Whether in the form of collagen pills, collagen powers or collagen serums, collagen is often featured in hair growth supplements, whether on its own as a powder or liquid or as part of the additional ingredient to other vitamins, often biotin. However, taking collagen supplements have challenges related to collagen’s biochemistry, bioavailability and the size of its molecules. Today we answer a question – do collagen pills help hair growth and can you trust the hype?
The collagen craze
As soon as you pass your mid-20s, you start noticing ads picturing women with drawn-in arrows titled ‘collagen’ pointing to their flawless skin and thickening shampoos with added collagen in most drugstores. This should leave out any doubt that it is collagen (and not Photoshop) which is the biggest contributor to the healthy glow.
If you’re scrolling through your social media beauty feed, at least one semi-famous person: be it an influencer or a big celebrity, attribute their youthful complexion to a type of collagen treatment. And, if you lift your eyes from your phone, many beauty salons offer a variety of collagen treatments – ranging from masks, to microneedling and collagen injections. Somehow restoring it also has a higher price tag: hair, skin and nails supplements that contain collagen cost significantly more.
This leaves you puzzled. Do you eat it? Do you put collagen on your skin and scalp? Or should you part with a hefty part of your hard-earned paycheck for a beauty treatment at a clinic?
We, too, became overwhelmed with choice and as a result decided to get curious and look closely at this protein, shedding some light on its role in hair growth.
An abundant protein
Collagen is the main structural protein found in the various connective tissues in the body. It is the most abundant protein in mammals, making up 25% to 35% of the whole-body protein content. Collagen consists of amino acids which are wound together to form the triple helix of the collagen molecule. It is mostly found in fibrous tissues, such as tendons, ligaments and skin.
Although only a small amount of collagen is found in the outer layers of hair shaft itself – collagen plays a key role in maintaining healthy function of a hair follicle.
In particular, collagen contributes to the elasticity, structure and strength of your dermis – or middle part of your skin – precisely where the hair root resides. With age, your body becomes less efficient at producing collagen and replenishing cells in the dermis. Therefore the area where hair bulb doesn’t get enough structural support therefore collapsing into itself, without necessary amount of collagen.
Some lifestyle factors (e.g. tobacco smoking, diet high in highly processed foods and sugar, stress) impact your body’s ability to manufacture collagen to support the structure of your dermis. This may be one of the reasons why hair gets thinner over time.
Collagen is found in the skin tissue surrounding the follicle. A number of studies have found that during anagen (growth) stage of the hair, the amount of collagen surrounding the hair bulb also increases and thickens – therefore providing enough structural support for the hair follicle to develop new hair.
As the hair follicle matures into the catagen stage, it loses two layers of collagen surrounding it. During growth stage, these layers re-grow, likely as a supporting structure for the hair bulb to develop again, maintaining the healthy cycle of hair growth.
It was found that your hair follicles also need T cells and macrophages – immune cells – in order to pass through catagen into anagen (growth) stage at every growth cycle. Those cells are delivered by blood, pointing to the necessity of healthy blood flow to scalp to grow healthy hair as well as alleviating hair loss that comes from shortened anagen stage.
Collagen pills: the myths
Since collagen is a form of protein, it also cannot be digested whole in its pure form. Rather, it needs to break down and get digested just like any other protein you eat. Hydrolyzed collagen (also known as collagen peptides) is a broken down into more easily dissolvable amino acids type of collagen. Your body processes the amino acids – namely lycine, glycine and proline – releases them into blood stream, and transforms into the building blocks that can become collagen in your scalp and hair follicles.
However, if your body is deficient in these amino acids in other parts of your body, for example, your skin, bones or cartilage – then it will prioritise those areas to top them up with these amino acids and not your hair. While some amounts of protein consumed as part of your diet or supplements can absolutely end up in your hair follicles, you’re leaving it up to your body to decide where it goes.
Topical collagen for hair growth: the myths
Collagen molecules are simply too large to penetrate the skin, including that on your scalp. Therefore any topical products claiming to boost collagen production in skin are just going to leave collagen molecules on top of it and without penetrating it and making any impact on your collagen production.
