Collagen is a protein found in cartilage, bone, tendons and skin.

Changes related to collagen production that go along with aging help explain why younger people typically have fresher, tighter-looking skin than older people, according to The Washington Post.

Today, there are many collagen supplements available that are said to specifically increase skin, nail and hair health and help older people appear younger.

What does science say about collagen supplementation?

In a study published by the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, researchers found the short- and long-term use of collagen supplements to be promising. There was an increase in skin elasticity, hydration and wound healing, and no adverse events were reported.

According to The Washington Post, however, the research that comes out of that study and others is affected by confusing study design. The article said the studies lack objective evidence or that funding is from the individuals selling collagen products. There’s no evidence that supplements will stop wrinkles from occurring, the Post reported.

It’s also unclear whether collagen supplements actually increase the supply of collagens in the body. When the protein enters the body, it is broken down into amino acids. These amino acids are then absorbed and utilized by the body to create new proteins. The body then decides what to use the amino acids for, which is not always to make more collagen, per the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.

Although collagen supplements may not actually work for skin and beauty health, they may help with joint pain. Some studies found that these supplements improve symptoms in individuals with osteoarthritis, a disease where joint cartilage weakens over time, according to a study published in the journal Nutrients.

But The Washington Post article questioned those studies, too.

If collagen supplements aren’t fully supported, what should I use?

If you want to avoid the uncertainty around collagen supplements but still improve your skin, what products should you use?

Temitayo Oguleye, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at Penn Medicine, told The Washington Post that “(sunscreen and retinoids) have the strongest data and are relatively easy and inexpensive to do.”

Sunscreen prevents premature aging in addition to skin cancer. Putting sunscreen on every day, and maybe applying it multiple times a day if swimming or sweating, is one of the best things to do for healthy skin, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Retinoids, meanwhile, improve collagen production, wrinkling, texture and elasticity, per a study published in Nature.

Besides skin care products, avoiding smoking and pollution and getting beauty sleep impact the appearance of skin and indirectly impact collagen integrity, according to The Washington Post.

Dietary approaches might also be better for a natural option, according to Healthline.

Examples of collagen-rich foods include:

  • Bone broth.
  • Chicken.
  • Fish.
  • Egg whites.
  • Citrus fruits.
  • Berries.
  • Tropical fruits.
  • Garlic.
  • Leafy greens.
  • Beans.
  • Cashews.
  • Tomatoes.
  • Bell peppers.

Before trying to increase collagen, consider talking to a doctor to understand health risks.