+ retinoid complex is the complete multitasker, that brings many benefits to a dull, prematurely aged skin.


Of all the minerals that are now incorporated into skincare products, copper was one of the first few cosmetics used. Mixed with lead ore, ancient Egyptian women often used copper to bring colour and definition to their faces. Today, copper is being used to aid in collagen production. SFGate explained that copper activates the enzyme lysyl oxidase, which is essential for collagen maturation. Daily, people should consume 900 micrograms of copper. To ensure that you can do this, try to include cashews, oysters, crab, sunflower and beef liver into your diet.

The naked truth

Despite the claims, which range from glowing skin to improved wrinkles and skin elasticity, the studies to back up topically applied products are limited; however, between collagen creams and collagen supplements, we believe the oral version would be the most beneficial to your skin.

With that said, there are things to keep in mind when selecting your collagen products. As is the case with all supplements, oral collagen has not been FDA-regulated, so be sure to consult with your physician before using such supplements.


So what’s the final verdict? Topically collagen will bring much-needed moisturisation to your skin. Still, the molecular structure is far too large to penetrate to the dermis, which is where it needs to reach to make a visible difference.

Whilst studies suggest that some collagen supplements do get results, there is the question of whether you actually need to be taking a collagen supplement at all, especially if they have not been FDA approved?

If you eat a normal balanced diet that includes protein-rich foods, is it necessary to be taking an oral supplement? But if your diet is lacking, the research indicates that they could potentially benefit your skin and your joints, And the really great thing, if you don’t need it, well, your body won’t absorb it and will excrete any over-supplementation.

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