Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, while gelatin is a cooked form of collagen. As such, they share multiple characteristics and benefits (1, 2).

However, their uses and applications vary significantly. Therefore, they may not be used interchangeably, and you may have to choose one over the other depending on your needs.

This article reviews collagen and gelatin’s main differences and similarities to help you decide which to choose.

As the most abundant protein in your body, collagen accounts for approximately 30% of your protein mass. It’s mostly found in connective tissues like skin, joints, bones, and teeth, and it provides structure, strength, and stability to your body (1, 3, 4, 5).

On the other hand, gelatin is a protein product created by partially degrading collagen using heat — for example by boiling or cooking animal skin or bones (2, 6).

These similar proteins have virtually identical nutritional profiles, as is demonstrated in the following table, which compares 2 tablespoons (14 grams) of dried and unsweetened collagen and gelatin (7, 8):

CollagenGelatin
Calories5047
Protein12 grams12 grams
Carbs0 grams0 grams
Fat0 grams0 grams

As you can see, both collagen and gelatin comprise almost 100% protein and provide practically the same amount of this nutrient per serving.

They also share similar compositions of amino acids, which are organic compounds known as the building blocks of protein — with glycine being the most abundant type (9).

On the other hand, they may differ slightly depending on the animal source and method used to extract the gelatin. Plus, some commercial gelatin products contain added sugar, artificial colors, and flavors, which can significantly affect the nutritional profile (9).

Summary

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, while gelatin is a degraded form of collagen. Thus, they have virtually the same nutritional composition.

Collagen and gelatin are widely used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, mostly due to their beneficial effects on skin and joint health (9).

May help reduce signs of skin aging

Collagen and gelatin may improve signs of skin aging, such as dryness, scaling, and a loss of elasticity that results from a reduction in your skin’s collagen content (10).

Studies show that the intake of collagen and collagen peptides — a degraded form of collagen — may boost skin collagen production and provide anti-aging effects (4, 10, 11, 12).

For instance, two human studies in which participants took 10 grams of an oral collagen supplement daily found a 28% improvement in skin moisture and 31% reduction in collagen fragmentation — an indicator of collagen quality loss — after 8 and 12 weeks, respectively (13).

Similarly, in a 12-month animal study, taking fish-derived gelatin improved skin thickness by 18% and collagen density by 22% (14).

What’s more, studies show that collagen may increase levels of hyaluronic acid, which is another essential component of skin structure, suggesting a potential beneficial effect against ultraviolet-B-induced skin damage (4, 15, 16).

Lastly, a 6-month study in 105 women found that a daily dose of 2.5 grams of collagen peptides significantly improved skin appearance by reducing cellulite, although more research is needed to confirm this effect (17).

May improve joint health

Supplementing with collagen and gelatin may help treat exercise-induced joint wear and osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that can cause pain and disability.

Research suggests that these proteins may improve joint health by accumulating in cartilage after ingestion, thus reducing pain and stiffness (18, 19).

For example, in a 70-day study in 80 people with osteoarthritis, those who took 2 grams of a gelatin supplement per day experienced significant improvements in pain and physical activities, compared with those in a control group (20).

Similarly, in a 24-week study in 94 athletes, those taking a 10-gram collagen supplement daily showed significant improvements in joint pain, mobility, and inflammation, compared with those in a control group (21).

Other potential benefits

Collagen and gelatin have a few more health benefits in common, including:

  • Antioxidant activity. Both collagen and gelatin possess antioxidant capacities and fight the negative effects that free radicals can have on aging and overall health (9).
  • Improved gut health. Collagen and gelatin may improve the gut’s lining. Damage to the gut lining can otherwise lead to leaky gut syndrome and other autoimmune conditions (22, 23).
  • Improved bone health. Supplementing with degraded collagen, such as gelatin, may increase bone mineral density and bone formation while reducing bone degradation (24).
Summary

Collagen and gelatin may improve skin, joint, gut, and bone health, which is why they’re widely used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

Most of collagen and gelatin’s differences have to do with their chemical structures.

In its natural form, collagen is formed by a triple helix comprised of 3 chains with over 1,000 amino acids each (1).

In contrast, as a degraded form of collagen, gelatin has undergone partial hydrolyzation or breakage — meaning that it’s comprised of shorter amino acid chains (2).

This makes gelatin easier to digest than pure collagen. However, collagen supplements are mostly made of a completely hydrolyzed form of collagen called collagen peptides, and these are easier to digest than gelatin.

Also, collagen peptides dissolve in both hot and cold water. In contrast, gelatin only dissolves in hot water.

On the other hand, gelatin can form a gel that thickens when cooled due to its gelling properties, a property that collagen peptides lack. This is why they cannot be used interchangeably (2).

You may find collagen and gelatin supplements in both powder and granulated forms. Additionally, gelatin is sold in sheet form.

Summary

Collagen and gelatin’s main differences are mainly related to their chemical structures, which allow collagen to dissolve completely in hot or cold water and gelatin to form a gel that thickens when cooled.

Orally ingested collagen and gelatin both have high bioavailability, meaning that they’re efficiently absorbed by your digestive system (9).

Therefore, deciding between collagen or gelatin ultimately depends on their purpose.

Collagen is mostly used as an easy-to-digest nutritional supplement. You can add it to your coffee or tea, blend it into a smoothie, or mix it into soups and sauces without changing their consistency.

In contrast, gelatin is preferred for its gelling properties, which have many culinary uses and applications. For instance, you can use it to make homemade jellies and gummies or thicken sauces and dressings.

That said, you may reap the most benefits by sticking to collagen supplements.

This is mainly because collagen supplement labels display how much you’re taking, which easily allows you to increase your intake, whereas you’ll potentially consume much less gelatin if only using this form in a recipe.

Summary

If you’re choosing between collagen and gelatin, consider their purpose. Collagen is mostly used as a nutritional supplement, while gelatin is preferred for cooking.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, and gelatin is a degraded form of collagen.

Therefore, they have virtually identical nutritional profiles and may both improve joint, skin, gut, hair, and bone health.

However, they’re used for distinct purposes due to differences in their chemical structure.

Collagen may be a better fit if you’re looking for a nutritional supplement. In contrast, gelatin is great when preparing desserts and dishes that require a thicker, gelatinous texture.