Does Drinking Collagen Actually Make Your Skin Better? We Asked 3 Experts.

published May 17, 2023
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College beverages on graphic background. Clockwise from top right: Gldn Hour, Vital Proteins, Skin Tē.
Credit: Clockwise from top right: Courtesy of Gldn Hour; Courtesy of Vital Proteins; Courtesy of Skin Tē

By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz around the hottest beverage trend. Nope, I’m not talking about mushroom lattes or canned non-alcoholic drinks. If you’re a fan of #skintok, you’re in the know about drinks spiked with collagen, the “magical” protein that gives skin its strength, hydration, and youthful appearance. 

While celebs and influencers alike have praised the benefits of ingestible collagen for years, ready-to-drink collagen cans and bottles Gldn Hour, Vital Proteins, SkinTē, Reneva, Tru Beauty Sparkling, Voss+, and Pop & Bottle — are now rolling straight into refrigerated grocery aisles. “Functional beverages,” as these wellness-type drinks are called, have turned into a reported global market valued at roughly $129 billion as of 2021. Collagen beverages, specifically, are projected to reach $831.8 million worldwide by 2030 (or roughly the international box office revenue of Disney’s 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast).

The allure? Many collagen products, whether in the form of powder, pills, or drinks, claim they can improve elasticity, reduce visible wrinkles, and even increase blood flow to the skin. The idea is that by easily ingesting collagen in, say, tasty beverage form, you can further enhance your beauty routine by maintaining plump, firm, and hydrated skin. 

But as enticing as collagen drinks are (and the beauty promises they tout), I wondered the following question: Do collagen beverages really work and, more importantly, is it actually safe to pop open a can or bottle and consume? Curious, I reached out to a handful of  dermatologists and registered dietitians for their thoughts and learned a few surprising facts along the way.

First, What Is Collagen?

Collagen just so happens to be the most abundant protein in our bodies. Like little factories, we naturally make collagen and use it to provide connective tissue for skin, hair, muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. It’s also found in the food we consume, such as chicken skin, shellfish, meat on the bone, bone broth, and gelatin. Other foods high in protein, antioxidants, vitamin C, and zinc may even help nurture collagen production. 

“Collagen provides the scaffolding that supports your skin,” explains dermatologist Rajani Katta, MD, author of Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet and professor of dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine. But it’s not exactly an infinite fountain of youth: “As we age and our collagen starts to break down, you start to see wrinkling, sagging, and a loss of elasticity,” she says. Certain behaviors — such as too much sun exposure, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, and lack of sleep — can also limit our collagen production.

Credit: Michelle Lau

What the Experts Say About Drinking Collagen

All of the experts I spoke with agree diet, exercise, and sleep are certainly ways to boost our bodies’ natural production of collagen. At the same time, they acknowledge the appeal of this quick (and convenient!) solution. But before you jump on the beauty bandwagon and fill your cart with expensive collagen-infused drinks, experts want you to know that these sought-after beverages may have a few shortcomings. 

Studies say it’s safe to consume up to 15 grams of collagen daily. (The average 12-fluid-ounce collagen drink has anywhere from 3 to 10 grams.) Too many drinks, however, may cause digestive issues and throw our bodies off balance, so keeping track of how many is key. For the most part, cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, thinks collagen drinks can be harmless. And if your goal is to find an alternative to coffee, alcohol, or sugary juices and soda, collagen drinks may have good replacement potential, explains registered dietitian Alanna Cabrero, MS, RDN, CDN, because they contain less caffeine, no alcohol, and fewer calories. (She also cautions it’s critical to read the ingredient list first, particularly for sugar substitutes like erythritol.)

Another important thing to note: Companies don’t always disclose what type of collagen they are using. As consumers, it’s important to question where exactly the collagen is coming from in these products, whether it’s from fish, cows, pigs, or other sources. (Hello, vegans!) “You also need to know about potential heavy metal contamination, such as high mercury levels from seafood sources,” says Katta. 

Their effectiveness is even more muddled. “The jury is still out,” says Katta, “on whether they are beneficial for skin aging.” Most of the research studies are small and funded by the manufacturer, she warns. And evidence of the drinks’ efficacy isn’t even their primary focus. “Most [studies] are not looking to see if collagen helps reduce wrinkles. [They] are studying skin hydration, which is not necessarily the benefit that consumers are seeking when they buy these products,” she explains.

Summing it all up, Cabero says, “Most things are not black and white.” Citing several studies from the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Nutrients, and the Journal of Medicinal Food, among others, she thinks collagen powders are a better bet to boost protein intake and reap the benefits for skin, hair, nail, and joints. “I recommend it because it’s unique, a good source of most amino acids (building blocks of protein), and easy to integrate (it doesn’t taste like much, has good texture).” In fact, she adds powders to her smoothies and baked goods, like pancakes and muffins. “But,” she adds, “I ensure that my clients have a variety of protein sources in [their] diet — not just relying on collagen.”

Credit: Michelle Lau

My Honest Review of Collagen Drinks

I first spotted SkinTē’s oh-so-pretty sparkling teas on a quick trip to my local Sprouts Farmers Market. “Hello, Liquid Radiance,” read the can. Intrigued — and also thirsty! — I did some quick internet sleuthing before adding the $2.50 can of White Tea Ginger into my basket. 

Later, I went home to drink my new beverage chilled. My impression? Fizzy, fun, and tasty. It was like a fancy ginger drink I’d order while lounging on the patio of a trendy restaurant. I just needed a cute paper umbrella.

I couldn’t even tell I was imbibing collagen, which doesn’t taste like much anyway. (At least, not that I could tell.) Honestly, it tasted like lightly flavored sparkling water, but with a lot of vitamin C (100% daily value). After being enlightened by experts, I also realized SkinTē’s White Tea Ginger has 30 milligrams of caffeine, but no erythritol.

Buy: SkinTē White Tea Ginger, $36 for 12 (12-ounce) cans at SkinTē or $2.50 for 1 can at Sprouts Farmers Market

Credit: Michelle Lau

While I was on my “let’s-try-it” roll, I gave Vital Proteins Collagen Water a shot, too. Although the popular brand, which happens to be Jennifer Aniston’s go-to collagen drink, has five fruity flavors, I set my sights on Strawberry Lemon. The flavor was a bit flat and subtle and offered zero caffeine and no artificial sweeteners, just reverse osmosis filtered flavored water. The taste is light and lemony with a hint of strawberries. At $3.49 each at Sprouts, Vital Proteins’ drink is somewhat pricey for 12 fluid ounces of water, and also mind-boggling to know I’m consuming 10 grams of bovine collagen peptides per bottle.

The end result? While I like to think my brief dip into beauty-boosting collagen drinks allowed my face to take on a new glow and my tresses a new shine, in truth, I saw no noticeable difference in my skin, nails, hair, or joints. (Of course, I admittedly did not sip these beverages regularly. And it’s not completely clear how many drinks are needed and how long you should regularly use the product to see actual results.) Still, taste-testing my way through a couple of collagen-infused beverages, I’d say these are fun and refreshing alternatives to drink — even if they do require a healthy dose of caution.

Buy: Vital Proteins Collagen Water Strawberry Lemon, $12 for 4 (12-ounce) bottles at Vital Proteins or $3.49 for 1 bottle at Sprouts Farmers Market

Have you tried collagen drinks or powders? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.