As proteins go, collagen is one that gets a lot of attention. One reason may be that collagen and hair have an intimate connection. Most of us have a real strong attachment to our hair and how it looks and feels. It’s part of our identity.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein that supports and protects a number of bodily functions, including the digestive tract, respiratory system, and immune system. Perhaps it’s best known, however, for its role in skin and hair health. For the former, it provides elasticity and strength while also helping replace dead skin cells as they slough off. For the latter, it plays an essential role in replenishing hair loss and making hair stronger and resilient.
Collagen is made up of amino acid, and your hair follicle cells use amino acids to make keratin protein. This protein in turn promotes hair elasticity, strength, and growth. Collagen also is an antioxidant, which means it can neutralize free radicals and in turn support better hair growth and help prevent hair follicle integrity.
Collagen and hair
As we age, two factors have an impact on collagen and its relationship to hair. One is that collagen production declines, just when we need it the most! The other is the breakdown of the protein from exposure to sunlight, the use of alcohol, chronic stress, and poor dietary choices such as excess sugar. Fortunately, we are not powerless to reduce the negative effects of low collagen production and breakdown.
Collagen and hair loss
Most hair loss is associated with predetermined genetic factors and aging. In fact, many women and men may notice some thinning of their hair starting in their 30s and 40s. On average, people lose about 100 strands of hair daily, but that number increases as we get older. By 50, nearly half of women will experience pattern hair loss.
Healthy hair depends on having healthy hair follicles. However, those follicles, like the rest of your body, experience the impact of free radical damage associated with the factors that also breakdown collagen. According to a 2016 study, for example, scientists found that the more free radicals that accumulated on the scalp and skin, the more hair loss and hair thinning occurred.
In addition to the breakdown of collagen, several other factors can be involved in hair loss. The presence of autoimmune diseases, low thyroid function, iron deficiency, environmental toxins, and emotional trauma can all be factors in hair loss.
Another significant factor is hormonal imbalances typically associated with perimenopause and menopause. The dramatic decline in estrogen and progesterone, which are involved in hair growth, contributes to hair loss. At the same time, a rise in male hormones called androgens can reduce the size of hair follicles.
Using collagen supplements
Collagen can help improve your hair’s strength, elasticity, and overall appearance. Since hair regrowth and strength begins from the inside out, providing your body with collagen in the form of a supplement or a food such as bone broth can promote better hair health and growth.
When you take a collagen supplement, the protein is absorbed through your digestive system and ultimately stimulates cells to make more natural collagen. Supplements also help the formation of elastin, a substance that gives skin elasticity.
The suggested form of collagen supplement to take contains hydrolyzed collagen peptides, which are readily absorbed by the body. If you choose a collagen supplement that contains vitamin C, this nutrient can help the body utilize glycine and proline, two amino acids that are essential for creating keratin in the body, the main protein in hair.
Another ingredient you may see in collagen supplements is biotin. Also known as vitamin H, one of its main jobs is to break down amino acids. Keratin production depends on optimal protein metabolism, therefore biotin can be a great asset for healthy hair.
[Editor's Note: We love the collagen supplements from YouTheory. They have both bovine and marine collagen for vegans.)
We tend to be very protective of our hair, so keeping it as healthy as possible is a priority for many of us. Collagen is a building block for our locks, so taking a high-quality collagen supplement is one way to help prevent hair loss and preserve its strength and vitality as we get older.