A number of studies were performed in the field of absorption and improvement of skin and hair appearance by ingesting collagen, however those studies have been funded by companies which produce collagen. Supplement market remains largely unregulated, so a question of safety still stands, as collagen most of the time produced from bones and cartilages of cows, chicken and other animals – so the conditions in which those animals are kept can lack transparency.
There is a number of differing opinions, ranging from those claiming a finite amount of collagen in our bodies to those supporting the ability of our bodies to produce collagen again. In addition, digestive and cardiovascular systems and their interactions still remain unclear and inconclusive. While our body can produce collagen, this building process requires a number of building blocks whose consumption should be carefully supervised under the guidance of a qualified nutritionist.
How to make collagen for hair growth
So if collagen pills, powder, shampoos and creams are not the way to top up your levels of collagen for hair growth. What is?
One of the functions of collagen is to support and repair broken tissue. This is why microneedling your scalp for production of collagen is a better way to increase localised production of collagen in your scalp, instead of taking collagen pills.
By using a microneedling tool on your scalp, also known as a dermastamp or dermaroller – you create tiny wounds around your scalp and those wounds signal your body that your scalp needs more collagen to repair them. This way your body sends extra collagen to where you want it – your hair follicles.
In addition, this microwounding process stimulates scalp blood flow – which is directly associated with hair health and accelerates hair regrowth, supporting your hair follicles to grow healthy hair.
Building blocks of collagen
It is important to remember if consuming collagen orally, that body breaks it down into amino acids first, releases them into blood stream and only then creates collagen. There are other ingredients in this process without which, collagen molecules would not form.
Vitamin C, or absorbic acid is essential to synthesis of lycine, glycine and proline amino acids – building blocks that make up collagen. Vitamin C also acts as a stabilisator of the crosslinks of collagen mollecule.
Vitamin C can either be taken as a supplement, or via a balanced diet rich in dark leafy vegetables, like kale, broccoli and spinach. Contrary to the popular belief, oranges (53mg/100g) contain significantly lower amount of vitamins C compared to kale (120mg/100g) or broccoli (90mg/100g).
Daily recommended amount of vitamin C is 65-90mg a day. Therefore a small side of fresh broccoli or kale can help you reach your daily goal of vitamin C. Beware that high cooking temperatures break down vitamin C, therefore you are likely to attain better results by supplementing with this vitamin.
Iron, Zinc and Copper are all key in production of collagen. However its intake needs to be carefully monitored, as overconsumption of either may cause mineral poisoning. In addition, absorption of some minerals is only possible when combined with specific vitamins or foods taken simultaneously:
Iron – advised to be taken with Vitamin C. Remember also that your absorption of iron is reduced after consumption of milk and milk-based products.
Zinc – phytate, which is present in staple foods like cereals, corn and rice inhibits absorption of Zinc. Casein, a protein found in milk and milk product also has a strong negative effect on zinc absorption. Therefore, avoid simultaneous consumption of phytate- and casein-rich foods when taking your zinc supplements. Zinc is best consumed from protein-rich foods: whether animal based (organic and sustainably farmed meat, fish, poultry) or plant-based (organic beans, pulses, lentils, legumes).
Copper – best absorption of copper ensured by consuming with proteins whether animal or plant-based in origin.
Lysine and threonine are two of the essential amino acids that are necessary for collagen production. The body doesn’t make these, so they must be obtained from the diet through foods like meats, poultry, fish, eggs, wheatgerm and beans, or nutritional supplements.
Loss of collagen
Now that we have covered the essentials of enabling your body to build its own collagen, here is a list of factors that contribute to lower levels of collagen and even its degradation. Degradation of collagen and deceleration of its production are amongst reasons behind thinning hair, slower hair growth and hair loss:
- Stress – high levels of cortisol destroy collagen contained in dermis
- Unbalanced diet and insufficient intake of vitamins
- Ageing – our body naturally produce less collagen as we age
- High amounts of sugar that causes inflammation in your body
- Ultraviolet rays
Appropriate levels of collagens are hard to achieve, especially in the high-stress environments we live in. Consumption of supplements and a balanced diet with organic and ethically-farmed produce will help boost your collagen production that could boost appearance of your hair.
