You’re lying in the bath, enjoying a quick scroll through Instagram and then you spot it – a dewy-skinned influencer raving about the miraculous transformation in her complexion. Her secret? She’s drinking collagen! Loads of glossy-haired celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian and Jennifer Anniston swear by it too. If you’re not popping it into your morning smoothie, could you be missing out? A few years ago, when I used to quiz dermatologists on the issue, the answer was always a straight-up “no”. But now nobody’s really sure.
How’d you like your steak? The first thing you should know about collagen is that its protein. The moment it hits your stomach, your body can’t distinguish between your glow-up powder and a tasty piece of fillet, so it ends up being broken down by your digestive system before exiting your body. This is why the better brands hydrolyze their collagen – putting it through an enzymatic process that breaks it down into itty bitty fragments called peptides. These have a shot at entering your bloodstream – but is that notably beneficial? I once remember a doctor saying that if it was extremely bioavailable (meaning something that your body could absorb and use) it would go straight to where it was needed most – your joints. But, if some of it did eventually make it to your skin, what’s to ensure it manifests in a nice, uniform way? You can be glad that doesn’t happen, he said. Imagine waking up to find a big nodule of collagen sitting on your chin like a blind pimple that never goes away – or your hand, for that matter. After that, I kind of closed the book on worrying about collagen supplements. Now, fast forward a few years, and we’ve finally got a handful of studies that haven’t been paid for by collagen supplement brands. When you look at them, it sounds like there might be a little something to it after all – but the keyword is “might”. It also depends on the type of collagen you’re consuming.
The science bit To explain, evidence shows that hydrolyzed collagen can appear into your bloodstream within an hour of consuming it and do actually make it to your skin where it can hang around for up to two weeks. While they can’t bind to your natural collagen stash, they can act as a catalyst that – weirdly – gives your body the impression that your collagen is under attack. This triggers your body to increase its own natural collagen production as well as the creation of hyaluronic acid – the molecule that helps your skin retain more water. Sounds good, right? But here’s the rub. Most of the collagen supplements on the market don’t contain the type of collagen fragments reviewed in the study nor do they contain it in the amount that was proven to make a difference – 7000mg. (One that does, however, is Skinade, which is probably why it’s an international bestseller.)
Decisions, decisions So, is it worth jumping onto the collagen drink train? That’s really up to you and your budget. A month’s supply of Skinade will set you back $165. Also, it depends on how you prefer to boost your collagen supply. With all this talk about what collagen supplements might possibly do, many forget that topicals like retinol and vitamin C have been clinically proven – for decades – to do the exact same thing – stimulate your skin to produce more collagen and hyaluronic acid. Something else that can help you do the latter? Eating a healthy diet that includes leafy greens, soy sauce and the humble potato. (Random fact – but did you know that a medium-sized potato contains almost as much vitamin C as an orange?) You can even boost your skin’s hydration content by adding a hyaluronic acid serum for less than $7 into your routine.
Ultimately, how you get your skincare jollies is up to you – but there are many ways to get healthy, glowing skin. It’s starting to look like collagen drinks might have something to offer, but there’s still the question of whether they’re any better than what’s already proven to work.
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