Scan your local grocery aisle, and you’re likely to notice a new trend as more and more beauty ingredients are now showing up in everything from energy bars to smoothies. Nutritionists believe this is due to a rising consumer demand for “functional foods” that offer health and beauty benefits beyond its nutritional value.1 While this trend is new to Americans, it’s been happening in Europe and Japan for several years.2
The latest hot ingredient to hit the market is collagen. According to Innova Market Insights, just last year close to 300 new collagen-based foods and supplements were brought to the U.S. food and beverage market.1 Despite the higher price tag on these products, they continue to be a hit with over $60 million in recent annual sales.1 So, does ingesting collagen really work?
Why is ingesting collagen so popular?
As a medical doctor who has spent years studying skincare solutions, I understand why collagen has become the new “it” food ingredient. Collagen plays an enormous role in keeping our skin looking supple and plump.3 As we age, we naturally produce less collagen and our skin loses elasticity causing fine lines and wrinkles to appear. This damage is furthered by smoking, prolonged sun exposure, and stress.2
This overwhelming desire to boost our skin’s youthful appearance by replacing lost collagen is likely fueling the demand to deliver this ingredient in more convenient forms.3 Given recent testimonials from celebrities, like Jennifer Aniston who ingests collagen powder in her morning smoothie, it’s no wonder collagen-based food and beverage items are gaining popularity.1
The claims on these product labels are unregulated.
Unfortunately, promises on food labels are unregulated in the United States, leaving many manufacturers to make claims that aren’t always backed by science. The majority of collagen-based food and drink producers are simply basing their claims on anecdotal experiences shared by a few customers.1
What many customers don’t realize is that collagen is only one of the ingredients found in these products. Numerous juices, nutrition bars, and powders also contain large quantities of vitamins like A, C, D, and E.1 This makes it increasingly difficult to isolate whether the ingested collagen is producing the significant impact they claim.
Additionally, for vegans and vegetarians, it’s important to note that most of the collagen added to these food and beverage products are sourced from the bones, skin, and cartilage of farm animals.1 This is a concern often not mentioned anywhere on the product’s label.
There’s little scientific evidence that ingesting collagen actually works.
While sales of collagen-based products continue to trend upwards, the number of relevant scientific studies are minimal.2 Only a couple of studies have been conducted, with most taking place over a short timeframe with a limited population. Given these factors, the statistical significance of these pre-existing studies is often questioned.3
Those in the medical field agree that there simply isn’t enough research to prove ingested collagen has any benefit.1 Many are skeptical and believe that once collagen enters the digestive system, it is broken down like any other protein. There would need to be at least a dozen independent scientific studies conducted with large sample sizes over a longer period of time for any conclusive evidence to be shown.1
In conclusion, while ingesting collagen won’t negatively impact your health, for its high cost, it’s unlikely to show any significant results. For those looking for immediate results, aesthetic procedures like injectable fillers or PRP (platelet-rich plasma) are a much better solution for augmenting collagen production and are backed by numerous scientific studies.
Using a broad-spectrum SPF and nutrient-rich skincare products will also provide much more anti-oxidant benefit than ingesting collagen. Maintaining a healthy diet and not smoking can also help reduce the loss of collagen, improve your skin’s appearance, and boost your overall health.