Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/15/2020
Step into your local supermarket and alongside the usual sodas, fruit juices and other drinks, you’ll likely spot a range of beauty drinks. Enhanced with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and collagen, many of these drinks claim to produce smoother, younger-looking skin.
Collagen drinks are part of a new product category known as nutricosmetics. Designed to mix the convenience of a nutritional supplement with the benefits of cosmetics, nutricosmetics are readily available, usually quite affordable and easy to use.
In short, they’re the perfect product, at least from a marketing perspective. Experts predict that the market for collagen products such as collagen drinks could grow to $6.63 billion billion in annual sales by the year 2025, making it a major source of income for supplement and cosmetics companies.
But do these drinks actually work? While collagen itself is an important protein for damage-free, healthy skin, the scientific evidence to support many collagen drinks isn’t particularly strong.
Below, we’ve explained how collagen works to help you maintain healthy skin, as well as how external sources of collagen can affect your skin. We’ve also looked at the scientific evidence behind oral collagen supplements like collagen drinks.
Collagen is a structural protein that your body uses to create and maintain connective tissue. It’s the most abundant protein in your body, accounting for anywhere between 25 percent and 35 percent of your body’s entire protein content.
Your body uses collagen to maintain everything from your internal organs to your muscles, skin, bones and joints. Simply put, collagen is an essential building block for almost every part of your body, from the exterior to the interior.
Every day, your body produces new collagen. Most of the collagen in your body is produced by breaking down the vitamin C and protein you consume through your diet.
When most people think of collagen, they think of its role in producing and maintaining smooth, healthy skin.
As a component of your skin, collagen helps to promote skin elasticity. When you’re young, your skin has large amounts of elastin and collagen, giving it an elastic quality that prevents lines and wrinkles from forming.
As you get older, the amount of collagen produced by your body begins to decline. According to a 2006 study, people aged 80 and older produce approximately 68 percent less collagen than people aged 18 to twenty-nine.
For most people, collagen production decreases gradually over time, starting from around the age of thirty.
This decline in collagen production can have a noticeable effect on your skin. It’s one of several reasons why wrinkles, smile lines and other signs of aging become more obvious as you grow older.
By far the biggest factor in declining collagen production is age.
With less collagen produced, your skin can become less elastic and more prone to wrinkling, sagging and other damage.
While age is the biggest factor in determining your body’s collagen production, it’s not the only one. Other factors that can affect your ability to produce collagen include:
Diet. Your body produces collagen from dietary protein, meaning that protein-rich foods are ideal for increasing collagen production.
Lean meats like chicken, fish and beef are all high in protein, making them ideal for encouraging collagen production.
As well as meat-based sources of protein, your body can use the protein in beans, milk, eggs, yogurt and other protein-rich foods to produce collagen.
Collagen production also depends on zinc, vitamin C and copper. Foods like tomatoes, green vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains are rich in these minerals, making them worthy additions to your diet.
Sleep. Your skin produces new collagen while you sleep, making it important to spend enough time in bed every night. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night to keep your body running efficiently, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.
Smoking. The chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage collagen and elastin, causing your body to lose these essential proteins.
This is one of several reasons why smoking can increase the signs of aging and make wrinkles more visible.
Sun exposure. Excessive amounts of exposure to sunlight is one of the biggest causes of aging. UV exposure from spending time in the sun can damage collagen and reduce your skin’s total collagen fiber count, often by as much as 20 percent.
Collagen drinks are a great idea in theory. After all, collagen is an important building block for healthy skin. It’s also something you make less of as you get older, making a convenient drink great for topping up your collagen levels and keeping your skin healthy.
Unfortunately, the scientific evidence to support collagen drinks isn’t exactly thorough. In fact, much of the scientific studies carried out on collagen supplements draw their conclusions from animal data.
