Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/4/2021
If you’ve looked into natural ingredients for healthier skin, you’ve undoubtedly come across blog posts, videos and other content recommending collagen.
As a vital structural protein, collagen plays a key role in promoting the growth and maintenance of healthy skin, muscles, tendons and bones.
Collagen is available as a dietary supplement and as an active ingredient in numerous skin and joint health supplements. It’s also found in many natural foods, including fruits, animal products, leafy green vegetables and others.
Below, we’ve covered the basics of why collagen is such an important structural protein, as well as the benefits it can have for your skin, bones and connective tissue.
We’ve also shared the 12 best sources of collagen and its precursors, from natural ingredients to collagen supplements.
Finally, we’ve covered what you can do to minimize collagen damage, from specific foods that are best avoided to collagen-damaging habits.
Collagen is a protein that’s abundant in your body. In fact, experts think that collagen makes up about 30 percent to 40 percent of all of the proteins of your body.
Your body uses collagen as one of several building blocks for creating and repairing your skin, muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones.
Collagen provides your tissue with structural support. You can think of it like a firm, natural type of glue that gives your skin and connective tissue its strength, shape and ability to maintain and repair itself.
There are 28 different types of collagen. However, four types — collagen types I, II, III and IV — account for the vast majority of collagen that’s found in your body.
Type I collagen is by far the most abundant form of collagen in your body. In fact, more than 90 percent of the collagen in the human body is type I collagen.
Gram for gram, type I collagen offers greater strength than steel.
Type I collagen is primarily found in your skin, tendons, bone, ligaments, dentin (the inner tissue that makes up your teeth) and interstitial tissue.
Type II collagen is less abundant than type I collagen. It’s found in the cartilage that covers and protects the ends of your bones, as well as the clear tissue inside your eyes.
Type III collagen is found inside your skin, muscle tissue and blood vessels. Type IV collagen is found inside the surfaces of your organs, your muscle tissue and your nerve cells.
Our full guide to the types of collagen provides more information on how the numerous collagen types differ, as well as the unique role each type of collagen plays in your body.
Because collagen is an essential structural protein in so many types of different tissue, it plays a major role in your physical health and wellbeing.
Maintaining a healthy level of collagen production helps to keep your skin firm and elastic, your bones strong and your connective tissue supportive. Put simply, collagen holds the many parts of your body together, allowing them to function properly.
From a cosmetic standpoint, collagen plays a key role in your skin maintaining a youthful appearance.
As you get older, your body’s ability to produce collagen decreases. Experts believe that from the age of 20, the body produces about one percent less collagen every year, resulting in the visible thinning and sagging of the skin that occurs with age.
While eating a collagen-rich diet may not reverse the signs of aging, it ensures that your body has the resources it needs to produce collagen and put it to use as effectively as it can.
Dietary sources of collagen come in two primary types — foods that contain collagen, and foods that may help to stimulate the synthesis of collagen within your body.
Most foods that contain collagen are meats or other animal products. These are rich in proteins, including collagen itself, as well as the amino acids for skin or body to synthesize its own collagen.
Others are rich in important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, which plays a major role in the collagen synthesis process.
We’ve listed 12 sources of collagen below, along with how each source can increase collagen in your body and promote stronger, healthier skin.
Chicken is rich in collagen. In fact, some collagen supplements are produced using connective tissue from chicken cartilage.
While all chicken meat contains some collagen, areas with lots of connective tissue tend to be the highest in collagen content.
Chicken skin is also a rich source of collagen, making it worth including in meals if you’re aiming to maximize your dietary collagen intake.
Bone broth is a stock that’s produced by boiling animal connective tissue and bones. It’s rich in nutrients and has a powerful flavor, making it a favorite of natural health enthusiasts and chefs looking to prepare rich, tasty sauces alike.
While research suggests that bone broth isn’t as dependable as a source of collagen as its fans may claim, it’s rich in amino acids that may play a role in collagen production.
You can make your own bone broth at home using bones and connective tissue that are rich in collagen, such as marrow, knuckles, or feet. You can also get bone broth in powder or capsule form online and from health food stores.
Eggs, especially egg whites, are rich in proline, an amino acid that’s required for the synthesis of collagen within your body.
Eggs also contain other important amino acids involved in collagen production, such as glycine, lysine and others.
Beyond their effects on collagen, eggs are rich in other nutrients that support your heart, bones and muscle tissue.
As a versatile, easy-to-prepare ingredient that can be added to almost every type of dish, eggs are a good option for boosting your collagen production and protein intake.
Like other animal proteins, fish are an excellent source of collagen. Research shows that most fish muscle tissue — the meat that’s used to prepare fish dishes — has a collagen content of 0.2 percent to 1.4 percent.
Squid is even richer in protein, with squid mantle (the body area of the squid) containing 2.6 percent collagen.
Although the meat of fish is a good source of collagen, fish skin is by far the most collagen-rich part of most fish.
In fact, research shows that collagen represents approximately 70 percent of the dry weight of many types of fish skin.
In many types of fish, this is also where you’ll find the greatest concentrations of other important nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids.
