The Anti-Aging Ingredient That’s in Everything Right Now

What is collagen, and is it really the secret ingredient to glowing skin, shiny hair, and strong nails? What to know about the anti-aging protein.

What is collagen, and is it really the secret ingredient to glowing skin, shiny hair, and strong nails?

Collagen beauty products, collagen drinks, collagen powder, collagen protein bars, collagen chocolates—what is collagen anyway and why does is it feel like it's all up in your face these days? Sure, the injectable kind has been around for a long time, but now we’re seeing the buzzy anti-aging ingredient in topical form at the beauty counter and the drugstore and in edible form on menus everywhere. It’s even being offered in lattes at coffee shops. What gives? Does collagen actually live up to the hype?

Collagen is an important connective tissue compound (it’s the most abundant protein in our bodies!) in our hair, skin, nails, and joints and working extra collagen into your diet could potentially help make these parts even stronger. A lot of the collagen products out there claim they will make your hair grow longer, strengthen your nails, and give you healthy, glowing skin. Who doesn’t want that? While many of these aforementioned products and claims have not been approved by the FDA, some studies show adding collagen into your diet can help improve some of those things. (Within reason, of course.)

This is especially important as you age, starting in your 20s and 30s, because your natural collagen production starts to slow down. As a result, your hair, skin and nail health starts to suffer, which means wrinkles, cellulite, slower muscle recovery, joint pain, and more. (Stress and illness, as well as too much time spent in the sun or smoking, can also slow the body’s collagen production.)

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Here are a few things to know when it comes to collagen:

  • If you eat a balanced diet that includes animal proteins (like beef or fish), you’re probably already getting the right amount of collagen. This is the best way to go because a lot of the collagen supplements’ results have not been scientifically proven yet and they can get quite expensive.

  • If you don’t eat animal proteins and your diet is primarily plant-based, talk to your doctor about whether you should consider adding a collagen supplements into your diet (they can be found in various forms, including capsules and drinks).

  • To maximize anti-aging results from your collagen supplements, consult a dietitian or medical professional. They will give you names of high-quality collagen supplements.

  • Bone broth is also naturally collagen-rich and a great way to boost collagen intake. Make your own or shop for ones with interesting flavors.

  • If you opt for the powder version, work it into a smoothie or a Greek yogurt. Sometimes it can have a slightly fishy aftertaste, so you might want to add it to something that already has a strong flavor to mask that. There's even a coffee creamer in mocha and other flavors to add to your morning coffee.

  • To help improve your body’s natural collagen production, stick to some of the classic anti-aging wisdom: Avoid smoking, cut back on drinking, use sunscreen, and get plenty of sleep and exercise.

  • Note that dermatologists and medical professionals still question the effectiveness of collagen supplements when it comes to anti-aging, due to the lack of official studies that have been done so far. When collagen is taken orally and your body digests it, it’s broken down in the stomach and doesn’t actually reach your skin.