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Collagen Drinks Are Everywhere – But What Does Science Say?

ELLE (UK) logo ELLE (UK) 2 days ago Roberta Schroeder
a man and a woman looking at the camera: We asked a dermatologist, nutritionist and a doctor to reveal if there's any science behind those collagen drinks you're seeing everywhere these days. © Gareth Cattermole/BFC - Getty Images We asked a dermatologist, nutritionist and a doctor to reveal if there's any science behind those collagen drinks you're seeing everywhere these days.

From Instagram to Pinterest, collagen drinks are pretty much everywhere at the moment, serving up promises of plump, glowing skin with every sip.

But are these wonder shots as effective as their makers would have you believe, or are they simply a #spon fad? And if they do work, exactly how much would you need to knock back to notice a difference in your skin?

We've got the experts involved to find out if there's any solid science behind collagen drinks, and reveal 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 particular protein which contains many important amino acids: the building blocks that keep tissues and bones together,' explains Amanda Griggs, nutritionist at Urban Retreat's Khera-Griggs Cleanse Clinic. 'It helps give your skin strength and elasticity, as well as stimulating production of hyaluronic acid.'

There are many different types of collagen found throughout the body, from your bones and muscles to your hair and skin. Research shows that certain forms are responsible for the structure and elasticity in our skin, but after the age of 25, we tend to lose approximately 1.5% of our natural stores every year. 'Many factors can speed up the decrease of collagen production, including ageing, smoking, excess sugar, UV rays, excess alcohol consumption and eating denatured processed food,' says Griggs. The long-term result? Slacker skin and fine lines.

Capitalising on our well-ingrained collective disdain for the signs of ageing, collagen drinks containing an easily absorbed, hydrolysed form of collagen (or collagen peptides) have flooded the market. When ingested daily, they claim to replenish your collagen supplies and benefit your complexion from the inside out. 'These brands claim their drinks may have several anti-ageing benefits, from 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 a little too good to be true, so is there any evidence in the claims?

'The collagen peptides in these drinks are reportedly digested into smaller molecules and then absorbed in our gut. They've been shown to appear one hour after ingestion in the bloodstream,' says London-based consultant dermatologist, Dr Justine Kluk. 'Investigations have demonstrated that these absorbed peptides can reach the skin and may be retained in the tissue for up to two weeks,' she adds. So far, so promising.

Griggs adds: 'Many of these drinks contain collagen which has been hydrolysed in order to break down the protein structure – this means it can be more easily absorbed and the collagen peptides become more bioavailable,' says Griggs.

Are There Any Real Benefits Of Collagen Drinks?

According to Dr Kluk, there is some evidence in support of these beauty shots: 'A growing number of laboratory-based studies demonstrate the potential for collagen peptides in drinks or supplements to improve skin hydration and to reduce wrinkles by strengthening our own collagen networks,' she says. Indeed, an independent study conducted in 2019 found collagen supplements to show promise in terms of improving skin elasticity and dermal collagen density.

'The amount used in clinical studies varies from 2.5 to 10g per day, with some reporting their outcomes at four weeks and others after eight or more weeks,' Dr Kluk continues. 'However, the jury is still out as to whether these products actually work for the general population, so the best dose and duration are yet to be determined.'

In fact, evidence for their effectiveness on human skin outside of the laboratory setting is still scarce – something Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist at Skin55 explains further...

The Hard Evidence

'During the digestive process, collagen is broken down in the gut to smaller molecules such as peptides and subsequently amino acids,' Dr Mahto says. 'There is little evidence that ingesting whole collagen will survive digestion and then travel in the bloodstream to the skin in high enough quantities to make any meaningful change to the skin’s structure or function.'

So, if you're keen to commit to a collagen supplement, it's clearly best to opt for a high-grade, hydrolysed version that has a much better chance of making it through the digestive process.

Another factor to consider is that much of the research in support of collagen drinks has been sponsored by – you guessed it – a collagen drink manufacturer.

a person posing for the camera: Model backstage at Blumarine © Rosdiana Ciaravolo - Getty Images Model backstage at Blumarine

How Else Can You Boost Your Collagen Levels?

In short, scientific research showing the effects of collagen drinks on skin is lacking, so if you're after a more tried-and-tested way to boost your skin health, you might be better investing your cash in topical skincare.

However, we're not necessarily talking about 'collagen' skincare – these products, like their ingestible sisters, can be lacking in efficacy, due to the fact that collagen molecules are too large to actually penetrate the skin barrier.

Instead, look to alternative ingredients that support your skin's natural collagen production. Here, see our go-to's.

- Retinoids

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

'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.

- Diet

Of course, slathering on the 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.'

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