Collagen supplements: facts and myths about the health fad

Courtesy of Ben McLeod on Unsplash

Taylor Maerz

Gaining recent popularity on social media apps like TikTok and Instagram, collagen supplements are being chewed, swallowed and snorted – yep, you read that correctly, snorted.

Influencers promote these supplements promising longer hair, stronger nails and radiant skin, but why are people so eager to add this supplement to their diet? It may be because influencers are building awareness of the product by promoting it on social media. 

Lifestyle and beauty influencer Jenny Peterson is a major advocate for supplementing collagen powder into her diet. Co-founder of Yu Collagen, she posts photos of her skin before and after using this powder consistently, showing a decrease in rosacea and enflamed acne on her skin.

Young adults on social media who seek cosmetic benefits are willing to purchase supplements when they see the promised results through someone they follow and trust. In fact, more than 50 percent of 18 to 24-year-old women are seeking an anti-aging product according to a study conducted by The Benchmarking Company. This desire has led the collagen market to be estimated worth $16.7 billion by 2028, almost a 9 percent growth from 2020 according to a Grand View Research report.

People want results, and they want them organically. If achieving glowing skin is as easy as taking a pill every morning, why not try? Here’s the kicker though: collagen supplements are not required to be FDA approved, meaning anyone can put a supplement on the market claiming to provide similar benefits to collagen. 

“FDA has no say what goes in these powders,” says Rachel Voet, Director of Sports Nutrition for the Iowa State football team. “Maybe your collagen powder has a little bit of collagen, but then also has maltodextrin which is essentially a [filler] carb mixed in.”

Third-party companies like United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) exist to test supplements on the market and provide a seal of reliability. The supplement that Peterson promotes, Yu Collagen, does not claim to be third-party tested.

Because there are no requirements to enter the market, promotion of collagen has skyrocketed. There are 9.4 million posts under the hashtag “#collagen.” Brands like Sugarbear Hair Vitamins have used this to their advantage. They currently have 170 thousand posts under the hashtag “#sugarbearhair.”

Anna Ellefson, a senior studying psychology at Iowa State, has taken Sugarbear Hair Vitamins. She wanted thicker hair, so she purchased these collagen gummies that are endorsed by the Kardashian and Jenner sisters. 

“[Sugarbear vitamins] did grow my hair really fast. It didn’t necessarily make it thicker, but it did make it healthier… It was too expensive though, so I moved to Spring Valley [collagen pills].”

Neither of these brands are third-party tested.

Abbey Bendezu, a junior at the University of Iowa studying Health and Human Physiology, takes Vital Protein collagen powder.

“Maybe my brain is just telling me that I’m beginning to see changes but it’s not actually happening. I’m hoping that those changes are happening. I do think my skin has been a little clearer,” Bendezu said. 

Vital Proteins is an NSF-certified brand.

These supplements are showing results for most who take them over time. However, it could be based on a placebo effect, like Bendezu said. They do not provide immediate results- influencers and the average person included. 

“The general population gets confused about this because they want immediate results, and a lot of these supplements promote immediate results even though it is going to take time,” Voet says. “That’s one of my biggest problems with influencers out there that are doing all these weird things. They are not getting it all right. Little things are missing.”

Taking a third-party certified collagen supplement consistently and correctly is the way to take on this trend effectively. Collagen is best absorbed with Vitamin C, such as orange juice.

“If someone wants to take a supplement, then cool, but just make sure you understand the full facts about it and why you are taking it,” Voet says.