- Collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, can be found in the skin, bones, muscles, and tendons.
- Some people believe that collagen drinks can help fight signs of aging, although there is no scientific evidence to support this.
- Other anti-aging products such as retinol-based topical creams have more evidence to back them up.
Collagen supplements come in many forms. One of the most popular is a white (and supposedly tasteless) powder you mix into a drink each morning. Manufacturers and beauty gurus claim that consuming collagen drinks on a regular basis will result in a host of benefits, including healthier skin, fewer wrinkles, stronger joints, thicker hair, and better nails.
But are collagen drinks sound science? After all, you don’t want to mess up your morning coffee with collagen powder for nothing.
Here we explain what collagen is, clarify what factors cause its production to increase or decrease, explore the theory behind collagen drinks, and determine whether or not collagen drinks actually work.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body — it can be found in the bones, muscles, tendons, and — you guessed it — skin. It’s what gives skin its elasticity and “bounce.” As you get older, your body stops producing as much collagen, causing your skin to sag and appear wrinkled.
Visible signs of aging can also be attributed to the following factors:
- A decrease in elastin, another protein that helps skin appear youthful and elastic (as its name suggests).
- A reduction in sweat and oil gland activity, which deprives your face of natural moisturizer and can cause it to dry out and wrinkle.
- Environmental factors such as sun exposure, which speed up collagen loss — this is one of the reasons why skin experts strongly recommend wearing sunscreen.
- Smoking and exposure to pollution, which can also reduce the amount of collagen your skin produces and cause premature aging.
Because of collagen’s critical role in maintaining a youthful appearance, it has become an increasingly popular component of anti-aging and plumping beauty products.
Some of these products contain collagen itself, whereas others contain ingredients (such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin A, vitamin C, retinol, and tretinoin) that are supposed to stimulate its production in the body.
Doctors are skeptical of topical products containing collagen, because collagen molecules are too large to penetrate the skin. However, there is evidence that smaller molecules of other active ingredients, such as retinol and tretinoin, do help stimulate collagen production when applied as a face cream.
The success of collagen-boosting creams has led some people to believe that ingesting the protein might also have anti-aging properties. Read on to find out if this is true, or if it is just another anti-aging myth.
The Theory Behind Collagen Drinks
Topical creams work from the outside in. Proponents of collagen drinks argue that it is better to take an “inside-out” approach by consuming the protein, which then tricks the body’s cells into manufacturing more of it.
“When consumed orally—either eaten or taken as a pill or capsule— collagen is digested by being broken up into its constituent amino acids,” explains Dr. David Belk, MD, who is board-certified in internal medicine, practices in Northern California, and runs the informational website True Cost of Healthcare.
Ingestible collagen comes in many forms, including powders, pre-made drinks, bars, syrups, and pills. Usually collagen supplements are made from animal tissue—such as bone, skin from cows, or fish scales—although there are a few plant-based options available for vegetarians and vegans.
There are more than a dozen types of collagen, but the most common kind available in these supplements is hydrolyzed type 1 collagen, meaning that the amino acids have already been broken down into smaller units and dissolve easily in food and drinks.
How Much Do Collagen Drinks Cost?
Collagen supplements are no longer a niche product, consumed only by health nuts or those willing to experiment with anti-aging products. They have now entered the mainstream and are widely available on sites like Amazon, and in stores like Whole Foods.
Collagen supplements can cost between $10 and $50 per package, jar, or bottle, which is not as expensive as some facial rejuvenation procedures; however, because they are to be taken daily, costs can add up over time.
Do They Actually Work?
As tempting as the promise of youthful skin might be, there’s no conclusive evidence that eating or drinking collagen has anti-aging effects.
Your body will break collagen (and anything else you ingest) into amino acids in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. From there, the amino acids can be absorbed into your bloodstream, but there is no telling where the body will distribute them.
The body usually sends amino acids to wherever there is a deficit, prioritizing major organs, like the heart and brain, over a less critical system, like the skin. Even if 1) you do ingest collagen, 2) it gets broken down into amino acids, and 3) these get absorbed into your bloodstream, there’s no guarantee that the collagen will get back to your skin.
When it comes to collagen supplements, you are not necessarily what you eat.
“The amino acids you’ll get from eating collagen aren’t significantly different from those in other sources of protein such as meat, eggs or milk,” says Dr. Belk. “In other words, taking a collagen supplement will not improve your appearance any more than, say, a bite of scrambled eggs would. Protein is protein.”
Studies of Collagen Consumption
Most studies on the consumption of collagen supplements focus on the pill form; however, one study did investigate daily consumption of the powdered collagen supplement Pure Gold Collagen.
Participants consumed 50 mL of the powdered supplement in a drink every day for 60 days. At the end of the study, researchers found “a noticeable reduction in skin dryness, wrinkles, and nasolabial fold depth,” as well as “a significant increase in collagen density and skin firmness.”
However, there are a couple major caveats regarding this study. It was sponsored by Minerva Research Labs Ltd., the company that manufactures the Pure Gold Collagen supplement, indicating a conflict of interest.
The study has not been replicated by any other researchers, and the results need to be confirmed by researchers unaffiliated with any manufacturers of collagen supplements.
Other Possibles Causes
Furthermore, it is difficult to tell if the results of any collagen-boosting supplements, drinks included, are due to the product itself or to other changes.
Quitting smoking or reducing your sun exposure can have anti-aging effects, as can drinking water. Indeed, something as simple as applying moisturizer to dry skin can make it appear plumper and more radiant and youthful, even if the moisturizer itself contains no anti-aging ingredients.
Bottom line, the science behind collagen products is unproven at best. Instead, look to other tried-and-true methods to combat signs of aging: wear sunscreen, drink enough water, eat a healthy balanced diet, keep your skin moisturized, and don’t smoke.
If you’d like to try an over-the-counter collagen booster, a cream containing some form of retinol is your best bet. And if you want more anti-aging effects than a consumer cream or beauty supplement can provide, there are professional cosmetic procedures available, such as hyaluronic acid fillers and energy-based treatments.
» To find out more about these and other non-invasive facial rejuvenation procedures, meet our medical review team.