Will drinking collagen really make a difference in your skin?

Collagen gives our skin its youthful suppleness and is one of the key components in repairing wounded skin.

I'm talking about all of those collagen powder supplements, that promise everything from a radiant complexion to firmer skin and even less wrinkles.

First, why collagen? It's the most abundant protein in our body, and the main building block for our skin. It gives our skin its youthful suppleness and is one of the key components in repairing wounded skin, explains New York City dermatologist, Anne Chapas, M.D., founder of Union Square Laser Dermatology. Simply put, collagen gives good face.

And yet, if you've clicked through to check out the products everyone is raving about on social, you've also discovered that drinkable collagen powders don't come cheap. Many brands start at just under $50 for one month's supply. But do they really do anything visible for your skin?

The studies done on oral collagen's potential affects on skin are limited, say multiple experts. "Most studies of oral collagen are not rigorous enough to draw conclusions about their effect on skin health, appearance, or aging," says Chapas. Even more unconvinced is Tina Alster, M.D., dermatologist and director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. She says the collagen molecule is enzymatically digested in the stomach and thus couldn't be distributed to the skin intact to produce the kind of changes touted in the plethora of marketing claims.

However, if you have dry skin, you'll be interested in one study that may suggest that ingestible collagen can improve skin hydration in subjects over the age of 30 and slow the formation of deep wrinkles while increasing skin thickness, says Sumayah Jamal of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. Take it with a grain of salt, Jamal adds, as she thinks the three to four month long studies need to be repeated in larger groups, with more controls, and over longer durations in order to be anywhere near academically convincing.

For the time being, you can consider that there are more proven approaches to support skin collagen, and at a more affordable price. "If you're eating a balanced diet that includes protein-rich foods, your body converts those nutrients into essential amino acids that are needed to keep your skin and bones healthy. These nutrients are then sent to the bloodstream and will supply the dermis—the deepest part of your skin—with naturally produced collagen," says New York City dermatologist, Craig Austin, M.D., founder of Cane + Austin skincare. That means eating plenty of foods like the ever-trendy bone broth, quinoa, fish like salmon, eggs, lean meat like turkey, lentils, nuts, seeds, and beans.

On the other hand, collagen drinks are digested by the stomach, passing the collagen without distributing it to your bloodstream, adds Austin, who agrees with Alster. "This isn't to say that a quality drinkable collagen doesn't offer some benefits such as hydration—the verdict is still out—but until more research can be done, I say stick to the basics," adds Austin.

If you'd like to support skin collagen with serums and moisturizers, our experts also say that the collagen molecule is too large to be absorbed effectively just by slathering it on your face. Instead, opt for products containing retinols that are proven to kick up the production of collagen, and be sure to wear a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 daily to protect your existing collagen from breaking down.


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