In this era of Kardashian, collagen has become synonymous with wrinkle fillers and lip injections. But for a group of forward-thinking women (and men!), the protein is the secret behind their glowing, gorgeous complexion—with nary a needle in sight.
Indeed, collagen—most derived from bovine sources and sometime chickens and fish scales—has become the beauty drink du jour (part of a larger trend we’ve been seeing towards sippable products), with everyone from the founder of Bulletproof to Jennifer Aniston herself singing its praises. But is the hype justified?
The lowdown on collagen
Collagen is a fibrous protein that’s a key component of your skin—it helps keep your dermis youthful and resilient (as well as lubricate your joints and, according to some, aid in digestion). It’s also jam-packed with “nonessential” amino acids that are actually pretty important in keeping the body functioning smoothly, like sleep-boosting glycine, as well as the skin, namely proline and hydroxyproline.
Alas, as we age, collagen starts to break down, which is why cosmetic docs use it as a soft-tissue filler to help erase lines—and, yes, give some women Angelina Jolie-esque cheeks and lips.
But unfortunate plastic surgery associations aside, collagen has promising holistic beauty applications. To wit: A recent review found that supplementing with oral collagen peptides significantly increased skin hydration after eight weeks, and boosted collagen density in half that time.
Why drink your collagen?
The ingestible collagen craze started, as offbeat beauty trends often do, in Asia, where brands like Shiseido and Amore Pacific have been selling collagen powders, drinks, and supplements for years. In the US, the bone broth phenomenon warmed us up to the idea of drinking our collagen, and more recently, Western brands have started to roll out beautifying supplements featuring the power protein—more on that in a minute.
“Collagen protein is unique, in that it has high amounts of the amino acids glycine, proline, and lysine, which are essential for the formation and repair of connective tissues, repair of bone matrix and joint surfaces, support of healthy skin and hair, and more,” raves Dave Asprey, the mad scientist behind the Bulletproof Coffee craze. Bulletproof sells a collagen protein supplement ($39.95) that can be stirred into coffee, tea, soups, stews, smoothies, or plain old water.
Sipping collagen, rather than applying it topically or injecting it, provides the entire body with the building blocks it needs to support the creation and repair of the body’s connective tissues, Asprey says—a process that starts to break down once you hit your mid-20s. Providing your entire system with collagen, he explains, can help kickstart it again.
How does drinking collagen help your own skin make more collagen?
Reserveage founder and CEO Naomi Whittel concurs explains what happens to your skin when you sip it: “When you ingest science-based hydrolyzed collagen, you increase the pool of special amino acids available to the cells in your body that make collagen,” explains Whittel, who’s a font of injestible skin-care know-how and formulates collagen powders and supplements from a white-lab-coat perspective. “In the skin, the fibroblasts in the dermal layer produce the collagen, so flooding the body with [collagen] can stimulate or optimize [your own] collagen formation, especially in cases where the supply is declining due to age or diet.”
A mega-trend in the making
Asprey’s a big believer that ingestible collagen is going to be a huge trend in the beauty world, which has caught up to the idea that, as he puts it, “physical appearance begins on the inside.” And given that he introduced us to an entirely new way of sipping coffee, he’s got some serious trend-spotting cred.
Whittel of Reserveage, probably the category leader in collagen you can sip, and newcomer Dirty Lemon certainly agree. The functional beverage brand (buzzed about in its own right) is putting the finishing touches on a new product, Dirty Lemon Skin+Hair, which places marine collagen front and center. (“Our marine collagen is derived from fish scales, which sounds gross,” laughs the Dirty Lemon’s founder, Zak Normandin. “But it’s odorless and tasteless.”)
“Topical collagen just affects one specific area of the body, but ingestible collagen helps with overall healthy skin,” he adds. So not only do the appearance of wrinkles begin to fade, but even younger women who might not yet be stressed about frown lines can benefit from skin that’s smoother and glowing.
Also trying to make collagen drinks indispensable is Fountain’s Phyto-Collagen Molecule beverage ($34.48) combines drinkable collagen with nutrient-dense wild phytoplankton, L-Glutathione (reputed to be a super antioxidant), and ultra-moisturizing hyaluronic acid.
And best-selling Reserveage Collagen Replenish powdered drink mix ($13.99) includes an added boost of skin-brightening vitamin C with its collagen, hyaluronic acid, and proprietary skin-plumping peptides.
The company also just debuted a new vegan form of collagen-boosting supplements, which is “monumental in the category,” says Reserveage’s Whittel. It contains plant-based sources of amino acids.
All of which means that the day when collagen is synonymous with holistic beauty—and not fake-looking fillers—may soon be at hand.
Collagen’s not the only supplement that gives good skin—these three plant-based powders are also known to impart a particularly stellar glow. Or, try adding more of these complexion-boosting foods to your diet.