To boost your collagen intake, try replacing other animal protein sources with fish, squid or other types of seafood once or twice per week.
To maximize the collagen and omega-3 content, make sure to leave the skin on.
Beans are rich in proteins, including several important amino acids that are involved in collagen synthesis.
Common amino acids found in beans include lysine, leucine and valine. Of these, lysine plays a key role in the synthesis of collagen within your body.
Beyond helping to create collagen, beans offer numerous other health benefits. They’re a great source of protein, rich in several antioxidants and a convenient low glycemic index alternative to white rice, bread and other carbohydrates.
Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, swiss chard, collard greens and lettuce are some of the healthiest foods around.
They’re low in calories, rich in vitamins and minerals and a useful source of dietary fiber.
While most leafy green vegetables don’t contain collagen, many contain chlorophyll — a pigment that’s found in green plants.
Research has found that chlorophyll might help to stimulate procollagen production and improve the texture and appearance of skin.
Like leafy greens, avocados are healthy fruits that deserve a place in just about every diet. Well known as a great source of healthy fats, avocados are also rich in vitamins and helpful nutrients such as potassium and fiber.
While avocados don’t contain collagen, they’re rich in several nutrients that play important roles in collagen synthesis.
One of these is vitamin C. The average avocado contains approximately 10mg of vitamin C, or about one-fifth of the recommended daily intake for adults.
Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis, the process through which collagen is created within the skin.
Avocados also contain several other important nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, niacin and others.
Just like leafy greens, avocados are easy to add to your diet as a salad ingredient, on toast or simply on their own.
Much like avocados, berries contain relatively little collagen, but they’re rich in vitamin C that’s vital for collagen synthesis.
Strawberries are a particularly healthy source of vitamin C, with 58.8mg per 100 grams. Other good berries for maximizing your vitamin C intake include blueberries, which contain 9.7mg of vitamin C per 100 grams, and raspberries, which contain 26.2mg per 100 grams.
Beyond their vitamin C content, berries are also rich in flavonoids, stilbenes, tannins and other antioxidants that may help to improve your general health and reduce the effects of aging.
Citrus fruits, such as orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit, are excellent sources of the vitamin C that your body needs to produce collagen and repair skin.
Orange is a particularly good source of vitamin C. A single orange contains 71mg of vitamin C. Lemons, limes and grapefruits are also rich in vitamins that promote collagen production.
Like most fruits and vegetables, red peppers don’t contain much collagen themselves, but they do contain nutrients that help to promote collagen production.
One of these nutrients is lycopene, which is involved in protecting against UV damage. Since exposure to UV damages collagen, eating a diet that contains lycopene-rich foods may help to protect against collagen damage and depletion in your skin.
Tomatoes are also a rich source of lycopene, which can help to provide protection against UV radiation and may prevent collagen damage.
Since tomatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, they might also help to promote collagen synthesis in the skin.
While it’s generally best to get collagen through your diet, arguably the most convenient way to boost your collagen intake is by using a collagen supplement.
Most collagen supplements come in powder form, such as hims’ Collagen Protein Powder. They typically use bovine or marine collagen to promote healthy muscle recovery after workouts and support your body’s connective tissue.
Mixed into a smoothie, tea or your morning coffee, a collagen supplement makes it easy to get the collagen your body needs for better skin and optimal physical performance.
Our guide to the key benefits of hydrolyzed collagen goes into more detail about how collagen supplements work for joint health, muscle mass, heart function and more.
Eating a collagen-promoting diet is a great way to increase your body’s collagen production and enjoy healthier skin, bones, muscles and connective tissue.
However, certain foods and lifestyle factors can damage your body’s ability to produce collagen, potentially affecting your skin and general health.
Try to avoid the following collagen-damaging foods and habits:
Eating simple sugars and refined carbohydrates
Eating a diet high in simple sugars to a process called glycation, in which collagen fibers become damaged and the skin becomes worn and less able to repair itself. Try to limit your consumption of sugar-rich foods, such as sugary drinks, desserts, candy and processed snacks. Instead, focus on eating a diet that’s built around complex carbs, proteins and healthy fruits and vegetables.
Experts have long known that smoking damages skin. Over the last 20 years, has started to show that people who smoke produce lower amounts of collagen than non-smokers. Other has found that smoking also degrades the elastic fibers in skin. If you’re a smoker, try to quit. Beyond improving your collagen production,
Spending too much time in the sun
While getting a small amount of sunshine is vital for vitamin D production, spending too much time in sunlight can your skin to an excessive amount of UV radiation and damage its ability to produce collagen. Try to limit the amount of time you spend in the sun. When you do spend time outdoors, apply a broad-spectrum, SPF 30+ sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your skin from UV radiation.
Collagen and nutrients that promote collagen are found in numerous foods, from animal sources such as chicken, beef broth and fish to beans, citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables.
While collagen-rich foods won’t necessarily reverse the signs of aging, they may help your body to produce the collagen it needs to maintain your skin, bones and connective tissue.
You can learn more about the most effective ways to increase your collagen intake in our guide to how collagen supplements work.
You can also learn more about taking care of your skin and preventing the signs of aging in our full guide to the best anti-aging skincare for men.