How to Get More Collagen, and Why Your Skin Needs It to Stay Young
By: Alison Moodie
- Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and gives structure to your skin, bones, muscles, and all other connective tissue.
- Your body produces less of it as you get older, which results in fine lines and wrinkles.
- Taking collagen orally can improve skin elasticity, reduce wrinkles, and increase skin moisture.
- Collagen peptides have other benefits including strengthening joints, improving sleep, and accelerating weight loss.
- To boost your collagen stores, eat foods like bone broth and stir collagen peptides powder into your smoothie or Bulletproof Coffee. Skin procedures like LED light therapy and micro-needling also stimulate it.
If you’ve been following the Bulletproof Diet for a while, you know that sipping bone broth and drinking collagen protein powder (aka collagen peptides) makes you look and feel great. Collagen firms your skin and strengthens your bones. No wonder it’s now the drink du jour among Hollywood stars (Jennifer Aniston credits it for her youthful glow). Find out how collagen keeps your skin looking young and all the ways to boost your collagen production.
Related link: Collagen Charcoal Beauty Elixir Recipe
How collagen improves skin, bones, sleep and gut health
What is collagen?
Collagen is a structural protein that acts as the building block for your bones, teeth, muscles, skin, and all other connective tissues. The most abundant protein in the body, collagen makes up more than one-third of your total protein. It’s rich in glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline — the amino acids that help your body make new collagen.
At least 28 different types of collagen exist, but types I, II, and III form the bulk — between 80 and 90 percent — of the collagen in your body. Types I and III provide structure to the skin, muscles, and ligaments, while type II is found in cartilage and the eye. 
Collagen protein powder is collagen that’s been hydrolyzed. The process of hydrolysis breaks down the amino acids in collagen into smaller molecules, making it easier for your body to absorb.
How collagen keeps your skin young
Collagen makes up nearly 80 percent of your skin, and it’s found in the middle layer called the dermis. It works together with another protein called elastin to strengthen the skin and help it snap back into place when stretched.
Collagen production starts to slow down as you get older — and it happens sooner than you’d think. “After the age of 25, we break down more collagen than we make so that’s why we start to see fine lines and wrinkles,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, author of “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist.” From there, you start losing about one percent of your collagen each year. “Under a microscope you see fragmentation of the collagen network in the dermis — this is the hallmark of skin aging.”
“These chew up the collagen and the elastic tissue, and as a result that can cause some sagging and some age-related damage,” says Allan Dattner, MD, holistic dermatologist and author of “Radiant Skin From The Inside Out.”
Taking collagen peptides orally, either in pill or powder form, is an easy way to boost your collagen stores. Research shows that collagen supplements improve skin elasticity, reduce wrinkles, boost skin hydration, and increase the density of fibroblasts — cells in connective tissue that produce the protein.
“Collagen peptides are used as an ingredient in products and have been shown in studies to improve skin barrier function and to help the production of collagen after 8 weeks of intake,” says Jaliman. “The collagen density in the dermis significantly increased so the skin became thicker and the lines were diminished.”
The other benefits of collagen peptides
Stronger joints and bone formation
Collagen peptides strengthen your joints, making them more resilient to injury. Research shows that taking hydrolyzed collagen reduces joint pain and boosts the density of your cartilage, making joints more flexible. A 2008 study found that athletes who took hydrolyzed collagen for six months saw an improvement in joint pain. Other studies have shown that it assists with back and knee pain. Collagen also increases the amount of minerals — namely calcium — in your bones, and helps form new bones.
Glycine — an amino acid in collagen — helps you sleep better and more deeply. Glycine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it calms the nervous system. One study found that people with sleep troubles fell asleep quicker, slept deeper, and experienced less daytime drowsiness when given glycine before bed. In another study, people reported feeling less fatigued and more clear-headed the morning after taking glycine.
Collagen and weight loss
Collagen can help control your weight. Glycine forms muscle by converting glucose into energy. Lean muscle tissue boosts your metabolism, since muscle burns more calories than fat. “Collagen helps to turn your body into a fat-burning machine, even when you’re at rest,” says Vanessa Rissetto, MS, RD.
Boosts gut health
Collagen repairs and strengthens your intestinal and stomach lining, easing leaky gut syndrome and making it easier for your body to absorb nutrients. When you have a leaky gut, toxins, food particles, and bacteria pass through holes in the intestine and enter the bloodstream. This creates inflammation in the body and over time leads to autoimmune disease. Collagen can also reduce acid reflux and GERD thanks to glycine, which helps your body produce more stomach acid, aiding digestion. Since the gut microbiome is connected to a range of health issues including heart disease, depression, and diabetes, a burst of collagen could help heal your gut, and improve your overall health in the process.
