Since decreased collagen production leads to signs of aging, many companies have marketed expensive drinkable and other forms of oral collagen as an anti-aging solution. Medical specialists explain how these claims are completely inaccurate.
Do a quick search for "drinkable collagen" on Google and hundreds of results materialize, many of which feature enticing reviews from people claiming collagen supplements did amazing things for their skin. In theory, the thought of tossing back a collagen-infused beverage for a healthier complexion sounds worthy of writing home about, but it begs the all-too-blatant question: Does it actually work?
What scientific experts say about the subject:
Collagen has become a buzzword that’s been creeping into our beauty products, supplements, and Facebook ads. Collagen is an incredibly important protein that keeps your tissues and bones together. It is made up of strings of amino acids, which bind together in a specific pattern to form the structure for things like ligaments, tendons, and skin. It helps to give your skin structure and elasticity, or that famous “bounce”. Collagen is naturally manufactured within the human body using vitamin C, but its production does begin to decrease by about one percent, starting after the age of 20. This is what causes the skin to lose its youthful strength and thickness.
Collagen drinks or pills are not effective in replacing lost collagen
Since decreased collagen production leads to signs of aging, many companies have marketed drinkable and other forms of oral collagen as an anti-aging solution.
Dr. Leslie Baumann, is an American dermatologist, author, and researcher based in Miami, Florida. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami and has authored several dermatology textbooks and articles in Dermatology News. Dr. Baumann advocates that these claims, made by companies marketing drinkable collagen, are completely inaccurate. She explains that collagen is broken down by your stomach acids when taken orally before it can benefit your skin.
Dr. Janelle Vega, a board-certified dermatologist in Florida USA agrees. She says that the pH of the stomach is so extreme, only fragments of collagen will survive. There is no evidence that these fragments will pass through your digestive system, get absorbed by the blood and be directed into the skin.
Dr. Karyn Grossman is an internationally renowned, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist with a well-known celebrity following. Trained at Harvard Medical School, she’s considered a key opinion leader in all fields of esthetics. Dr. Grossman notes that ingestible collagen is made from hydrolyzed protein from animal sources (generally cows, pigs, and fish). “When you eat meat, fish, and poultry, you’re also ingesting collagen,” she says. “These proteins are broken down and absorbed in the GI tract, then used to build your own protein-rich parts: skin, bones, muscle, connective tissue."
Dr. Grossman explains that it's important to note that it's impossible to specifically target certain areas of the body when you ingest a collagen supplement. "When you consume a source of collagen, it will be broken down, after which it may be absorbed by your bloodstream, and then be transported to different parts of the body as needed. All proteins are broken down completely and they're not just comfortably put in as collagen where collagen is needed. It doesn't work like that. The raw science is that it won't be collagen when it's absorbed. Your body won't have a clue that you ate collagen because it will be individual amino acids when it's absorbed in your body, this makes it difficult to tell if ingesting collagen will have any sort of sizable impact on your body, let alone your skin".
Collagen supplements may contain questionable ingredients
Dr. Jessica Weiser, a dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group says while the supplements are generally safe in appropriate doses (consult a doctor or pharmacist), too much can spike your calcium levels, leading to kidney stones or even kidney failure.
Collagen supplements and powders are not highly regulated and they can contain a variety of ingredients.
In most cases, ingredients in these supplements may include animal bones and skin as well as fish scales, which can potentially be high in heavy metals. Potential side effects of consuming these heavy metals can include diarrhea, nausea, heartburn, and skin reactions, said Dr. Weiser.
Also, per the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), federal law doesn't "require dietary supplements to be proven safe to FDA's satisfaction before they are marketed." That isn't to say all supplements are dangerous, but it is worth noting that what you're taking may not necessarily be safe to ingest.
Business Insider previously reported in 2017 that some supplement manufacturers have been found to use contaminated products and print incorrect nutritional information on labels, which can be extremely dangerous. It's up to the consumer to do their research and only purchase supplements from companies they really trust. Notably, since the FDA categorizes supplements as a food, not a drug, they do not verify the claims made about these items.
When choosing a supplement, Dr. Weiser advises looking for a third-party tested supplement (it will say so on the box) stamped by a quality-control organization such as US Pharmacopeia or the National Science Foundation. “Be wary of supplements that make fantastic claims — ‘cure this,’ ‘look 30 years younger,’” she says. “One thing cannot possibly do the job of everything.”
But what about all the science, studies, and promises?
While there have been studies where collagen supplements have improved skin, it’s mostly in mice and rats and even pigs. It's also very important to realize that what works in the lab doesn’t always work for our skin. Another problem with these supplement studies is that they often use a combination of ingredients. This means you can’t say for sure that it’s the collagen having an effect. It’s even trickier since there are 28 different types of collagen, and not all of them help your skin.
Collagen proteins are also made up of thousands of amino acids. Most supplements use collagen that’s been hydrolyzed (broken up), but you can break it up in many ways. It’s likely that the body doesn’t necessarily treat them all the same way. This means that a study showing a benefit with one form of collagen doesn’t tell you anything about the other forms of collagen — or even other collagen supplements.
About those “according to scientific reports”: Have there been clinical human studies on collagen? Sure. However, that brings up another problem. A lot of these studies are performed by people selling collagen supplements. There’s an obvious bias toward publishing good results.
There is a much cheaper way to increase your collagen intake
You can get plenty of collagen by eating meat. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, your body can still make its own collagen. Eat foods that are rich in vitamin C or take a vitamin C supplement, since this vitamin is required in order to make collagen.
Anti-aging tips that all medical and scientific experts agree on to try instead
Collagen supplements aren’t worth wasting your money on, but there are some easy anti-aging tricks that can help to stave off wrinkles and other signs of skin aging.
- Add vitamin C to your skincare routine. Vitamin C is one of the most beneficial topical ingredients for your skin. As mentioned above, vitamin C is needed in order for your skin to make collagen. Drink an affordable vitamin C supplement and add a high-quality vitamin C containing serum to your daily skincare routine. This will help to boost your skin’s ability to produce this important protein. DermExcel Collagen serum.
- Add retinoids to your skincare routine. Retinoids are another beneficial ingredient. They also help your skin to produce collagen and are used as a treatment for acne and wrinkles for this reason. DermExcel Retinol serum.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking accelerates the breakdown of collagen in your skin, so avoiding this habit can help to keep your skin looking younger and healthier.
- Don’t tan. UV light from the sun and indoor tanning beds can also cause collagen to break down more rapidly. Include sunscreen in your daily skincare routine, and avoid deliberate tanning. DermDefence SPF50
- Try in-office treatments. There are many in-office treatments that can help to stimulate collagen production, like micro-needling and laser skin treatments. Talk to a Dermal Health dispensing practice about your anti-aging treatment options.
Expensive collagen drinks and supplements are not necessary. There are other ways to make sure your skin is able to produce enough collagen on its own, like taking a vitamin C supplement, applying retinol, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin c serums, staying out of the sun and professional skin treatments.