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Are Collagen Supplements the Secret to Younger-Looking Skin?

Experts weigh in on whether this beauty trend is legit -- or all hype
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These days, it seems like everyone and their mother are tweeting about some natural supplement that has cured their [insert health issue here]. And when it comes to skin, the supplement of the moment just so happens to be collagen. Collagen supplements have become ridiculously popular among the wellness set and regular folks alike, as they're touted to smooth out wrinkles and boost your complexion's radiance. Sounds pretty sweet, right?

Of course, oftentimes these types of products are too good to be true, with nary a study in sight confirming their efficacy. (Seriously, how can anything be that easy?!) So, we asked three experts -- a derm, a nutritionist, and a cosmetic chemist -- to weigh in on the collagen supplement trend. Keep reading to learn everything you've ever wanted to know about collagen -- and whether or not collagen supplements are actually your ticket to healthier skin.

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What Is Collagen, Anyway?
Sure, collagen is a major beauty buzzword -- but what the heck is it? "Collagen is a fibrous protein that is an integral part of the infrastructure of the skin," explains S. Manjula Jegasothy, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at the Miami Skin Institute. Along with elastin (another protein in skin), it's what gives skin its flexibility, strength and suppleness. "Everything you associate with skin's texture has to do with two molecules -- collagen and elastin," says Jegasothy.

Collagen is also found in your bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments, says Meg Hagar, R.D., the founder of No Diet Nutrition in New York City. "It contributes to the structure of organs and connective tissues to protect them," she says. In other words, not only does it play a superimportant role in maintaining your skin's smoothness and plumpness, but it also helps keep your bod strong.

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How Collagen Production Changes With Age
OK, so now that we've convinced you that collagen is pretty freakin' amazing, we're about to rip the rug out from under you. The cold, hard truth is that collagen production starts to decline as early as your mid-twenties, according to Hagar. "That decline contributes immensely to the aging process," she says. Collagen production doesn't just slow down as you get older, though. Collagen fibers also become damaged by environmental factors, like sun exposure, says Kelly Dobos, a cosmetic chemist in Cincinnati -- which can actually accelerate the aging process. Womp, womp.

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What Research Says About Collagen Supplements
The thing is, collagen isn't exactly readily available in food, since we typically don't nosh on bones, tendons, and ligaments, points out Hagar. That's why so many women are turning to collagen supplements these days -- and there's no shortage of options available, ranging from pills to powders to chewables to liquids. The theory: Ingesting collagen promotes glowy, gorgeous skin. But do these supplements actually work -- or are they too good to be true?

There are a few small studies suggesting that collagen supplements may have skin benefits; however, "results are mixed and inconclusive," says Dobos.

Here are some positives: Research published in the journal "Skin Pharmacology and Physiology" found that participants who popped collagen pills for eight weeks showed improvement in skin elasticity compared to those who downed the placebo, with results still visible four weeks later. Another study in the same journal found that subjects who took a collagen supplement had a decrease in eye wrinkles after eight weeks. Meanwhile, results from a small study published in the "Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy" indicated that both collagen and vitamin C may improve skin's hydration and elasticity over time.

Though these results sound promising, Hagar notes that the studies on collagen supplements have been done with people in their late thirties and older, so it's not clear if they'll work for those in their twenties as a prevention method. Plus, it's pretty unlikely that collagen from the supplements even makes it to your skin. "Our stomachs and intestines are lined with different kinds of acids and enzymes that are designed specifically to break down proteins and essentially absorb them into our system," says Jegasothy.

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How to Pick a Collagen Supplement
"Collagen supplements have yet to be proven effective," says Jegasothy. That being said, collagen as an ingredient isn't harmful. So, if you would still like to try supplements, by all means go for it. Still, you can't be 100 percent sure of what you're getting when you buy them. "The supplement industry doesn't do a good job of regulating products," explains Hagar.

While collagen itself is totally safe, it's the other stuff in supplements you should scrutinize. "Pay attention to the inactive ingredients," says Hagar. "Things like cellulose and vegetable oil are OK, but if you start seeing words you can't read, that's probably an indication that the pills are probably not what they're supposed to be and are just full of fillers."

If you're seeking out collagen supplements, don't just hit up your local drugstore. "Get it from a reputable source, like your doctor's office or on a recommendation from a registered dietitian or a dermatologist," says Hagar. Since Verisol supplements were tested in a study, you should be safe with that variety of collagen, she adds. (Try Reserveage Collagen Replenish Powder, $19.99, contains Verisol.)

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