What to Know About Liquid Collagen and Its Potential Benefits
Liquid collagen is touted as a way to boost skin health, but does it work? Here's what to know about this collagen supplement.
Liquid collagen is the nutritional supplement du jour, thanks to a list of potential benefits that includes healthier-looking skin, more-flexible joints, stronger bones, and weight loss. Is it possible that one supplement can do all that? Maybe.
Collagen—the fibrous protein made by your body, not necessarily the supplement—is kind of awesome, says Robin Foroutan, RDN, an integrative medicine dietitian at the Morrison Center in New York City and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“It’s the most abundant protein in our body and provides structure and lubrication,” she says. “We are made mostly of collagen, and by the ripe old age of 25, this nutrient just falls off of a cliff.”
Sure signs that you’re in collagen-loss free-fall are wrinkles and sagging skin. Though you may still be eating collagen-boosting foods (like meat, fish, soy, and quinoa), your body will have trouble using the protein to make collagen. It makes sense that you’d look for ways to add it back into your body. That’s where collagen supplements come in (and why their popularity is on the rise).
Collagen supplements are primarily sold as powders, capsules, or liquids. Sometimes the protein is added to foods like bars or butter-like spreads. Choice of liquid, capsules, powder, or fortified foods is really a matter of personal preference, says Foroutan.
Liquid collagen–whether flavored or unflavored—is found in premade collagen drinks, collagen-infused waters, shots, and bone broths. They’re high in protein and low in calories, claiming to build up your collagen stores from the inside out, Foroutan says. But do they actually work?
Here’s what you need to know about liquid collagen, and whether it’s worth your money.
Types of liquid collagen
There are three main aspects of collagen to consider: its type, its source, and how it’s broken down.
There are 16 types of collagen in the human body, but the four most common types of collagen are Types I, II, III, and IV. The large majority of liquid collagen supplements on the market contain Type I, says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab, an independent supplement-testing organization in White Plains, New York. This type is found in your skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
Although vegan collagen powder has been cropping up more these days, most liquid collagen supplements are extracted from animal sources, such as hides, bones, or fish scales.
You may also notice some technical terms on your collagen supplement labels—things like “hydrolyzed” and “undenatured.” These relate to how the collagen is broken down, which affects absorption. They include:
- Hydrolyzed: Most collagen liquids on the market are hydrolyzed, which means the collagen has been broken down into basic amino acids that serve as building blocks of proteins, says Foroutan. This gives you the raw materials your body needs to build its own collagen.
- Gelatin: This is also broken down from large proteins but less so than hydrolyzed collagen.
- Undenatured: Comprising very small bits of Type II collagen, this form stops the breakdown of your natural collagen stores. It’s not broken into amino acids.
(Related: Does Vegan Collagen Powder Really Work?)
Liquid collagen benefits
Liquid collagen may help improve skin health and elasticity, lubricate joints, strengthen bones, and spur weight loss, but more research is needed to back up and bolster all of these claims, Foroutan says. Here are some of the touted benefits of this form of collagen.
May boost skin health
Sipping a collagen supplement might help your skin, according to a study published in 2019 in Nutrients. In the study of 72 healthy women age 35 or older, half drank Elasten, a liquid collagen that contains 2.5 grams of collagen peptides plus vitamin C, zinc, biotin, and a vitamin E complex, and half consumed a placebo. At the end of the 12-week study, skin ratings suggested that the drink improved skin hydration, elasticity, roughness, and density compared with the placebo. Greater skin density is a sign of healthier and more abundant collagen. But big disclaimer: this research was funded by the manufacturer of Elasten.
In a 2018 Nutrition Research study, people who drank a liquid collagen supplement for 90 days reported an improvement in their skin texture and elasticity. (This study was also conducted by the manufacturer.) The supplement contained other ingredients, including vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, chondroitin sulphate, and glucosamine.
In addition to being industry-funded, a downside to both of those studies is the fact that participants didn’t take collagen alone. Without studying liquid collagen on its own, we can’t know whether the skin-health benefits occurred thanks to the collagen, one (or all) of the other nutrients, or a combination.
Yet the research holds promise.
“Based on the limited number of studies available, preliminary results are promising for the short-term and long-term use of oral collagen supplements,” says Adam Friedman, MD, professor and chair of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. “They have shown some potential to increase skin elasticity, hydration, and dermal collagen density, though selecting which one is certainly difficult.”
