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By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz around the hottest drink trend. No, I’m not talking about mushroom lattes or canned soft drinks. If you’re a fan of #skintok, you know about collagen-infused drinks, the magical protein that gives skin strength, hydration and a youthful appearance.
While celebrities and influencers alike have praised the benefits of ingestible collagen for years, Gldn Hour, Vital Proteins, SkinT, Reneva, Tru Beauty Sparkling, Voss+ and Pop & Bottle ready-to-drink collagen cans and bottles are now arriving directly in the refrigerator aisles of the grocery store. Functional drinks, as these feel-good drinks are called, have turned into a reported global market worth about $129 billion as of 2021. Collagen drinks, in particular, are expected to reach $831.8 million overall the world by 2030 (or roughly the international box office revenue of Disney’s 2017 live-action Beauty and the Beast).
The charm? Many collagen products, whether in powder, pill or drink form, 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 the form of, say, tasty drinks, you can further enhance your beauty routine by keeping your skin plump, firm, and hydrated.
But as enticing as collagen drinks are (and beauty promises they promote), I asked myself the following question: Do collagen drinks really work, and more importantly, is it Actually Is it safe to open a can or bottle and consume it? Curious, I reached out to a handful of dermatologists and registered dietitians for their thoughts, and learned some surprising facts along the way.
Collagen appears to be the most abundant protein in our body. Like small factories, we naturally produce collagen and use it to provide connective tissue for skin, hair, muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. It is also found in the food we consume, such as chicken skin, shellfish, bone-in meat, bone broth, and gelatin. Other foods high in protein, antioxidants, vitamin C, and zinc can even help nourish collagen production.
Collagen provides the scaffolding that supports your skin, explains dermatologist Rajani Katta, MD, author of Glow: The Dermatologists Guide to a Whole Foods Diet for Younger Skin and professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine. But it’s not exactly an endless fountain of youth: As we get older and our collagen starts to break down, you start to see wrinkles, sagging and loss of elasticity, he says. Certain behaviors such as excessive sun exposure, excessive alcohol intake, smoking and lack of sleep can also limit our collagen production.
What the experts say about collagen consumption
All the experts I spoke to agreed that diet, exercise, and sleep are certainly ways to boost our body’s natural collagen production. At the same time, they recognize the appeal of this quick (and affordable!) solution. But before you jump on the beauty bandwagon and fill your cart with expensive collagen 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 per day. (The average 12-fluid ounce collagen drink contains 3 to 10 grams.) Too many drinks, however, can cause digestive issues and throw our bodies off balance, so keeping track of how many are the keys. For the most part, cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, thinks collagen drinks may 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 that it’s crucial to read the ingredients list first, especially for sugar substitutes like erythritol.)
Another important thing to note: Companies don’t always disclose what type of collagen they’re using. As consumers, it’s important to question where exactly the collagen comes from these products, whether it comes from fish, cows, pigs or other sources. (Hello, vegans!) You also need to be aware of potential heavy metal contamination, such as high levels of mercury from seafood sources, Katta says.
Their effectiveness is even more confusing. The jury is still out, Katta says, as to whether they’re helpful for aging skin. Most research studies are small and manufacturer-funded, she cautions. And proving the effectiveness of drinks isn’t even their main focus. Most [studies] they’re not looking to see if collagen helps reduce wrinkles. [They] they’re studying skin hydration, which isn’t necessarily the benefit consumers are looking for when buying these products, she explains.
Summing up, Cabero says: Most things aren’t 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, he believes collagen powders are a better bet for boosting protein intake and reaping the benefits for skin, hair, nails and joints. I recommend it because it’s unique, a good source of most amino acids (building blocks of protein), and easy to supplement (not much flavor, good texture). In fact, he adds powders to his smoothies and baked goods, like pancakes and muffins. But, he adds, I make sure my clients have a variety of protein sources [their] diet not based only on collagen.
My Honest Review of Collagen Drinks
I first noticed SkinTs 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 to my cart.
Later, I went home to drink my new frozen drink. My impression? Sparkling, fun and tasty. It was like ordering an elegant ginger drink while lounging on the patio of a trendy restaurant. I just needed a cute paper umbrella.
I couldn’t even tell that I was absorbing the collagen, which doesn’t taste much anyway. (At least, not that I could tell.) Honestly, it tasted like lightly flavored sparkling water, but with Very of vitamin C (100% Daily Value). After being enlightened by experts, I also realized SkinTs White Tea Ginger has 30 milligrams of caffeine, but no erythritol.
Acquire: SkinT White Tea Ginger, $36 for 12 cans (12 oz) at SkinT or $2.50 for 1 can at Sprouts Farmers Market
While on my must-try roll, I also tried Vital Proteins Collagen Water. Although the popular brand, which happens to be Jennifer Aniston’s collagen drink, has five fruity flavors, I set my sights on Strawberry Lemon. The flavor was a bit flat and thin 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 from Sprouts, the Vital Proteins drink is pretty pricey for 12 fluid ounces of water, and also mind-boggling knowing I’m consuming 10 grams of bovine collagen peptides per bottle.
The final result? While I like to think that my brief dip in beauty-boosting collagen drinks allowed my face to take on a new glow and my tresses a new glow, in truth, I saw no noticeable difference in my skin, nails, hair or joints. (Of course, I have to admit that I haven’t had these drinks on a regular basis. And it’s not entirely clear how many drinks are needed and how long you’d need to use the product on a regular basis to see actual results.) However, taste testing across a couple of collagen- infused drinks, I’d argue are fun and refreshing alternatives to drink although they do require a fair amount of caution.
Acquire: Vital Proteins Collagen Water Strawberry Lemon, $12 for 4 bottles (12 oz) 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.
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