If you’re a fan of skincare or supplements, it seems like every day brings a new trend. We’ve grown long past products that use mercury or lead as a key ingredient, but how do we know what really works with all these new products on the market?

As a dermatologist, one emerging supplement I’ve heard buzzing about is hydrolyzed collagen. Proponents claim that the fabulous health benefits of collagen treat everything from arthritis to wrinkly skin. Can it really help, or is it all hydrolyzed hype? Let’s take a closer look.


What is a hydrolyzed collagen supplement?

First, let’s address what collagen is: an abundant protein found in our connective tissue like skin, organs, bones, tissue, and cartilage. This is the most common protein in the body, and the uses are almost endless. To simplify its many types to one definition, collagen provides building blocks of structure and strength. It also works together with elastin to give skin its shape and texture.

Unfortunately for us, collagen production slows over time, starting in our mid-20s, which can lead to a multitude of problems. Even worse, studies have shown that women have less collagen in general.


Joints once cushioned by collagen may become creakier or weaker, while losing it in the face is a slippery slope to wrinkles. As the body produces less collagen, we may want to add more into our life through nutrition and diet.

There are at least 16 different types of collagen found in the human body. Not every collagen supplement will be hydrolyzed, so what makes this form stand out? 

Well, the basic form of collagen protein is made up of three strands of amino acids, while hydrolyzed collagen is broken down into a simpler chain of just a few proteins. 

This makes the hydrolyzed collagen more easily absorbed and increases bioavailability. It’s unflavored, odorless, and dissolves easily in liquids, even water or cold liquids like smoothies. This collagen, in its easily bioavailable form, may also be referred to as collagen hydrolysate.

Other popular ways to boost your collagen intake include drinking bone broth, which contains high levels of collagen, consuming collagen-rich skins of pork, chicken, or salmon, or eating more foods that help your body synthesize its own collagen, like citrus fruits and leafy greens. However, none of these contain fully hydrolyzed collagen.


Hydrolyzed Collagen Claims vs. Reality

So, why choose hydrolyzed collagen? While many studies are promising, the research on hydrolyzed collagen is fairly new and certainly not iron-clad. Here are the benefits that fans claim they’ve seen, compared with scientific findings.

For Skin

Devotees of hydrolyzed collagen claim that it will reduce wrinkles, hydrate the skin, exhibit anti-aging effects, and improve skin elasticity. 

From the way some fans talk, you would think it was the fountain of youth! 

So, what does science say about hydrolyzed collagen for skin?

  • One smaller study claimed that collagen hydrolysate (a form of hydrolyzed collagen) improved skin elasticity and hydration in elderly women. However, the study didn’t find the results reach “statistical significance.”
  • It seems that hydrolyzed collagen supplements may assist in faster wound healing.
  • Hydrolyzed collagen may reduce wrinkles in another provocative study where they measured procollagen I, elastin and fibrillin before and after oral collagen peptide intake
  • In an assessment of current literature on this subject, it appears that multiple studies have found collagen hydrolysate helpful in treating aging and skin wounds.

It’s important to note that most of these studies have been performed on smaller sample sizes and aren’t definitive in their results. One positive trend is that none found significant side effects. 

To sum up, early assessments show that collagen may contribute toward healthy skin, but more data is needed to fully understand its effects.

For Joints and Bones

Those who advocate for hydrolyzed collagen often tout its benefits for joint health, pointing to claims about improving arthritis symptoms and decreasing joint pain. Additionally, since your body’s ability to produce collagen decreases with age, some have claimed that collagen supplementation can combat aging in the skeletal system. 

Here’s the (collagen powder) scoop on recent scientific findings: 

  • One study found that athletes taking collagen supplements for 24 weeks experienced a reduction in joint pain while walking. 
  • A group of patients above 50 years old experienced an improvement in joint pain symptoms after six months of taking a hydrolyzed collagen supplement.
  • A growing body of studies show that taking collagen hydrolysate may improve both pain and function in patients with osteoarthritis. 
  • Finally, another small study displayed the potential efficacy of hydrolyzed collagen supplements in women with falling bone mass density due to menopause.

