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Clearing the confusion: Can collagen cause acne?

What the research says about collagen's skin benefitsThis popular supplement may have considerable benefits for the skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 31, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
Collagen Peptides Support Skin Health
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 31, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Collagen is a key component of connective tissues, such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and skin, and it plays a critical role in supporting strength, flexibility, and elasticity. Its role in skin health and appearance is widely recognized and supported by scientific evidence.

However, amidst the growing popularity of collagen supplements and skincare products, concerns have emerged regarding its association with acne breakouts. So, can collagen cause acne? 

Here, we’ll unravel the confusion surrounding collagen and its association with acne, sharing scientific evidence that will help you decide whether or not this supplement is right for you. Let’s dive in!

What is collagen peptide?

Collagen is a protein that helps give our body structure. Along with its fellow protein, elastin, it helps give our skin its elasticity. In the skin, it helps maintain strength and stability.¹ And it’s the most plentiful protein in our body, helping to build and maintain the structure of our bodies (bones included).²

Peptides and proteins are both made up of the same building blocks: amino acids. A peptide contains 2 to 50 amino acids and are the building blocks for proteins.³

Collagen peptides (also known as hydrolyzed collagen) are broken-down pieces of collagen proteins.⁴ They’re often sold as a powder-based dietary supplement that you can mix into whatever you’re already drinking—or eating! 

The amino acids in collagen peptides and their impact on skin health 

Collagen is made up of a high concentration of three main amino acids, including glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline which form its classic triple-helix structure.⁵ These amino acids work together to support overall health and wellness, with a particular emphasis on promoting healthy skin by:

  • Providing structural support by playing crucial roles in the formation and stability of collagen fibers. Collagen is the main component of the extracellular matrix, which is responsible for maintaining the structure and integrity of the skin.⁶ It forms a network of fibers that support the epidermis (outer layer) and may make up more that 70% of the dry weight of the normal human dermis layer.⁷ Collagen gives the skin a firm and plump appearance.

  • Promoting collagen synthesis and repair. Collagen peptides may increase collagen synthesis.⁸ This enhanced cellular activity promotes the production of new collagen fibers, supporting collagen repair and regeneration in the skin. 

  • Improving skin firmness. By replenishing collagen levels and promoting collagen synthesis, the amino acids in collagen peptides may help strengthen the skin's structural foundation. This improves skin firmness and gives it a more youthful appearance.

  • Amelioration of UV-induced photoaging. Collagen peptides may exhibit photoprotective effects, which can help counter the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that typically generates harmful free radicals in the body. Some collagen peptides have antioxidant activity that can neutralize these free radicals and help impede the signs of aging such as wrinkles and fine lines. They also help protect against excessive production of melanin, which contributes to sunspots.⁹

It's important to note that the effectiveness of collagen peptides on skin health may vary by person, and results may be influenced by factors such as age, genetics, and lifestyle. Consulting with a healthcare professional or dermatologist can provide personalized recommendations for addressing specific skin concerns and determining the most suitable approaches to optimize skin health.

Can collagen actually cause acne?

Donna McIntyre, a nurse practitioner at Curology, advises, “While there is some anecdotal evidence of collagen supplements and topicals causing acne in some individuals, no concrete scientific evidence supports this claim.” Acne is primarily influenced by factors such as excess sebum production, clogged pores, bacterial overgrowth, and inflammation.

Collagen, on the other hand, is a protein that provides structural support to various tissues, including the skin. Therefore, it is not inherently linked to acne development. It is also essential to consider other factors that contribute to acne, which include:

  • Additional ingredients. Some collagen supplements or skincare products may contain other ingredients that can clog pores or cause irritation in some individuals. It's essential to check the ingredient list and be aware of any potential allergens or comedogenic substances that might contribute to acne development.

  • Sensitivity and allergies. While collagen is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, some individuals may have specific allergies or sensitivities to collagen or the sources from which it is derived (e.g., bovine, marine, or porcine). For example, individuals with a known allergy to fish may experience an allergic reaction when consuming collagen peptides derived from marine sources.¹⁰

  • Lifestyle factors. Acne is a complex condition influenced by various factors, such as genetics, hormones, diet, and skincare routines.¹¹ While collagen peptides may benefit skin health, it's essential to consider other lifestyle factors and maintain a comprehensive approach to managing acne, including proper skincare, a balanced diet, and lifestyle habits that support overall well-being. 

Collagen is a fundamental component of the skin's structure, and its production naturally declines with age. Collagen supplementation, including collagen peptides, may help support overall skin health and improve certain skin conditions. 

By promoting skin elasticity and hydration, collagen peptides may indirectly contribute to healthier-looking skin, potentially reducing the appearance of acne scars and improving overall skin texture.

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How to promote collagen growth in the skin?

Collagen molecules in skincare products are too large to be absorbed into the skin. This means that topical collagen products are likely of no benefit.¹² Instead, seek out skincare products featuring the following two collagen-stimulating ingredients: vitamin C and tretinoin.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C treats firmness and wrinkles by acting as a shield against aging. Vitamin C also promotes collagen growth, fights wrinkles, and helps clean up the damage from UV rays.¹³ It's a great option if you’re building your skincare routine with fully over-the-counter products, as opposed to ones prescribed by your dermatology provider.

Tretinoin

Tretinoin is a prescription-strength retinoid that’s often considered the gold standard in stimulating collagen production, treating and helping prevent wrinkles, and even clearing up acne.¹⁴ It’s only available through a prescription, but if you can’t get to an in-person doctor, teledermatology (like Curology) is an option!

