Collagen drinks and supplements seem to be flooding the market, claiming to support your skin from the inside out. And, you’re probably wondering, just like us, what is the science behind this claim, and does it really work?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, making up about one third of the total protein, and is the most prevalent component in the extracellular matrix, giving your tissues structure and support (1). According to the Cleveland Clinic, collagen makes up about 75% of your skin. But after the age of 30, our body’s natural production of collagen decreases. That means our skin loses firmness and gradually starts to wrinkle and sag (3). Collagen is made up of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, such as glycine, proline, and lysine, which are needed to repair muscles, bone, and joints, and support healthy hair and skin (4), explains registered dietitian Mary Ellen Phipps, R.D.N., L.D., owner of Milk & Honey Nutrition.
So what happens when these products are ingested and is it enough? London-based Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Justine Kluk, says “The collagen peptides in these drinks are reportedly digested into smaller molecules and then absorbed in our gut, and have been shown to appear one hour after ingestion in the bloodstream. Investigations using radioactive labelling have demonstrated that these absorbed peptides can reach the skin and may be retained in the tissue for up to 2 weeks.”(2) But that doesn’t mean that collagen that you eat goes to your skin tissues. “Amino acids are distributed throughout the body based on the areas that need them the most—like your heart and brain,” says Phipps.
While more and more collagen products hit the market, touting their beauty benefits, research showing the benefits of collagen drinks and supplements is still limited. Bone broth and gelatin (derived from bone broth) seem to be some of the most potent sources of collagen in food and diet. Omega-3 rich foods, like fish and lean grass-fed meat, help to provide essential amino-acids, the building blocks of proteins like collagen. Dark leafy greens, like kale and spinach, protect against free radical damage to collagen with antioxidants, and red veggies full of lycopene help boost collagen and protect against sun damage. Sources of vitamin A, like carrots and sweet potatoes can help restore damaged collagen (3). For more on your diet and skin health, be sure to check out this article on 4 Simple Dietary Changes for Healthy Skin.
If you are interested in trying collagen drinks and supplements, keep in mind that collagen is not closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is recommended to consult a dietitian or health care professional to find a high quality supplement and checking the label to ensure it has been tested by a third party, like NSF International, says Phipps.