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Collagen—the (Possibly) Anti-Aging Wonder That’s Everywhere

You’ve probably heard people talk about the importance of protein forever—but it’s not all about eating enough legumes. Collagen is actually the most populous form of protein in your body, but it’s also a pretty tricky substance to understand. Why should you care? Well, to quote A Star Is Born, it’s key to everything—hair, body, face—and it’s having quite the moment.

The Origin Story

We’re not scientists, so we’ll keep our explanation of the structure of collagen basic: It is made up of bundles of amino acids that, on their own, are gelatinous—and, in our bodies, act as connective tissues in joints and are a big part of keeping skin elastic and plump. While collagen was once injected, that’s fallen out of favor—instead, studies have trended in favor of consuming collagen-rich foods or supplements to get that springy, hydrated look and improved blood flow throughout the body. Collagen naturally occurs in eggs, animal tissues and bones, and plants like aloe, nettles, and hawthorn.

The Rise to Fame

Long-term studies, like one done in 2006 by scientists at the University of Michigan, suggested that collagen might be the key to halting aging in its tracks—it turns out that around age 20, we start losing a small amount of our naturally occurring collagen each year, which leads to wrinkles and sagging. In response, collagen injections were invented and popularized in eighties dermatology, and with them came collagen-rich protein powders for gym rats. In the mid-2000s, it was also hailed as a great topical option—though many contend it’s too large a particle to be absorbed through the skin. But then the mighty little protein found a recipe for mainstream success in the form of the bone-broth craze. Touted as a cure-all for sickness, soreness, and dryness, bone broth is simply a stock made with whole bones, cooked slowly to render the collagen-rich marrow for easy consumption. From there, the enthusiasm for ingestible collagen only picked up speed—with lots of companies finding ways to capitalize on the hunger for a health silver bullet that would help stall everything from skeletal frailty to brittle nails to sagging skin. It certainly doesn’t hurt that always-glowing Jennifer Aniston and Busy Philipps are fans.

4 Ways to Explore More

  1. Read more about the powers of this naturally occurring protein (and how to make the most of it) in Collagen Decoded: A Practical Guide to the Incredible Health Benefits of Collagen.
  2. For a low-stakes way to see if topical collagen works for you, try making your own fruit-filled plumping masks at home.
  3. Research collagen supplements to find the best one to try—the most popular format is powder, but you can also try capsules, too.
  4. Not in the mood to cook up your own time-intensive bone broth? You can order a delicious batch online from NYC’s Brodo, which was originally developed by a chef on a quest for better health.