While all of this is good news for joint pain sufferers and aging women, more information is needed to fully understand best practices of how to treat joint and bone issues using hydrolyzed collagen.

For Gut

Not only do aficionados of collagen declare its benefits for skin, joints, and bones, but they proudly proclaim its positive effect on gut health. How do their claims measure up?

gut health

  • Collagen supplementation may improve intestinal permeability (sometimes alluded to in “leaky gut” theories) and potentially, gut health. None of these results have been proven in human trials.
  • A collagen deficiency has been noted in patients with IBD. Does this mean that proper collagen levels can aid in keeping the intestines running smoothly? Further research may answer this question.

While there isn’t any hard and fast evidence for collagen’s effect on gut health, emerging links show promising signs of how collagen interacts with our digestive tracts.


How to Choose a Collagen Supplement

Hydrolyzed collagen has been clearly shown to travel in the bloodstream, perhaps due to its easy-to-digest nature. Specifically, enzymatically hydrolyzed collagen seems to be most readily absorbed. 

Collagen peptides are another supplement form you’re likely to see, and are usually not as broken down as hydrolyzed collagen, making them less bioavailable for your body to use.

This is why hydrolyzed collagen may be preferable — it’s the simplest, most accessible form of collagen to your body, and is easy to incorporate into food and drinks. Even some gummies now contain hydrolyzed collagen.

If you’re looking for naturally occuring forms of collagen, some foods are a great way to supplement (though they do not contain hydrolyzed collagen). These include bone broth, skins of pork, salmon, and chicken, non-muscle meats such as knuckle, tendon, or oxtail, and egg yolks. Be sure your animal products are grass fed.

leafy greens

If you’d like to aid your body’s natural collagen production, grab some vitamin C like dark, leafy greens, fresh berries, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, or Brussels sprouts. Your skin “absolutely depends” on vitamin C and other cofactors to make more collagen.


It’s not for everyone… 

While the dazzling promises of hydrolyzed collagen can sound too good to be true — well, perhaps they are. 

Minimal research over a short period of time is not something on which to base your entire skin care routine, so try this product for yourself and observe results before making it a regular part of your routine. 

If you’re wanting to try the trend out, start with hydrolyzed collagen powder in a smoothie packed with nourishing foods or cooked into a recipe. Be honest with yourself after a few months about any results you may (or may not) see. 

No matter what form of collagen you try, be sure that you’re getting any collagen protein powder from pasture raised, grass-fed cows to ensure no concerning ingredients are being used. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) also recommends speaking with a health care professional about any dietary supplements you’re considering.

So then what does improve collagen in your skin? 

Consistent use of topical retinoids and ascorbic acid (vitamin c) over time have been shown time and time again to improve collagen in the skin and are the foundations of a dermatologist-recommended skin care regimen. 

Avoid or minimize the exposure of your skin to pollutants such as cigarette smoke and environmental pollutants. 

Be mindful of your sun exposure and free radicals that can be created from sun damage by wearing sun protective clothing and sunscreen. 

Talk to your dermatologist about which retinoids, vitamin c serums and sunscreens are best for your skin type.  


In Summary

  • Collagen is a chain of amino acids, and hydrolyzed collagen has been broken down to an extremely simple and bioavailable form of this nutrient. 
  • Our bodies stop producing as much collagen over time as we age, which means that we may need collagen supplements to keep our skin, joints, and insides young and healthy.
  • Proponents of collagen supplementation claim that its effects on skin, joints, and the gut are unmistakable — but more research is needed before any definitive answers can be given on this theory.
  • I recommend that, after consulting with your dermatologist, you try hydrolyzed collagen with one eye open. Due to the need for more information, gauge your results closely and circle back to if this product is right for you.



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