Personalized skin care with Curology 

Whether you're struggling with acne, invested in fighting the signs of aging, or simply want to take better care of your skin, investing in a personalized skincare routine can help you achieve your desired results.

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FAQs

What are the signs that indicate it's time to consider including oral collagen for skin benefits?

Whether you should include oral collagen for skin benefits depends on various factors, including skin concerns, goals, and personal preferences. If you’re experiencing the following conditions, you might consider collagen:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles. Collagen plays a vital role in maintaining the skin's structure and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.¹⁵ 

  • Loss of elasticity and firmness: If your skin has become less firm and elastic over time, oral collagen may help restore lost elasticity and promote a more youthful appearance.¹⁶

  • Skin dryness and dehydration: Collagen helps retain moisture in the skin, so if you have dehydrated skin, incorporating a collagen supplement into your routine may aid in increasing hydration levels and moisture.¹⁷

  • Uneven skin tone or texture: Collagen can promote a smoother and more even skin texture. If you have a roughness to your skin, collagen supplements may help refine the skin's surface.¹⁸

Are collagen peptides considered safe for daily use?

Collagen peptides are generally considered safe and well-tolerated.¹⁹ However, it's worth mentioning that collagen peptides are a supplement and not a substitute for a balanced diet. It's always a good idea to obtain nutrients, including amino acids, from various food sources to ensure you get a wide range of essential nutrients for overall health.

Consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietician before starting any new supplement regimen, including collagen peptides, to ensure they are appropriate for you. They can provide personalized advice based on your needs and help you make informed decisions.

Does eating collagen benefit the skin?

In 2018, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on edible collagen found that it can potentially be used to improve skin hydration, elasticity, and wrinkling.²⁰ In addition to collagen supplements, you can obtain the benefits of collagen naturally from protein-rich foods like meat, cheese, eggs, and beans.

By including these foods in your regular diet, you can naturally support your body's collagen production and enjoy the advantages of collagen. A balanced and nutritious diet and a healthy lifestyle can contribute to overall skin, joint, and tissue health.

If you think you’d benefit from extra collagen helping, talk to your in-person medical provider about what makes sense for you! And be sure to practice sun safety to help protect your skin from UV damage, which can lead to collagen loss and signs of premature aging.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Al-Atif, H. Collagen Supplements for Aging and Wrinkles: A Paradigm Shift in the Fields of Dermatology and Cosmetics. Dermatology Practical and Conceptual. (2022, January 1).

  2. Khatri, M. et al. The effects of collagen peptide supplementation on body composition, collagen synthesis, and recovery from joint injury and exercise: a systematic reviewAmino Acids. (2021, September 07).

  3. Forbes, J. and Krishnamurthy, K. Biochemistry, PeptideStatPearls. (2022, August 29).

  4. León-López, A., et al. Hydrolyzed Collagen-Sources and Applications. Molecules. (2019, November 7).

  5. Khatri, M. et al. The effects of collagen peptide supplementation on body composition, collagen synthesis, and recovery from joint injury and exercise: a systematic reviewAmino Acids. (2021, September 07).

  6. Khatri, M. et al. The effects of collagen peptide supplementation on body composition, collagen synthesis, and recovery from joint injury and exercise: a systematic reviewAmino Acids. (2021, September 07).

  7. Do-Un, K., et al. Oral Intake of Low-Molecular-Weight Collagen Peptide Improves Hydration, Elasticity, and Wrinkling in Human Skin: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Nutrients. (2018, June 26).

  8. Khatri, M., et al. The effects of collagen peptide supplementation on body composition, collagen synthesis, and recovery from joint injury and exercise: a systematic review. Amino Acids. (2021, September 7).

  9. Li, C., et al. Recent progress in preventive effect of collagen peptides on photoaging skin and action mechanism. Food Science and Human Wellness. (2021, November 2021).

  10. Kobayashi, Y., et al. Allergy to fish collagen: Thermostability of collagen and IgE reactivity of patients' sera with extracts of 11 species of bony and cartilaginous fish. Allergology International. (October 2016).

  11. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: Who Gets and Causes. (n.d.).

  12. Aguirre-Cruz, G., et al. Collagen Hydrolysates for Skin Protection: Oral Administration and Topical Formulation. Antioxidants. (February 2020).

  13. Pullar, J.M., et al. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients. (2017, August 12).

  14. Schmidt, N. and Gans, E.H. Tretinoin: A Review of Its Anti-Inflammatory Properties in the Treatment of Acne. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (November 2011). 

  15. Al-Atif, H. Collagen Supplements for Aging and Wrinkles: A Paradigm Shift in the Fields of Dermatology and Cosmetics. Dermatology Practical and Conceptual. Ibid.

  16. Bolke, L., et al. A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. Ibid.

  17. Bolke, L., et al. A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. (2019, October 17).

  18. Himeno, A., et al. Effect of Reducing Pigmentation by Collagen Peptide Intake: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Dermatology and Therapy. (June 2022).

  19. Bianchi, F.M., et al. Evaluation of the Efficacy of a Hydrolyzed Collagen Supplement for Improving Skin Moisturization, Smoothness, and Wrinkles. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (March 2022).

  20. Kim, D-U., et al. Oral Intake of Low-Molecular-Weight Collagen Peptide Improves Hydration, Elasticity, and Wrinkling in Human Skin: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Nutrients. (2018, June 26).

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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