Drinking Collagen

We’ve been smothering it onto our faces in the form of $100 ‘anti-aging’ creams for years, but *apparently* the new way to complexion-plumping bliss is by drinking, or eating, collagen. Collagen-infused powders, drinks and pills are the latest holy-grail of the beauty world; Jennifer Aniston swears by her collagen tonic and Goddess of the wellness world, Gwyneth Paltrow recently launched a ‘morning skin superpowder’ called goopglow. Sound a little odd? Maybe not considering that nearly one-fifth of supplement-taking Americans now take them for skin, hair and nail benefits, and collagen-based supplements, promising bouncier-looking skin, are currently leading the craze.

It’s a seductive notion, but is there any truth behind supplementing your way to younger looking skin? Let’s find out…

Collagen, as you probably kind of know, is the protein that makes up around 75 percent of our skin, giving it its structure and elasticity. As we age, the amount of collagen we produce diminishes, which is why skin can start to droop and sag.

The idea of rebuilding this collagen from within, as opposed to topically, makes intuitive sense. The theory is that feeding skin from the inside – where ingredients can be absorbed in the gut and delivered via the blood to the dermis, where much of the skin’s collagen is stored - will have more effective and longer-lasting results than piling creams onto the dead outer layer of the skin (the epidermis).

Collagen molecules found in creams and serums are often quite large and not easily absorbed by the epidermis, whereas ingestible collagen is thought to contain much smaller fragments that are more easily absorbed. So far, so good. But the science to support the claims of ingestible collagen don’t quite match up.  

Unfortunately, when you drink a protein like collagen, much like when you eat or drink anything else, you have no control over where your body puts it. Enzymes in our stomach will work to break down the collagen into amino acids, as it would with any other protein. In other words, whole collagen doesn’t make it into the bloodstream, it is impossible for it to travel from your gut to your skin intact.

That said, amino acids may well be delivered to the blood stream, and they are the building blocks for healthy skin cell functioning. There is in fact evidence that amino acid chains can make their way to the bloodstream after ingesting collagen, if the ingredient is in a form that can be broken down and absorbed by the body. In this way, ingestible collagen could provide an indirect benefit to the skin, but there is no guarantee that the amino acids will make it from bloodstream to dermis.

Even if amino acids were absorbed by the body from ingesting collagen, your body can’t tell that these particular chains come from collagen – they could be any number of other proteins. Ingesting collagen then, works in much the same way as eating a steak and it certainly isn’t a reliable route to better skin. You would be much better off slathering on the sunscreen and maintaining a healthy diet.