Originally published in December 2018, updated May 2022.
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The Hair Fuel is an all-natural hair growth mask created by Laura Sagen, who lost a third of her hair after a terrible visit to a hairdresser while suffering from a life-long condition of PCOS associated with androgenic hair thinning. She developed the formulation rooted in science of scalp blood flow, which has become The Hair Fuel growth mask. Since then, her company has helped thousands of people like you to start growing healthy hair.
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- Mapping the Ligand-binding Sites and Disease-associated Mutations on the Most Abundant Protein in the Human, Type I Collagen, (1)
- Induction of collagenolytic and proteolytic activities by anti-inflammatory drugs in the skin and fibroblast, (2)
- Role of macrophages in collagen resorption during hair growth cycle, (3)
- Dietary Factors Influencing Zinc Absorption, (4)
- Dynamic ultrastructural changes of the connective tissue sheath of human hair follicles during hair cycle, (5)
- Wikipedia on Collagen, (6)
- Amino acid composition in determination of collagen origin and assessment of physical factors effects, International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, (7)
- Dermal macrophage and its potential in inducing hair follicle regeneration, (8)
- Immune modulation of hair follicle regeneration, (9)
1. Does collagen really help hair growth?
Not directly. Collagen plays an essential role in hair growth by lining up the inner sack of the hair follicle as well as keeping the dermis – layer of the skin from which a hair grows from, structurally sound, elastic and strong. Collagen does not directly prompt or accelerate hair growth.
2. What type of collagen helps hair growth?
Hair needs a balanced “cocktail” of amino acids to ensure structural integrity of skin and the hair follicle – from where a hair can grow from. While hydrolyzed collagen is absorbed easier, your body still breaks it down to amino acids and decides where to divert those building blocks to. Therefore focusing on a localised stimulation (e.g. dermarolling and improvement of scalp blood supply) supplemented by oral ingestion of collagen supplement is often recommended.
3. Does collagen thicken hair?
It is not that straightforward. A combination of internal and external stimulation of collagen production can help lining up the hair follicles which can contribute to growth of thicker hair – up to the maximum thickness your hair has had previously.
4. How long does it take for collagen to work for hair growth?
It depends if your body experiences a shortage of proteins elsewhere in your body. If your nutrition doesn’t bring sufficient protein to your body, supplementation of collagen will not lead to hair growth, but rather focus on repair of bones, ligaments and tendons first. Any significant changes in your hair health routine, including collagen supplementation should be observed over a period of at least 3-6 months to incorporate the natural timing of hair growth cycle.
5. What does a scalp treatment do?
Depending on the goals of your scalp treatment, it can help hair growth, treat dandruff including fungal infections. Scalp is made up of skin, so it can get affected by conditions affecting other parts of your body: e.g. eczema, fungal infections, psoriasis etc.
6. Can collagen make your hair grow?
Not directly. It is however important to consume sufficient amounts of amino acids, many of which (but not all) are present in collagen, to ensure your body receives sufficient amounts of building blocks to maintain healthy body, skin and hair and doesn’t experience shortages of it. In the event of a shortage, your hair usually suffers first – and recovers last.
7. How much collagen should I take for hair growth?
You should focus on taking a sufficient amount of protein per day, rather than focusing on collagen alone. A sedentary adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. Ensure you consume enough protein from varied sources. Note that hydroproxyline is only available through consumption of collagen and not available through other protein sources. Depending on your lifestyle and particular body needs (if you exercise regularly your muscle will require a higher amount of collagen, therefore increasing an overall need to have “leftover” for your hair. A 2.5-15mg daily dose appears to be safe and effective.
8. Does collagen grow hair faster?
Collagen doesn’t help accelerate hair growth. It lines up the hair follicle to support growth of healthy hair.
9. What collagen is best for hair regrowth?
Hydrolized collagen is easiest absorbed by your body.