Everywhere we see collagen drinks offer plump, glowing skin and health with every sip. But are these amazing shots as effective as their makers believed, or are they just a #sponsor fashion? And if they work, exactly how far back do you need to hit them to notice a difference in your skin? Curious to find out if there’s any logical science behind collagen drinks and whether they’re really worth adding to your diet (and your monthly budget)?
What Are Collagen Drinks?
First things first, what actually is collagen? “Collagen itself is a specialized protein that contains many important amino acids: the building blocks that hold tissues and bones together,” explains Amanda Griggs, nutritionist at Urban Retreat’s Khera-Griggs Cleanse Clinic. ‘It helps to stimulate the production of hyaluronic acid as well as giving your skin strength and elasticity.’
There are many different types of collagen found throughout the body, from bones and muscles to your hair and skin. Research shows that certain biological structures are responsible for the structure and elasticity of our skin, but after the age of 25 we tend to lose about 1.5% of our natural stores each year. “Many factors can accelerate the decline of collagen production, including aging, smoking, excess sugar, UV rays, excessive alcohol consumption, and eating denatured processed food,” says Griggs. The long-term result of this is looser skin and fine lines.
Taking advantage of our deep-rooted collective disdain for the signs of aging, collagen beverages have become available, containing an easily absorbed, hydrolyzed form of collagen (or collagen peptides). Taken daily, it is said to replenish your collagen sources and benefit your complexion from the inside out. “These brands claim their drinks can have a variety of anti-aging benefits, including improving hair and skin, strengthening nails, repairing joints, and even healing the gut,” explains Griggs.
How Do Collagen Drinks Work?
A daily dose of collagen to plump lines and stop sagging sounds too good to be true, but are there any truth to the claims?
The collagen peptides in these drinks are reportedly digested into smaller molecules and then absorbed in our gut. London-based consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk showed they occur within an hour of entering the bloodstream. “Studies have shown that these absorbed peptides can reach the skin and remain in the tissue for up to two weeks,” he adds. So far, very promising.
Adds Griggs: “Many of these drinks contain collagen that has been hydrolyzed to break down the protein structure—meaning it can be more easily absorbed and collagen peptides become more bioavailable.”
Are There Any Real Benefits Of Collagen Drinks?
According to Dr Kluk, there is some evidence to support these claims: ‘A growing number of lab-based studies are revealing the potential of collagen peptides found in beverages or supplements to improve skin hydration and reduce wrinkles by strengthening our own collagen networks. ‘ says. Indeed, an independent study conducted in 2019 found that collagen supplements show promise in improving skin elasticity and dermal collagen density.
“The amount used in clinical studies ranges from 2.5 to 10 g per day, with some reporting their results at four weeks and others after eight or more weeks,” Dr Kluk continues. “However, the jury is still undecided on whether these products actually work for the general population, so the best dose and duration have yet to be determined.”
The Hard Evidence
“During the digestive process, collagen is broken down in the gut into smaller molecules such as peptides and then amino acids,” says Dr Mahto. “There is little evidence that ingesting whole collagen will survive digestion and then travel through the bloodstream to the skin in high enough amounts to make a meaningful change in skin structure or function.”
So, if you’re willing to take a collagen supplement, you should opt for a high-grade, hydrolyzed version that has a much better chance of going through the digestive process.
Another factor to consider is that most of the research supporting collagen drinks is sponsored — you guessed it — by a collagen drink manufacturer.
How Else Can You Boost Your Collagen Levels?
Scientific research on the effects of collagen drinks on the skin isn’t much, so if you’re looking for a more tried-and-tested way to maintain and improve skin health, you might be better off investing your money in topical skin care.
These topical products, like digestible ones, may lack efficacy because the collagen molecules are too large to actually cross the skin barrier.
Instead, you can examine alternative ingredients that support your skin’s natural collagen production.
Retinoids should be your first port of call, according to the experts. They’re often referred to as the gold standard in skincare, thanks to their ability to prompt cell turnover at lightning speed. ‘The retinoid family consists of a group of compounds that are derived from vitamin A,’ explains Dr Mahto. ‘They are the only topical agents (meaning you apply them directly onto the skin) that repeatedly demonstrate anti-ageing effects in scientific studies.’
‘Retinoids are able to minimise the appearance of wrinkles, slow the breakdown of collagen and fade pigmentation or age spots,’ Dr Mahto continues. ‘They work by improving skin cell renewal and stimulating collagen production.’
‘Vitamin C is also needed for collagen production: it provides the skin with support,’ says Dr Mahto. ‘It’s an antioxidant, a skin-brightening agent and anti-inflammatory, and it is also required for the synthesis of collagen, which gives our skin its structure.’
However, it pays to do your research when it comes to vitamin C skincare, as formulations on the market vary wildly in terms of concentration, potency and stability. ‘Vitamin C should be used for skincare in concentrations of up to 20 per cent. Higher percentages can potentially cause irritation,’ says Dr Mahto. What’s more, the product you choose needs to be properly stabilised to ensure maximum absorption into the skin.
Skincare isn’t the only way to top up your collagen levels. ‘Eating a balanced diet with adequate protein – either plant-based or animal – will boost collagen production,’ says Griggs. What’s more, vitamin C is found in abundance in most fruits and vegetables, so make sure you’re getting your 10 a day.
Griggs also advises adding chicken, beef or fish bone broth into your diet – either homemade or store-bought. ‘It’s healing and rich in some collagens, gelatin and amino acids, which will help to repair the gut. For this reason, bone broth is especially beneficial for people with inflammatory bowel diseases, as well as anyone who is finishing a long course of antibiotics or steroids.’