Related Link: 4 Ways Collagen Can Make You Look and Feel Younger
The best ways to boost your collagen
Eat foods naturally high in it
“Nutrition is a key factor influencing skin health and consequently its appearance,” says Jaliman. Good sources of collagen include:
– Bone broth (get the recipe here)
– Pork, salmon, and chicken skins
– Non-steak cuts of meat like tendon, tripe, oxtail, and knuckle
– Egg yolk and eggshell membranes
It’s a good idea to get your collagen from a variety of sources. That way you know you’re getting a mix of the different types. For instance, beef is full of type I and type III collagens, which strengthen your skin, bones and gut, while fish consists only of type I. Chicken, on the other hand, provides type II collagen — the main component of the cartilage in your joints.
Take a collagen peptide supplement
Collagen protein powder is typically made from the ground-up skin, bones, and cartilage of cows and fish. Mix one or two scoops of powder into your smoothie, Bulletproof Coffee, soup, or water. Choose a powder that comes from pasture-raised, hormone-free cows or wild-caught fish. You could also try gelatin, which is simply collagen that’s been heated. Unlike collagen powder, gelatin thickens once cooled. Use Bulletproof Collagelatin to make puddings and jellies, or to thicken soups and sauces.
Eat vitamin-C-rich foods
Vitamin C plays plays a vital role in collagen formation. “Skin fibroblasts have an absolute dependence on vitamin C for the synthesis of collagen, and for the regulation of the collagen/elastin balance in the dermis,” wrote researchers in a 2017 literature review.
To get more vitamin C, eat plenty of lightly cooked vegetables like brussels sprouts, spinach, and broccoli. You can also supplement with extra vitamin C, between 1000 and 2000mg a day.
Use a vitamin C serum
Applying vitamin C to the skin can also generate collagen. One study found that applying a cream with a 5% concentration of the vitamin made the skin thicker and reduced the appearance of deep wrinkles. In another study, vitamin C combined with retinol created more collagen in the skin and partly reversed sun damage in postmenopausal women.
Do micro-needling (aka dermarolling)
Micro-needling is a skin procedure that uses tiny needles to prick small holes in the top layer of skin.
“Micro-needling disrupts the collagen and stimulates the body to form new, more youthful collagen fibers,” says Jeanette Jacknin, MD, holistic dermatologist and author of “Smart Medicine For Your Skin.” “The micro-injuries you create stimulates the body’s natural wound-healing processes, resulting in cell turnover as well as preventing signs of aging.”
One study found that nearly 100 percent of patients with deep facial scars showed significant improvement after just three micro-needling sessions.
Expect a small amount of bleeding at the pinprick points and some redness immediately after the procedure.
Some people combine micro-needling with platelet rich plasma (PRP) — a treatment, also known as the vampire facial, that injects your own blood into the skin to stimulate growth. A doctor takes your blood, then separates out the plasma, which is rich in growth factors. The plasma is applied to your face before and after micro-needling to further stimulate the growth factors caused by the punctures. A 2014 study found that micro-needling and PRP improved acne scars more than just micro-needling alone. Kim Kardashian made it mainstream when she filmed herself getting the procedure in all its gory detail.
You can also try a more gentle approach at home with the help of a dermaroller — a small roller with fine needles that you roll all over your face. Keep in mind that over-the-counter dermarollers don’t penetrate as deeply as professional ones — meaning you won’t get the same results. Use a sterilized roller on clean skin, and follow with a vitamin C serum or plant stem cell serum, such as Annmarie Citrus Stem Cell Serum, $63
When shopping for an at-home dermaroller, make sure the company treats their tools with gamma radiation, a sterilization process that ensures they’re contaminant-free.
Related Link: Top Anti-aging Biohacks for Better Skin
Use light therapy
Light therapy — LED and lasers — uses light to penetrate the skin at varying degrees. LED (light-emitting diode) uses different colored lights depending on the condition. Red is used to smooth and plump the skin.
“LED light therapy is one of my favorite treatments to increase collagen production,” says LA facialist Shani Darden, who counts Jessica Alba, Chrissy Teigen, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as clients. “It builds collagen and elastin to help reduce wrinkles and tighten the skin.”
Laser treatments, meanwhile, direct short beams of light onto target areas, like a brown spot or a scar. Doctors use different wavelengths of light depending on the skin complaint. Choose a resurfacing laser, like the Fraxel Dual — it stimulates the fibroblasts in the dermis, causing them to create more collagen and elastin.