All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Do you start group chats about the best scalp treatments? Google AHA vs. BHA exfoliants until the wee hours? You're our people. And we know you're going to love The Science of Beauty, a series on Allure.com that goes deep into the how and why behind your favorite products. For even more nerdiness, check out The Science of Beauty podcast, produced by our editors.
Powders, teas, lattes, gummies — ingestible collagen seems to come in every delicious form possible lately. However, the jury is still out on their efficiency, Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara tells Allure. Collagen for skin via serums, moisturizers, and eye creams have filled out shelves, too, but its topical benefits are just as dicey. Board-certified dermatologists shared with Allure why the collagen in skin-care products isn't fighting wrinkles and plumping skin in the ways you think it is.
What exactly is collagen?
To fully understand why implementing collagen for skin, one must understand what collagen is. Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in mammals as the main component of connective tissues. You can find it in almost every part of our bodies: bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, eyes, teeth, and even blood vessels. "It is the scaffold that gives these tissues structure," Gohara explains.
As we age, our bodies start to produce less and less collagen, and the quality of it lowers, too, says board-certified dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, who is based in Birmingham, Alabama. In turn, wrinkles form, and skin sags. (Stress, as well as lifestyle and environmental factors also contribute to collagen's decline, adds cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of BeautyStat.com.)
Topical collagen, on the other hand, is not the same as the collagen our bodies naturally produce — it's a synthetic version that isn't readily absorbed by skin, Gohara says. Historically, collagen featured in skin-care products has been derived from fish, but vegan collagen formulas are popping up on the market. "Newer collagen sources can be bio-engineered or from plant sources," cosmetic chemist Ginger King tells Allure.
What are the benefits of collagen topically?
In theory, the goal of collagen in skin-care products is to strengthen existing collagen and smooth out wrinkles, as well as increase firmness, hydration, and elasticity. However, in practice, all topical collagen truly does is moisturize skin, King says. And even in that case, "sometimes, it may work, other times, it may not," Gohara adds
Collagen molecules — synthetic or otherwise — are just too large to plunge below the surface of skin and stimulate collagen synthesis, Hartman says. As a result, "Topical collagen will do little to improve structure and elasticity," he adds. In fact, no substantial studies have shown topically applying collagen improves the production of collagen and firmness of skin.
What are more effective alternatives to topical collagen?
First and foremost, collagen peptides will do the trick. "Peptides are short chains of amino acids with amino acids being the smallest unit of a protein," New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Cindy Bae told Allure during a mini-episode of The Science of Beauty podcast. Basically, they mimic proteins, like collagen, but their particle size is much smaller. Therefore, collagen peptides can be absorbed by skin, Hartman says.
However, be sure to check the ingredient lists of skin-care products boasting the inclusion of collagen or collagen peptides because they are often called out interchangeably, Gohara says. Thankfully, Hartman shared some sure bets with Allure.
Olay Wrinkle Correction Serum
DHC Super Collagen Supreme
First off, the Olay Wrinkle Correction Serum contains niacinamide alongside collagen peptides. "It's an affordable option for someone looking to add a hydrating moisturizer to their regimen without breaking the bank," he says.
For those with oily skin, Hartman recommends the DHC Super Collagen Supreme. "It has a lightweight finish that absorbs easily with no messy residue," he says.
Retinoids are the ultimate alternative, though, as they help stimulate collagen production, Gohara says. Where studies supporting topical collagen lack, retinoids excel. They are "tried and true scientifically," she adds. We have plenty of retinol-spiked product suggestions (even ones that are under $30) for you to peruse, but if you need a quick pick, the 2020 Best of Beauty Award-winning CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum is always a good idea.
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum
Consider these better additions to your skin-care routine than products that simply tout topical collagen. Your complexion and credit card will thank you.