Derms Reveal 6 Things You Should Consider Before Taking Collagen

Prepare for possible gut woes.

A woman with glowing skin looks over flowers. Collagen supplements for skin health can have some sid...
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You probably think of it as the substance that keeps your skin soft and supple — but collagen actually does quite a lot in the body, including cushioning your joints and providing structure for your muscles and bones. If you've wondered about boosting your collagen intake with a supplement, whether it's powdered or a pill, the good thing is that collagen side effects are rare.

"Collagen supplements are generally safe to consume without any serious side effects," Dr. Stacy Chimento M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology, tells Bustle. But it's important to be aware that collagen might not be the wonder you think it is.

Collagen supplements have been marketed as a way to "turn back to the clock," Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at NY Presbyterian Hospital–Weill Cornell Medical Center, tells Bustle. "Some small studies have shown increased elasticity and hydration in the skin after subjects consumed collagen supplements over eight to 12 weeks compared to a control group. However, scientific data is still limited and inconclusive at this point."

Dermatologists often recommend dietary collagen supplements to get a little bounce back in your skin, she says, but it's a good idea to know how they might affect you before you buy them in bulk. Here are six possible side effects of collagen supplements.


Collagen Supplements Can Make You Feel Bloated

"Some people may feel mild bloating or heaviness in their stomach," Dr. Chimento says. As your body's stomach acids break down the collagen in supplements, you might experience some wind, queasiness, or a feeling of weight in your abdomen. This should pass relatively quickly, as it's part of the digestive process.


If You're Allergic To Seafood Or Eggs, They Could Trigger A Reaction

If you've got a food allergy, or keep vegan or vegetarian, collagen supplements might not be for you. "Some are made from seafood or eggs, so if patients have a shellfish or egg allergy, this is something to look out for," Dr. Chimento says. Collagen can be extracted from fish like cod or mackerel, or derived from the membranes of eggshells. If you break out in a rash or have any mild allergic reactions after taking a collagen supplement, take an anti-histamine and consult an allergist. Serious allergic reactions like breathing difficulties mean you need to go to the ER, ASAP. Luckily, there are vegan versions made of ingredients like algae, too.


Unknown Ingredients In Your Supplements Might Cause Problems

"Before you take collagen supplements, it is also important to research the brand you are buying and make sure you are taking something that is quality," Dr. Murphy-Rose says. Collagen supplements are classified as dietary supplements, so they aren't regulated by the FDA, and that could mean it includes ingredients you don't want. Always talk to your doctor before taking a supplement; they may be able to recommend trusted brands that are known to be high-quality.


Diarrhea Or Constipation

Need to go to the bathroom immediately after taking a supplement? The collagen could be to blame. "Diarrhea will usually be listed as a rare side effect," Dr. Chimento says. And collagen might block you up, too. "Too much protein without enough fiber and fluid can lead to constipation," Vanessa Rissetto R.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist and co-founder of nutrition coaching service Culina Health, tells Bustle.

Chalk both of these side effects up to the body attempting to process a lot of collagen proteins. If your gastrointestinal system is having a rough time dealing with your supplements, it could be a sign to take fewer, or stay away from them altogether.


Interactions With Other Drugs

"Patients should consult with their doctor before taking collagen supplements to rule out any interactions with medications or supplements already in your daily regimen," Dr. Chimento says. These interactions tend to be pretty specific. For instance, wound-repair gel containing collagen is known to interact poorly with certain topical anesthetics.

Chatting to your doctor is particularly important if you experience any digestive problems when it comes to collagen supplements. That might prevent the active ingredients in drugs from being fully absorbed in your stomach.


Scientists Don't Know Exactly How Helpful It Is

If you're willing to go through potential bloating and indigestion because you want your skin and bones healthy and happy, unfortunately, scientists don't actually know if that's a side effect of collagen supplements. "It is unclear how much if any of the collagen protein peptides you consume are actually absorbed and utilized by the body in the way we hope," Dr. Murphy-Rose says.

Ideally, the collagen would be broken down into amino acids and then put back together in the form of collagen in skin and bones, but it's not clear if supplements do that. An analysis of 11 studies including 805 people published in Journal of Drugs In Dermatology in 2019 found that, when it comes to helping wound healing, skin aging, elasticity, hydration, and the density of collagen in skin, "preliminary results are promising." But a lot more science has to be done before doctors know how effective collagen supplements are, and what affects their results.

"When consulting with your doctor, it is helpful to discuss your goals and reasoning for taking collagen supplements as these pills may not even significantly impact your look or health," Dr. Chimento says.

If you do want to boost your body's production of collagen, Dr. Murphy-Rose suggests daily use of SPF and vitamin C creams, and making sure you eat plentiful sources of vitamin C, A, copper, and proline. "That will supplement collagen formation," she says. And that means happy skin, muscles, and bones.


Dr. Stacy Chimento M.D.

Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose M.D.

Vanessa Rissetto R.D.

Studies cited:

Bolke, L., Schlippe, G., Gerß, J., & Voss, W. (2019). A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients, 11(10), 2494.

Choi, F. D., Sung, C. T., Juhasz, M. L., & Mesinkovsk, N. A. (2019). Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications. Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD, 18(1), 9–16.