In recent years, we’ve seen a surge in the marketing of collagen drinks which promise shortcuts to radiant, youthful skin. The idea that a drink can dramatically improve your skin is a little far fetched, but tempting too. Can it be really that simple? Do they really work? Or will you just be wasting your money on yet another #influencer-backed fad?
First of all, what is collagen and why is it important?
“Collagen is the most abundant protein in our skin and bodies,” says Alyssa R. Golas, MD, plastic surgeon at NYU Langone Health. “It is formed by the linking and winding together of amino acids to form collagen fibers. There are many different types of collagen, and they are found in varying ratios in skin, tendons, cartilage, blood vessels, bone, and scar tissue, to name a few.”
Collagen synthesis, or the formation of new collagen, is at its peak during childhood and in our teens. However, according to Jessica Weiser, a board certified dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group, the levels then start to plateau in our 20s and 30s, and finally decline as we age. As a result, the skin loses its structural integrity. It starts to display the visible signs of ageing: sagging, thinning, fine lines and wrinkles.
Factors promoting collagen breakdown
Several external factors can further accelerate collagen loss:
- Lifestyle and environmental stressors such as pollution and free radicals can diminish collagen production
- High sugar consumption – sugar triggers insulin production, which disrupts the proper synthesis of proteins.
- Sun – UVA rays penetrate the skin where they damage the collagen fibers. This damage then triggers the production of enzymes called metalloproteinases, which further degrade collagen levels.
- Smoking – Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that can damage collagen and elastin. Nicotine also restricts blood circulation, causing less oxygen and nutrients to each the skin.
Why are collagen drinks so popular?
Most dermatologists agree that creams and lotions containing collagen don’t work. This is because collagen molecules are too big to be absorbed by the skin into your bloodstream.
Collagen drinks, however, contain hydrolysed collagen, which are collagen molecules that have been broken into smaller pieces, called peptides. These are said to be more easily absorbed in the gut. The idea is then that these collagen fragments not only provide the body with amino acids (building blocks of collagen), it also tricks the body’s collagen factory into becoming more active and producing more collagen.
With theory that you can boost your collagen production from the inside, and reviews claiming positive results, it’s not surprising that almost every Tsui Ling, Devi and Hasnah is jumping on the collagen drink bandwagon.
But is it too good to be true?
The answer is, probably yes.
To date, there really isn’t enough compelling data to prove that ingesting collagen has any effect on your skin. The studies claiming otherwise have mostly been commissioned by the collagen drink producers themselves. And clinical trials to prove that collagen supplements improve the skin have been inconsistent in their results or methodologies.
Some dermatologists are also not convinced of the “science” behind collagen drinks. According to Duane Mellor, assistant professor in dietetics at the University of Nottingham, there is no guarantee the body will specifically direct the collagen to the skin.
“What’s going to stop even fragments of collagen being digested? They are going to be subjected to the acid in the stomach and digestive enzymes,” says Mellor. He also adds that there is no evidence to suggest that the use of collagen in inject-able skin fillers actually stimulate collagen synthesis.
What you can do instead for youthful, glowing skin
1. Retinoids, the general term for derivatives of Vitamin A, are pretty widely acknowledged by dermatologists to stimulate collagen production. According to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, retinol is the single best-studied ingredient in fighting skin aging. You can either get it as a dermatologist-prescribed topical cream or in over-the-counter anti-ageing creams like Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker Multi-Rejuvenating Retinol + Superfood Oil.
2. Increasing your antioxidant intake can help to prevent collagen breakdown and UV damage, encourage collagen synthesis, and promote cellular repair and healing. Anti-oxidant rich food include kale, cruciferous vegetables, acai, goji berries and pomegranate.
3. Vitamin C, either consumed as food or applied topically, can help promote collagen synthesis. Try using a serum, like Edible Beauty No.3 Exotic Goddess Ageless Serum, which uses kakadu plum as a key ingredient. Kakadu plum has the highest recorded levels of Vitamin C of any fruit in the world.
4. Aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. High moisture content in the skin can help give it a supple, plump appearance.
5. Protect your skin from the sun to prevent further breakdown of collagen. Make sure to wear sunscreen everyday or applying makeup with broad spectrum SPF protection like Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer.
6. Healing your gut health helps you to enhance your body’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. Eating bio-fermented wholefoods rich in probiotics and prebiotics such as kefir, kombucha and kimchi, can help to maintain a healthy gut flora.