A red drink is being poured from a bottle into a glass with ice;  The idea is to drink collagen

There is a great buzz surrounding collagen drinks and supplements, with celebrities and influencers touting their miraculous benefits for skin, hair and nails. Since our body’s collagen provides vital support for these tissues, it seems that taking collagen can lead to luscious locks and a youthful glow. But what does science say?

What is collagen?

Collagen is a major structural protein in our tissues. It is found in skin, hair, nails, tendons, cartilage and bones. Collagen works with other substances such as hyaluronic acid and elastin to maintain skin elasticity, volume and moisture. It helps make proteins like keratin that make up skin, hair and nails.

Our bodies naturally make collagen using amino acids from protein-rich or collagen-rich foods such as bone broth, meat, and fish. But aging, sun damage, smoking and alcohol consumption all reduce collagen production.

Collagen drinks and supplements often contain collagen from a variety of sources, such as fish, cattle, pork, or chicken. Typically, they contain peptides, short chains of amino acids that help build essential proteins in the body, including collagen and keratin.

What does science say about collagen drinks and supplements?

Studies on skin include:

  • A review and analysis of 19 studies, published International Journal of Dermatology, which had a total of 1,125 participants. Those who use collagen supplements have seen improvements in skin firmness, elasticity and moisture content, with less noticeable wrinkles. This sounds promising, but it’s unclear whether these skin improvements are actually due to collagen. Most trials have used commercially available supplements that contain more than collagen: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, coenzyme Q10Hyaluronic acid, and chondroitin sulfate were among the additional ingredients.
  • Some randomized, controlled trials (see here and here) show that taking collagen supplements with high amounts of the peptides prolylhydroxyproline and hydroxyprolglycine improves skin moisture, elasticity, wrinkles, and roughness. But large, high-quality studies are needed to know whether commercially available products are helpful and safe for long-term use.

Hardly any evidence supports the use of collagen for hair and nail growth. A small 2017 study of 25 people with brittle nails found that taking 2.5 grams of collagen daily for 24 weeks improved brittleness and nail growth. However, this small study did not have a control group receiving a placebo to compare with the group receiving the collagen supplement.

There have been no studies in humans examining the benefits of collagen supplements for hair. Currently, no medical evidence supports marketing claims that collagen supplements or drinks can improve hair growth, shine, volume, and thickness.

Should you try collagen supplements or drinks?

At this time, there is not enough evidence that taking collagen pills or drinking collagen drinks will make a difference in skin, hair or nails. Our body cannot absorb collagen in its full form. In order to enter the bloodstream, it must be broken down into peptides so that it can be absorbed through the intestines.

These peptides can be further broken down into building blocks that create proteins like keratin that help form skin, hair and nails. Or the peptides can create collagen that is deposited in other parts of the body, such as cartilage, bone, muscle or tendon. So far, no human studies have clearly shown that the collagen you take orally ends up in your skin, hair, or nails.

If your goal is to improve skin texture and elasticity and reduce wrinkles, you may want to focus on sun protection and use topical retinoids. Extensive research has already proven that these measures are effective.

If you want to use a collagen supplement or drink, review the ingredients list and protein profile. Avoid supplements with excessive additives or fillers. Products with high amounts of prolylhydroxyproline and hydroxyprolglycine are better at reducing wrinkles and increasing skin moisture.

Consult your doctor before starting any new supplements. Those prone to gout or other medical conditions that require protein restriction should not use collagen supplements or drinks.

Bottom line

Large-scale trials evaluating the benefits of oral collagen supplements for skin and hair health are not available. If you’re concerned about thinning or weak hair, brittle nails, or keeping skin smooth and healthy, talk to your doctor or dermatologist for advice on a range of options.

It will also help:

  • Follow a healthy lifestyle and eat a balanced diet that includes protein-rich foods.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Limit alcohol to two drinks or less per day for men or one drink or less per day for women.
  • Apply sunscreen daily and remember to reapply every two hours.
  • Wear wide-brimmed or UV-protective hats and clothing when you spend a lot of time in the sun.

Follow Payal Patel on Twitter @payelpotelmd

Follow Maryanne Makredes Senna on Twitter @HairWithDrMare

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