A cure for aging! Every generation and every culture seem to have one. The ancient Romans bathed in crocodile feces to stay youthful, and some unlucky Victorian-era women applied mercury directly to their faces to eliminate (corrode) wrinkles and blemishes. Today, celebrities are encouraging women to put leeches, placenta, and even their own blood on their faces to keep age at bay. Everyone’s looking for a way to turn back the clock and keep skin smooth, plump, and elastic as we age. Now, modern science is taking a turn.
In the 21st century, we don’t have to wonder what makes skin look youthful and why it ages the way it does. We know that collagen, the most abundant protein in our body, is what gives skin its structure and elasticity. It’s found primarily in hair, nails, muscles, tendons, bones and skin. Starting around age 30, collagen begins to break down faster than it’s replaced, and our skin slowly loses elasticity, firmness, and moisture as we age.
Collagen for cosmetics is usually sourced from animals like fish, and it’s a popular ingredient in anti-aging creams. Many people love collagen creams, but some dermatologists are skeptical about collagen’s ability to penetrate the skin deeply enough to have a lasting impact. Liquid collagen drinks claim to be able to boost collagen production from the inside.
If you’re wondering how collagen could make the journey from your intestines to your face, you’re right to be skeptical. It doesn’t, and that’s not actually the basis of liquid collagen’s claims. Instead, they suggest that as the body digests collagen molecules, breaking them down into smaller parts, your body recognizes the bits of collagen in your system and thinks there must have been a big breakdown, maybe an injury, and it responds by boosting your natural collagen production.
The claims sound reasonable, but are they backed by research? A study funded by the makers of Pure Gold Collagen found that daily supplementation with 50 mL of their product reduced dryness and wrinkles in 60 days and increased collagen density and skin firmness over 12 weeks. We should be a little suspicious of research financed by companies trying to sell us a product, but two other high-quality studies support their findings. A 2014 article published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that collagen supplementation helped hydrate skin after 8 weeks and increased collagen density after only 4 weeks, and a 2013 article in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology found only slight improvement in skin moisture but a significant improvement in elasticity with collagen supplementation.
The research is impressive so far, and there aren’t many serious safety concerns. The most significant risk is an allergic reaction. If you’re allergic to fish, you may have a reaction to collagen peptides derived from fish, and the same allergy concerns exist for collagen peptides derived from beef, pork, and shellfish. If you have a food allergy, always check your cosmetics or supplements for ingredients that could trigger an allergic reaction. Other side effects can include upset stomach, decreased appetite, or an unpleasant aftertaste (especially associated with fish-derived products).
The biggest downside to collagen supplements for most consumers is the cost. Cheaper brands may contain types of collagen that haven’t been well-researched, and the top brands can cost over $100 for a month’s supply. It may be tempting to pick up a pack of drink mixes at your local drug store for $10, but if you’re buying a product with ingredients that haven’t been researched, you could be throwing your $10 away. Researchers don’t yet understand why some collagen supplements are more effective than others and haven’t researched all of the types of collagen available in stores. Even though collagen supplements are considered safe, always check with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet.
This article first appeared on AskDrManny.com.