Do Collagen Peptide Serums Actually Work? A Dermatologist Weighs In

July 18, 2023

It's impossible to talk about anti-aging skincare without certain ingredients coming up in the conversation—one of which being collagen.

And as it should: collagen makes up 80% of your skin’s dry weight and is what’s responsible for keeping it looking firm, dewey, and youthful (1).

But due to aging and other outside factors (sun exposure, diet, and smoking), our natural collagen breaks down over time. So in an effort to restore that collagen, we turn to whatever we can get our hands on—collagen creams, collagen-stimulating ingredients, collagen supplements—the list goes on.

But which products are really worth your money, and which are just a waste? We turned to the experts to find out.

But First, the Role of Collagen in Your Skin

Before we dive in, there are a few facts you should know about collagen:

  • Often called the building block of the body, collagen is a protein that’s found in nearly every organ and tissue  (skin, tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage, blood vessels, muscles, and organs like the liver, kidneys, and lungs).
  • Collagen makes up one-third of your body’s total protein,  making it the second most abundant substance in your body (right after water).

Collagen proteins have a shape similar to a rope—wound tightly together holding water and moisture as well as providing elasticity to your skin. This is what helps give your skin a nice, even, glowing tone (2).

Healthy Skin Starts Within

Healthy Skin Starts Within

A collagen supplement restores your body’s natural collagen levels so that you can achieve your wellness goals, faster.

Shop Collagen

What Are Collagen Peptide Serums?

Collagen peptide serums are exactly what they sound like—serums infused with collagen. They are applied topically on your skin like any other moisturizer and can cost anywhere from $25 to $150 for a 1.7 oz to 2 oz container.

Myth-Busting Collagen in Topical Skin Care

Now that you understand how collagen works and why it’s so vital for your skin, it probably makes sense why it’s being advertised as a miracle, anti-aging ingredient in creams and serums alike. Theoretically, it adds up. Except for one minor detail…

The outer layer of your skin is called the epidermis. It serves as a protective barrier against your external environment and is incredibly difficult to get through. The second layer of your skin is called the dermis. This is where most collagen is located and needed (3). The mission of your collagen serum is to reach this layer, which is nearly impossible…

Creams formulated with collagen have big, braided molecules. “Simply put, the entire collagen molecule is very, very large, and way too big to penetrate the epidermis of the skin,” explains board-certified dermatologist Jeannette Graf. So collagen that’s applied topically can’t actually penetrate the skin, making it pretty much ineffective as an anti-aging treatment. 

A diagram of the three layers of the skin

But what about creams with hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides

“Hydrolyzed collagen has been broken down into smaller chains of amino acids called peptides,” explains Dr. John Zampella, a board certified dermatologist at NYU Langone Health. Some researchers and dermatologists believe these peptides “can traverse the skin cells in your outer skin barrier and make their way into the dermis, essentially [providing] the building blocks for fibroblasts to make new collagen,” Dr. Zampella says.

And it does seem plausible that applying a cream with smaller collagen peptides could help increase collagen production down the line, but there is currently no scientific research corroborating this theory.

NativeTip: Many skincare products use the terms “collagen” and “collagen peptides” interchangeably, even though they’re not the same thing. Be sure to reach for the one that says “collagen peptides” or “hydrolyzed collagen”—this means that they’ve ben broken down and can now be easily absorbed.

Another concerning factor for these serums is the source of the collagen in them. Historically, collagen featured in skin-care products has been derived from fish, but newer collagen sources are often bio-engineered or from plant sources. So the topical collagen is not the same as the collagen that our bodies naturally produce—it's a synthetic version that isn't readily absorbed by skin.

While topical collagen may feel nice and moisturizing, chances are, it doesn’t offer any more benefits than that.

Healthy Skin Starts Within

Healthy Skin Starts Within

A collagen supplement restores your body’s natural collagen levels so that you can achieve your wellness goals, faster.

Shop Collagen

How to Actually Boost Your Collagen

Topical collagen aims to improve your health from the outside in. To be truly effective, you need an inside-out approach through the use of a high-quality collagen supplement.  This allows your body to actually absorb and use the collagen (since it doesn't have to pass through any tough barriers like the epidermis).

The benefits of supplementing with collagen for skin include the following (4):

  • Plump, fuller skin
  • Reduction of loose skin (increased elasticity)
  • Reduced appearance of fine lines and deep wrinkles
  • Reduced appearance of dark spots
  • Increased hydration of the skin
  • Reduced skin roughness

Several scientific studies attest to this. One double-blind, placebo-controlled study, for instance, included 69 women aged 35 to 55 years old. One group of women supplemented with 2.5 grams of collagen peptides daily, while the other group supplemented with 5 grams daily. The third group was given a placebo. After just four weeks of use, the women who received the hydrolyzed collagen supplements already saw improvements in their skin elasticity and skin moisture (5). 

Needless to say, oral collagen supplementation beats topical collagen serums any day—at least until further research is done.

Other Ways to Protect Your Skin

A collagen supplement is great for replenishing your collagen, but it’s also important to prevent it from breaking down so quickly in the first place. Here are three simple ways to do so…

Use Sunscreen

“The number one thing is sunscreen—you obviously want to prevent your [existing] collagen from being broken down,” says Dr. Zampella. Sun damage and harmful UV rays break down collagen in your skin causing fine lines and wrinkles. Sunscreen provides a barrier against these rays. 

Limit Sugar Intake

Your diet also plays a huge factor in your skin health. Sugar causes cross-linking of collagen, resulting in stiffening and loss of elasticity of our skin. The more sugar we have, the more our skin starts to suffer. 

Think of a banana. If you put a banana out on the counter and unpeel it, what happens in 24-48 hours? It gets soft and brown. What’s happening is the sugars in that banana are reacting with proteins, causing cross-linking and this reaction. The exact same thing happens in our bodies.

Reduce Oxidative Stress

Because oxidative stress is one of the underlying causes of skin aging, antioxidants play a critical role in combatting its damage (6).

The best way to get your antioxidants is through food. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and compounds, along with other phytonutrients that support the health of your body on a cellular level.

Excellent sources of antioxidants include (7):

Healthy Skin Starts Within

Healthy Skin Starts Within

A collagen supplement restores your body’s natural collagen levels so that you can achieve your wellness goals, faster.

Shop Collagen


Currently collagen serums don’t have enough scientific evidence to support their claims of boosting collagen production in your skin. In fact, studies suggest that due to the natural structure of collagen, these creams may not even pass your skin’s protective barrier and reach the layer where collagen is actually produced.

The best way to protect your skin is to start from within. A high-quality oral collagen supplement and a diet low in added sugar and high in antioxidants can help restore your natural glow. 

Kat Kennedy
Article by

Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy is the Fitness and Nutrition Editor at NativePath. With a NASM CPT, NCSF CPT, and NCSF Sports Nutrition Certification, she has a passion for giving people the tools they need to feel healthy, strong, and confident.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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