Does drinking collagen actually do anything? We asked experts.

collagen drinks effectiveness

Collagen-enriched powders, beverages, and gummies tout a number of impressive and alluring benefits from stronger bones and healthier joints to tighter skin and “anti-aging.” It is true that collagen is a crucial protein for many aspects of our bodily health and wellbeing, but can you eat or drink your way back to revitalized skin?

Found in our skin, hair, nails, tendons, cartilage, and bones, collagen is a major structural protein in our tissues. And while we are constantly producing new collagen, that production rate starts slowing down in our 20s. Plus, the collagen already in our skin will sustain damage through sunlight exposure, smoking, alcohol consumption, and sugary diets. The result is that aging skin with less collagen looks thinner, saggier, and has more fine lines. It makes sense then that people are searching for products that might restore that richness of collagen back in the skin. Today, a plethora of collagen-full supplement drinks and health foods exist in a market that is supposedly worth more than $4 billion. But while some evidence suggests that there might be some benefit to regular use of high-quality supplements, not all dermatologists recommend going down this road.

Collagen is a very large molecule, and when it is ingested orally via a supplement, that molecule will be broken down into its component amino acids. So how does this translate to new collagen in the skin? The theory behind collagen supplementation is that when you ingest and digest it, those short broken-down components of collagen will circulate in our blood and signal to our immune systems that there’s been damage, and that we need more collagen production to fix it, says Joshua Zeichner, an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “But really, the jury’s out,” he says. “The true effectiveness of collagen supplements remains to be proven.” 

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There is not that much academic literature on collagen supplements’ effects on skin quality. But authors of two separate systematic reviews, one from 2021 and one from 2019, found that collagen supplements do affect skin elasticity and hydration. But these effects disappear after you stop taking the supplement. 

Will it work for you? It’s hard to say since so many factors can affect your skin. One greasy meal could spur a breakout, a change in the weather can leave you dry and patchy, a night of bad sleep can make your skin look dull. Parsing out whether improvements in your skin are due to a collagen drink versus any other lifestyle or environmental factors is really difficult. Not to mention that many collagen supplements or health foods also contain other vitamins and antioxidants that could also be potentially providing a benefit, says Zeichner. 

Another tricky factor is that supplements are so poorly regulated in the US that it can be challenging to distinguish which products might be effective and which are probably not going to do anything, points out Neelam Vashi, an associate professor of dermatology at the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center. Vashi is skeptical of collagen supplements and their purported benefits. But, she says that for the highest chance of a collagen supplement having any effect, you should look for hydrolyzed collagen, a form that is already broken and therefore easier for your body to absorb. “Otherwise, it just goes through your system,” she says. You should also look for collagen types 1 and 3, the kinds that are most predominant in the skin.

If you are really concerned about your collagen, the more important steps are to regularly use sunscreen and skincare products like glycolic acid, retinol, and retinol alternatives like bakuchiol, says Zeichner.

If you have your heart set on trying collagen supplements, that’s fine. There’s no evidence suggesting that collagen supplements (taken properly, according to direction) are harmful to health, especially if you have a healthy liver and kidneys, says Zeichner. “There’s little downside to taking these supplements with the exemption to the harm to your pocketbook.”

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