Collagen products are one of the hottest supplements today. According to the business research company Grand View Research, the collagen market was valued at $8.36 billion in 2020 and it is projected to grow by 9% annually through the year 2028.

Between the countless pills and protein powders available, how do you find the best quality collagen supplement to keep your skin smooth and supple? Here’s what you need to know.

What is collagen?

It’s safe to say that collagen plays quite an essential role in health and wellness since it basically holds the body together.

“Collagen is a protein that exists in the body’s connective tissue and in its extracellular matrix—which is essentially a network that gives structural support to the body’s tissues,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, Connecticut.

According to the textbook Molecular Cell Biology, collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. And while there are at least 16 types of this protein, nearly 90% of the collagen inside of us are divided into three categories: Type I, II, and III.

collagen supplements

collagen supplements

Gorin explains that Type I collagen is present in most connective tissues with bone, ligaments, tendon, and skin. “Type II collagen is found mostly in cartilage, and Type III collagen is found in the skin, lungs, the walls of blood vessels, and intestinal walls,” she continues.

As we age, the body’s ability to replenish collagen slowly decreases and this lack of elasticity can eventually lead to common signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, sagging skin, and weakened joints. Poor lifestyle habits, including chronic sun exposure, excessive alcohol intake, insufficient sleep, and lack of exercise can contribute to reduced collagen synthesis, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

What are the health benefits of taking collagen supplements?

For starters, Gorin points out that collagen production can occur by placing certain foods on your plate, including bone broth and meat that contains connective tissue (such as brisket and chuck steak). “Furthermore, your body can naturally create collagen when it combines amino acids in foods with vitamin C, copper, and zinc,” she adds.

RELATED: These 10 Foods Are Better Than Collagen Supplements

However, some evidence indicates there are possible benefits from supplementation. A preliminary study published in the journal Nutrition Research showed that taking a daily oral collagen supplement could result in boosted hydration and elasticity in the skin, says Gorin. Separate research conducted in Germany found that women, ages 35 and older, who were given a collagen product over the course of three months were likely to display skin that was thicker, more hydrated, and less rough.

Also, in a 12-week study that focused on young athletes with function knee problems, the volunteers who were instructed to consume 5 grams of a collagen supplement each day reported “statistically significant improvement” in joint pain. “And other research shows that it may be helpful for managing symptoms of osteoarthritis,” states Gorin.

RELATED: What Happens To Your Body When You Take Collagen Every Day

What is the #1 worst kind of collagen supplement to take?

“When choosing a collagen supplement, not all are created equal,” says Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, co-founder of Appetite for Health, a nutrition communications consulting firm. “Some people take gelatin as a way of obtaining their collagen, yet that would be considered the worst way to consume collagen.”

The reason: Collagen products are made by extracting collagen-rich tissues from animals, including chickens, cows, and fish. Gelatin is formed by then cooking or boiling collagen, a process referred to as partially-hydrolyzed.

“As the foundation of hair, skin, and nails, you’d want your collagen to in the form of collagen peptides, which is more absorbable and usable by the body,” she continues. These products are fully hydrolyzed (meaning less processed), making them highly digestible, as well as dissolvable in both hot and cold liquids.

Bottom line

Before purchasing a collagen supplement, Gorin advises reading the nutrition label in search of that dreaded “s” word. “I would not recommend a collagen powder that contains added sugars or sugar alcohols,” she says. “Instead, naturally sweeten a collagen beverage with unsweetened cocoa powder or cinnamon.”

Upton strongly suggests opting for a product that has undergone third-party testing to ensure safety and efficacy. “It’s also wise to find a collagen formula that provides other nutrients essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails,” she says. “I like Life Extension Hair, Skin&Nails Collagen Plus because it combines collagen peptides with solubilized keratin and biotin, along with being a reputable supplement brand.”

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