For instance, a 2010 rat study that found marine collagen hydrolysate has protective effects on skin aging. Then there’s a 2013 study that was conducted on mice, which found that oral collagen hydrolysate affects skin elasticity and epidermal barrier function.
There’s also an older study from 2006 that tested collagen supplements, this time on pigs. It also found that oral collagen supplements can increase collagen levels in the skin.
But there are some promising human studies, as well.
One, from 2014, found that people given a specific collagen supplement had smoother, less aged skin after 60 days than they did at the beginning of the study.
Another, also from 2014, found that daily use of an oral collagen supplement reduced wrinkles and improved elastin production over the course of eight weeks.
A 2013 study observed 69 patients ages 35 to 55 who were split into three groups to test the efficacy of collagen hydrolysate. The three groups of 23 people each were either given a collagen hydrolysate concentration of 2.5g, a collagen hydrolysate concentration of 5g or a placebo.
At the end of the eight-week study, skin elasticity in both collagen hydrolysate groups had improved over placebo. Researchers also observed a positive — but statistically insignificant — improvement in skin moisture and skin evaporation.
And perhaps most significant, a 2019 meta-analysis of the available literature regarding collagen supplementation found 11 studies that included over 805 patients and concluded that the available data surrounding collagen supplementation supports its efficacy as a treatment for things like anti-aging, skin elasticity and hydration, wound healing and dermal collagen density.
While these studies are promising and interesting, they don’t necessarily mean that you’ll get any aesthetic benefits from collagen drinks. They also have several major problems:
First, they often use collagen in combination with other ingredients, meaning there’s no way to know if the collagen itself is responsible for the improvement in skin.
Second, they’re limited in scale. One of the 2014 studies linked above only included 57 people, and the one from 2013 only included 69, meaning it’s tough to achieve statistical significance and produce reliable data.
Third, they often don’t use any placebo controls, making it impossible to compare the results experienced by the people who received collagen to those of people who didn’t use any collagen supplements.
Finally, many of these studies were sponsored by companies that manufacture and sell oral collagen supplements (often the exact supplements being tested), creating a fairly obvious conflict of interest.
In short, while some scientific data exists to show that collagen drinks and other supplements can improve your skin, it’s far from reliable or conclusive. The few studies of oral collagen that exist all have major issues, ranging from scale to funding.
This doesn’t mean that collagen drinks and supplements don’t work — only that the evidence isn’t quite as reliable as supplement manufacturers might want you to believe.
So, do collagen drinks actually work? Right now, it’s impossible to say yes or no. The studies aren’t perfect, meaning it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from them. At the same time, the few flawed, limited studies that do exist show promising, interesting results.
In short, collagen drinks are, at best, a maybe. While you might notice improvements in your skin after using them, right now there just isn’t enough scientific evidence to definitively state that they work.
Luckily, oral collagen isn’t the only substance you can use to reduce the signs of aging. There are already numerous real, FDA-approved anti-aging treatments available, most of which are backed up by comprehensive scientific data.
These include tretinoin, a topical medication that works by speeding up your body’s production of new skin cells. Countless studies show that tretinoin produces smoother, more elastic, less wrinkled skin after eight to 12 weeks of use.
Our guide to tretinoin for anti-aging goes into more detail on how tretinoin works, as well as the scientific data to back up its use as an anti-aging cream.
Another science-backed anti-aging ingredient is niacinamide. One study shows that regular use of niacinamide can help improve the appearance of your skin by reducing fine lines and wrinkles, lightening hyperpigmented spots and improving skin elasticity.
Beyond skincare products and medications, the easiest way to keep your collagen levels high is to maintain healthy habits. Eat a protein-rich diet, avoid smoking, stay active and make sure you get enough sleep and you’ll likely experience less of a drop in collagen as you get older.
Finally, take sun exposure seriously. Combined with the recommendations above, limiting your time in the sun and using SPF 15+ sunscreen whenever you spend more than a few minutes in direct sunlight will keep your skin safe, protected from UV damage and rich in collagen.