Does it Work? Busting the Japanese Collagen Myth

The C Word. Drugstores, supermarkets, high-end beauty counters: in Japan, everywhere you look, you can buy collagen to improve your skin. From beauty drinks to supplements to topical creams, masks, sprays, gels, collagen is sold to women across Asia as an anti-aging and skin improvement treatment.


I’ve heard of it… but what’s collagen?

Here’s a basic definition (quoted from

Collagen is a protein (a biological polymer consisting of amino acids) that serves as a key structural component of connective tissue such as skin, bones, ligaments, etc. Dermis, the inner layer of the skin, contains large amounts of collagen whose fibers form a supporting mesh responsible for skin’s mechanical characteristics such as strength, texture and resilience.

I wanted to believe I could just drink it and have awesome skin forever. But the more research I did, the less hopeful I became. A few months ago I was doing beauty research in Seoul, and sat down with U.S. trained, board certified dermatologist, Dr. Julius Jon at his med-spa clinic in Gangnam (arguably, the skin-perfecting capitol of the world…). “The collagen industry is 100% marketing,” he told me, “It doesn’t work.” 

fish collagen drink

Your skin can’t eat it, and eating it kills it.

Collagen molecules are too big to penetrate the skin– even if they were broken down to a molecular level, where your skin could absorb them, the most the will do is attract water to temporarily hydrate- collagen doesn’t build collagen. And if you eat it, your digestive enzymes break it down long before it can produce any kind of skin boost. I KNOW I’M SAD TOO.

So ingesting or applying collagen doesn’t work. BUT… boosting collagen does, you just have to do it the right way. topical Vitamin C is one of them. 

Can’t I just drink OJ?

No– I mean sure… Vitamin C is super good for you overall, but drinking or eating it just means it’ll get broken down in your system and used for energy… it won’t reach your skin for the collagen promotion Vitamin C is known for. You gotta slather it on. Here are a few I’m looking to check out. (I added the Sugar lip balm from Fresh yes, because it has Vitamin C, but it’s also just an amazing product– comes in both tinted and un-tinted. LOVE.)

Vitamin C: The Real Collagen Booster

I’m heading to Sephora this week while I’m in SF…  so I’ll post my wonder C product on my Instagram.



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