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Can collagen clear up acne? I tried a 21-day regimen to find out


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Photo: Stocksy/Guille Faingold
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Getting glowy skin is largely an inside job. And if collagen fans are to be believed, incorporating the power protein into a clean, healthy diet is the secret to major radiance.

Collagen’s become such a massive wellness trend (even Jennifer Aniston is on board) that there are now all sorts of ways to get a hit, from capsules and drink powders (usually made from animal bones or fish scales—sorry vegans) to ready-made bone broths and topical skin care products.

Would I really notice a difference in my winter-dull, acne-prone complexion by taking supplements, drinking it, and applying sheet masks?

But what is collagen, exactly? It’s a fibrous substance that gives your skin elasticity and structure, while also keeping your hair, nails, and connective tissue strong. Production in the body starts to tank at around age 30, but some research indicates that collagen supplementation may help put the brakes on the aging process.

So when I was offered a chance to try a 21-day collagen regimen by Taut (a brand already buzzy in Asia and Latin America), I was excited to see if this so-called miracle ingredient could actually live up to the commercial hype surrounding it. Would I really notice a difference in my winter-dull, acne-prone complexion by taking supplements, drinking it, and applying sheet masks?

Here’s what happened to my skin when I put an intensive collagen “transformation program” to the test.

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Photo: StockSnap/Tamara Bells

The regimen

My 21-day “Ultimate Transformation” kit consisted of a three-step collagen system: single-serving collagen drinks, supplements in pill form, and sheet masks.

“We recommend the three-prong approach because when you attack any problem from more than one direction, you see a better result,” says Larry Pederson, Taut’s US distributor. “This produces a more synergistic benefit.”

Although there are no studies that specifically prove three sources of collagen are better than one, ingestible collagen supplements have been shown to boost elasticity and significantly increase skin hydration.

Ingestible collagen supplements have been shown to boost elasticity and significantly increase skin hydration.

Even so, not all dermatologists are convinced that collagen’s the holy grail of skin care. “There’s limited evidence that ingesting collagen through supplements actually improves the collagen content in the skin,” says Jennifer MacGregor, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. “Many of the studies are difficult to interpret, uncontrolled, or use a combination supplements so you can’t isolate which ingredient was beneficial.” She also notes that collagen doesn’t penetrate well into the skin when applied topically, and casts a critical eye upon products making that claim.

In other words, the (medical) jury’s still out. But I’m a big believer that seeing is believing—so I forged ahead with the 21-day program.

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collagen skin
Photo: Stocksy/Guille Faingold

My skin on collagen

I’ll admit, I was nervous about the taste of the drink since it’s formulated with marine collagen and I don’t like seafood. But the stevia and orange juice in the mix masked any fishiness—it actually tasted like Sweet Tarts candy. (Bonus!)

The rest of the regimen starred hydrolyzed marine collagen as well. (“Hydrolyzed” means it’s comprised of low molecular weight peptides that are easily digested and absorbed by your bod.) The sheet mask was really refreshing—it’s also infused with hyaluronic acid and squalene oil for intense moisture, and made my skin feel hydrated and a tad brighter after just 15 minutes. The collagen capsule, packed with antioxidants such as grape seed extract, vitamin C, and alpha-lipoic acid, completed the trifecta.

After an entire week of the nightly drink-mask-pill routine (I really enjoyed leisurely sipping the skin-boosting elixir as I watched Netflix before bed), my hormonal acne was still pretty inflamed and didn’t show any sign of clearing up. It was disheartening, to say the least, although I did notice the rest of my complexion brightening. But around day 13, a breakthrough! I finally saw a major difference in my skin—the blemishes started to heal and my face had a new glow to it.

Around day 13, a breakthrough! I finally saw a major difference in my skin—the blemishes started to heal and my face had a new glow to it.

And then, on day 17, a friend asked: “What serums are you using? Your skin looks really good.” I smiled, especially because I haven’t heard many skin compliments in a while.

As the final day of the collagen program rolled around, I was upset it would be over. It had become a self-care step I looked forward to before I tucked myself in at night. (It also kept my digestion flowing, which was a very welcome, if unexpected, side effect.)

As I checked out my complexion on day 21, I noticed it had changed, even though it happened gradually. My face looked brighter and more hydrated, my skin tone was more even, and my acne scars were slowly starting to heal.

I can’t afford to continue Taut’s regimen indefinitely—it costs $320 for three weeks—and I don’t know whether the collagen was directly responsible for my results, since there were lots of other ingredients in each of the products I tested.

Nevertheless, I’m intrigued. I’m going to start incorporating bone broth into my diet (after all, you can now pick it up at the grocery store), adding collagen supplements to my vitamin rotation, and putting collagen powder in my smoothies, all in hopes of maintaining my newfound glow. Watch out, Jen.

Not all collagen supplements are created equal—here’s how to make sure you’re getting one that’s legit. And if you’re vegan, this ancient plant is a major collagen-boosting powerhouse.