If you watch Japanese TV, you will come across variety shows or commercials almost daily that praise some food as being “rich in collagen” (“コラーゲンたっぷり”). The target of these ads are invariably women, who are lead to believe that since collagen serves an important function in skin cells, that somehow these foods will make you look younger or more beautiful, even if the claim is not explicitly stated most of the time. Beyond Japan there are many consumers who use skin creams that contain collagen, with similar expectations.
The simple fact is, the body is not able to directly reuse any collagen supplied either as food or applied topically as a cream. If you buy this stuff, you’re wasting your money. If you’re selling this stuff, you’re misleading people.
Collagen is a type of protein that is manufactured inside cells from amino acids, the simple building blocks that all proteins are made from. A healthy, balanced diet that provides sufficient protein from whatever source is all it takes to enable collagen production. It’s no easier for the body to make collagen from amino acids from collagen-rich food than from the same amino acids from say, yoghurt, beans or chicken. The easiest way to help your skin is get enough hydration and not to smoke. Vitamin C is important too for collagen production, so eat enough vegetables and fruit.
In the case of creams, the body is not able to use the collagen at all because it’s not being digested into amino acids for rebuilding and it’s too bulky to pass cell membranes directly.
These facts are widely know. Any skin doctor will be happy to confirm them. Yet the lure of profits is too tempting for the public deception to stop.