Foroutan suggests choosing a collagen supplement with added vitamin C, which is believed to help your body absorb collagen.
(Related: Can Collagen Really Help You Lose Weight?)
May reduce joint pain
The Nutrition Research study also found that participants who drank the collagen supplement reported a 43 percent reduction in joint pain and a 39 percent improvement in joint mobility. Currently, osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear form of the disease, is treated with over-the-counter or prescription painkillers, which all have their fair share of side effects.
Collagen supplements, however, appear to be safe, with a very low risk of side effects, says Mark Moyad, MD, the Jenkins/Pokempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. If anything, you might experience some stomach symptoms, a headache, dizziness, or a rash from collagen liquids.
By contrast, overuse of the over-the-counter painkiller acetaminophen can cause liver damage. And the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen has been linked to bleeding ulcers. All things considered, liquid collagen may be worth a try to see if it makes a difference in your joint pain and function, Dr. Moyad says.
May increase bone strength
During menopause, production of the female sex hormone estrogen drops, and as a result, the risk for the brittle bone disease osteoporosis goes up. In a 2020 issue of the Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions, researchers gave collagen powder along with calcium and vitamin D to a group of postmenopausal women with weakened bones. They found the supplement might help build and strengthen bones after three months of use. Note, however, that the study was funded by a collagen manufacturer.
The same benefits could also occur with liquid collagen, Foroutan notes.
May promote feelings of fullness
Can collagen really help you lose weight? Liquid collagen can be very high in protein, which can make you feel fuller longer, potentially limiting how much you eat. This could lead to weight loss, says Moyad. Eating a bowl bone broth between meals can be one way to curb your appetite.
When choosing liquid collagen, it’s important to compare calories, protein, and sugars per serving. With powdered collagen, you can just add water. Liquids, on the other hand, may have more calories due to other added ingredients, Dr. Moyad says.
Collagen liquid vs. serum
There’s the liquid collagen that goes in your mouth, and there’s the liquid collagen that goes on your skin. What’s the difference? Unlike the collagen liquid you eat or drink, collagen serums claim to stimulate the production of this structural protein from the outside in.
“Applying collagen serums can moisturize and plump the skin, but that does not mean they can actually stimulate the body’s own synthesis of collagen,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital. “Collagen molecules are too large to penetrate the skin, so look for peptides which are formulated to penetrate more effectively.”
For topical products that stimulate your body’s own collagen creation, look to retinols, retinoids, or the plant-based alternative bakuchiol, she says.
(Related: What to Know About Peptides in Skin Care)
Potential risks of liquid collagen
They may not have many likely side effects, but liquid collagen products are still supplements. And those come with a caveat. Supplements aren’t regulated with the same scrutiny as pharmaceutical products, so it’s key that you choose a product from a reputable brand that stands behind its supplement, Dr. Friedman says.
ConsumerLab tested collagen products to see if they really had the amount of collagen promised on the labels. Good news: products contained collagen in the amounts stated on their labels, ranging from about a 3-gram to 25-gram serving per day among powders and liquids.
Many collagen supplements are made from animal carcasses, so toxic heavy metals may be present, says Foroutan. In fact, a study of 28 best-selling collagen peptide supplements on Amazon by the Organic Consumers Association found that:
- 64 percent tested positive for measurable levels of arsenic
- 37 percent tested positive for measurable levels of lead
- 34 percent tested positive for trace levels of mercury
Don’t panic. “Minimal to low exposure is always expected,” Dr. Moyad says. “It is exposure above these levels, especially for long periods of time, that could increase the risk of health problems.”
The best way to cut down your risk is to be selective when it comes to the manufacturer. “When looking at a collagen supplement product, look for quality assurance reports. Or even ask the company for them,” Dr. Friedman says. “This can give insight in terms of purity and stability testing.” A third-party seal of approval from ConsumerLab, NSF International, or U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) is also a vote of confidence.
The last word
Liquid collagen supplements may have some merits, but more research is needed before experts say for sure they fulfill all of their promises. “If the claims sounds too good to be true, they likely are, and the marketing jargon is likely overcompensating,” Dr. Friedman says.
Not all products are created equal. Make sure to choose a reputable and transparent brand, and check the label to see if a product contains other ingredients that could potentially contribute to or sabotage your goals. Always follow the dosing instructions on the product’s label, and let your doctor know about any supplements that you are currently taking.
Now that you know about liquid collagen, here’s everything you need know about niacinamide and skincare.