As soon as you pass your mid-20s, you become aware of ads picturing women with drawn-in arrows titled ‘collagen’ pointing to their flawless skin, thickening shampoos with extra collagen added to them – leaving you without a doubt that it is collagen (and not Photoshop) is the biggest contributor to the healthy glow. When scrolling Instagram, at least one semi-famous person on your feed, be it a micro-influencer or a big celebrity, attribute their youthful complexion to some type of collagen treatment. And, if you looked beyond your phone, notice how many beauty salons offers a collagen treatment – ranging from masks to microneedling and injections. Somehow restoring it also has a higher price tag: hair, skin and nails supplements which contain collagen cost more. Skincare and hair care products promise a boost of collagen, which also cost extra.
This leaves you wondering what to do. Do you eat collagen? Do you slap it on your skin and hair? Do you fork out part of your paycheck for a beauty treatment?
We, too, became overwhelmed with choice and as a result decided to get curious and look closely at this essential 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 25% to 35% of the whole-body protein content. Collagen consists of amino acids that 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 one small amount of a specific type of collagen is found in the outer layers of hair itself – collagen plays a key role in maintaining function of a hair follicle. Collagen is found in the skin tissue surrounding the hair follicle. A number of studies have found that during anagen (growth) stage of the hair follicle, amount of collagen surrounding the hair bulb thickens and increases. As the hair follicle matures into catagen stage, it loses two layers of collagen surrounding it. As our body produces more collagen, these layers re-grow therefore supporting our hair follicles in entering the growth stage again and maintaining the ongoing cycle of hair growth.
The myth of increasing collagen
To put it very simply, collagen molecules are simply too large to penetrate the skin. Therefore any topical products claiming to boost collagen production in skin are just going to leave collagen molecules on top of it and won’t actually penetrate it and make any impact on your collagen production.
Also, since collagen is a form of protein, it also can not be digested whole, rather it will be broken down and digested just like any other protein we eat. So taking collagen supplement orally won’t help you build it up either.
This leaves us with a question. How do we restore levels of collagen? 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. While our body indeed is capable to produce collagen, this building process requires a number of building blocks whose consumption should be subject to careful supervision and guidance of a qualified nutritionist.
Vitamin C, or absorbic acid is absolutely essential to synthesis of lysine and proline amino acids – building blocks that make up collagen. Vitamin C also acts as a stabilisator of the collagen molecule once it has been formed. It 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 steamed broccoli or kale can help you reach your daily goal of vitamin C..
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, absorption of iron is significantly reduced after consumption of milk and milk-based products
Zinc – phytate, which is present in staple foods like cereals, corn and rice, has a strong negative effect on zinc absorption from composite meals, same as casein, a protein found in milk and milk products. Therefore avoid these 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 ensured by consuming with proteins: animal based (organic and sustainably farmed meat, fish, poultry) or plant-based (organic beans, pulses, lentils, legumes)
Lysine and threonine are two of the essential amino acids that are absolutely necessary for collagen production. The body doesn’t make these, so they must be obtained from the diet via such foods as meats, poultry, fish, eggs, wheat germ 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 is amongst reasons behind thinning hair, slower hair growth and hair loss:
- Stress – high levels of cortisol destroy collagen contain in dermis
- Unbalanced diet and insufficient intake of vitamins
- Ageing – our body naturally produce less collage as we age
- High amounts of sugar
- Ultraviolet rays
Just like anything worth working and waiting for, appropriate levels of collagens are difficult to achieve, especially in the high-stress environments a lot of us tend to live in. However consumption of supplements and balanced diet with organic and ethically farmed produce will help boost your collagen production and therefore improve appearance of your hair.
Have you read our top 5 vitamins essential for hair growth? Read it here.
Will drinking more coffee help you grow your hair? Read all about impacts of caffeine on hair growth here.
Links & Sources:
- Mapping the Ligand-binding Sites and Disease-associated Mutations on the Most Abundant Protein in the Human, Type I Collagen, http://www.jbc.org/content/277/6/4223
- Induction of collagenolytic and proteolytic activities by anti-inflammatory drugs in the skin and fibroblast, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0006295268901822?via%3Dihub
- Role of macrophages in collagen resorption during hair growth cycle, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022532069901014
- Dietary Factors Influencing Zinc Absorption, https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/5/1378S/4686381
- Dynamic ultrastructural changes of the connective tissue sheath of human hair follicles during hair cycle, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00402618
- Wikipedia on Collagen, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collagen