Collagen drinks are one of the more controversial tools in the beauty and wellness industry's anti-ageing arsenal. In the search for new and effective ways to help us looking youthful for longer, the suggestion of simply taking one drink a day sounds tempting, but how effective are they really at improving your skin?
We spoke to skin experts for two collagen drink brands, Skinade and Beauty & Go, to answer the questions that have sprung up around their products and to discuss whether you'd benefit by incorporating collagen drinks into your skincare regime.
Why do we need to supplement our natural collagen levels?
"Our natural collagen production slows down from our early 20s by 1-1.5% every year and by the time you turn 50, most individuals will have lost about 50% of the collagen in your skin", reveals the plastic surgeon, and skin expert for Skinade, Dr Paul Banwell. "This can lead to sagging, thinning and wrinkles."
"This rate will depend on various lifestyle factors, such as diet, sun exposure, sleep and stress levels plus genetics and hormones," Daisy Whitbread, resident nutritionist for Beauty & Go, goes on to explain.
Isn't collagen too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream?
“Collagen molecules are indeed too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream, but the collagen in collagen drinks and other formulations is hydrolysed”, explains Dr Tariq Karim, doctoral research fellow at Santi London, who works with Skinade. This means that the collagen molecules have been broken into smaller pieces, called peptides, which have a very low molecular weight, making them more easily absorbed in the gut.
How do collagen drinks work?
“It is key to understand that collagen drinks, like Skinade, do not add the collagen peptides you drink directly to the dermis, but rather the collagen peptides act as a feedback mechanism to trigger your own natural collagen production”, explains Banwell.
While some dermatologists have contended it, "it’s believed that the presence of the collagen fragments sends false signals to the body, indicating that collagen destruction has occurred. This stimulates the collagen-producing cells, called fibroblasts, to produce more of your own natural collagen,” explains Whitbread. “The formulation of elastic (which gives skin elasticity) and hyaluronic acid (for hydration) are also stimulated."
To be absorbed before the digestive process kicks in, the collagen peptides need to be in liquid form, Banwell continues, "and you need to ingest 6,000mg of collagen peptides daily to trigger fibroblast activity in the dermis. That’s why each daily dose of Skinade provides 7,000mg of collagen peptides to compensate for any shortfall in absorption."
Is there clinical research?
Put simply, yes, but the studies are often the result of clinical research conducted via the brands themselves. That said, “there are studies that show that collagen arrives at the dermis [meaning the collagen peptides are indeed absorbed before the digestive process in the stomach starts], as well as studies that show ingested collagen stimulates the body’s ability to produce its own collagen”, reveals Dr Karim.
“In two independent clinical studies, it been proven that the type of collagen peptides used in Skinade are absorbed into the bloodstream and in a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled case study, participants saw an increase in collagen density, skin hydration and skin elasticity after drinking Skinade for 90 days, compared to a control group," confirms Banwell. “Beauty& Go has also been proven in laboratory studies to reach the tissues within 12 hours of ingestion, claims Whitbread.
Aren't you better just using skincare, such as so-called 'collagen creams'?
“Research has shown that taking collagen orally (for example as a collagen drink) enhances its availability compared with applying it in a cream", reveals Whitbread. "The positive effects of oral collagen are also longer lasting than those of a face cream. This is because collagen taken orally impacts the deeper layers of the skin, targeting the dermal layer, which is where collagen losses occur. Creams on the other hand, tend to have their effects primarily on the epidermis - the top skin layer. The visible improvements observed with creams are mainly due to increased hydration, rather than the deeper structural changes achieved with collagen supplementation.”
Will focusing on a healthy diet work better?
"To be clear, collagen drinks are not a replacement for a healthy and balanced lifestyle", warns Banwell. "However, a healthy lifestyle does not prevent collagen loss, so it is really two different things. Collagen drinks are designed to trigger a physiological response in the body, irrelevant of lifestyle. It’s a bit like asking if a healthy lifestyle means you don’t need to wear SPF. Of course you do and must! The functionality of collagen drinks cannot be achieved by anything you eat."
Whitbread agrees: "This is not a question of either but of doing both. We advise all of our customers to adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle, wile also taking their daily Beauty & Go." This will keep your skin and your body in optimal health.
When should I start taking collagen drinks?
“As with most things in life, prevention is better than the cure, so the earlier you start taking collagen the better. I would recommend starting in your late twenties to early thirties to get the best results", states Whitebread. "It’s dependent on what your own objectives are and your lifestyle, but generally taking the drinks in your 30s would be beneficial both in terms of enhancement and prevention", Dr Tariq Karim concurs.
Are they suitable for everyone?
To put it simply, no. A lot of collagen drinks are actually not vegetarian, because "collagen is mainly derived from either fish [marine collagen] or pigs [bovine collagen]", explains Dr Karim.
"It is often not very clear what types of collagen are used in different products and what their origin is - you often have to refer to the small print to find out", confirms Banwell. "Skinade is dairy, lactose and gluten free and does not contain porcine or bovine collagen" - it uses marine collagen, so is suitable for pescetarians. For a vegan alternative, try The Beauty Chef's Collagen Inner Beauty Boost, £29, or silica capsules.
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