Updated: Feb 15
Collagen is a protein that is primarily made up of 3 nonessential amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroproline. It is the most abundant protein in mammals as it makes up anywhere between 25-35% of the body’s protein content.
There have been studies linking collagen to skin, nails, and joint health. By far the most marketed benefit of taking collagen is the effect it can have on the skin. It has been shown by many studies to increase skins elasticity and hydration, resulting in reduced wrinkles. It has also been shown to improve joint health in athletes. These are two classic signs of aging and this is probably the reason so many people supplement collagen into their diet, to remain youthful.
The problem comes when companies market it as being able to help hair growth or cure hair loss. There are a couple of things that collagen MAY be able to do for your hair, and a whole lot that it cannot. If you are suffering from hair loss and think that collagen is going to cure it, you may want to stick around so that you don’t waste any more money.
The purpose of this article is to break down two of the main claims of collagen for hair loss and explain why it should not be your first option, or even your tenth.
First: Collagen protects hair against free radicals
There is no shortage of evidence proving the damaging effects that free radicals can have on your hair.
Free radicals are the result of oxidative stress on your body. Basically, they are molecules with unpaired electrons trying to find electrons to pair with. Free radicals cause damage to cells, protein, and DNA throughout the whole body, including the hair. Our body is constantly under oxidative stress due to metabolism but oxidative stress can also come from outside sources such as UV rays, pollution, pesticides and more.
Antioxidants are our defense against free radicals and damaging compounds because they have been proven to neutralize those harmful molecules. In doing so, they protect our hair from being damaged and falling out.
Collagen has actually been proven in studies to have antioxidant properties.
The problem is that while there is some evidence supporting collagen as an antioxidant, there is not a sufficient amount.
There is however, sufficient evidence that proves other vitamins and minerals as being powerful antioxidants. Amongst the effective antioxidants, Vitamins C and E, as well as selenium have consistently been shown to be the most effective.
Now don’t get me wrong, the fact that collagen is an antioxidant is fantastic, but the evidence shows that, at least in terms of protecting hair from free radicals, there are much better options available.
Second: The amino acids in collagen support healthier, thicker hair growth
Stated earlier, collagen is primarily made up of 3 nonessential amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.
The main claim behind collagens ability to thicken your hair is that it supplies the body with the building blocks for keratin. Hair is actually between 90-95% keratin and it has many scientifically proven benefits for hair, which makes this claim very appealing to someone who is looking to grow thicker hair.
While the claim may seem appealing, the problem comes when you start to crunch the numbers and look at the hard facts:
-Proline and glycine are the two amino acids in collagen that play important roles in the formation of keratin
-The average person’s weight is around 15% protein (shown here)
Now with those facts in mind, let’s take a 170-pound man for an example scenario (feel free to sub in your own weight). If you take 170 x .15 (15% of body weight) you get 25.5 pounds. Since collagen makes up about 30% of the body’s protein content you take 25.5 x .3 = 7.65 pounds of collagen in the 170-pound male.
If you convert that to grams (the standard measurement for collagen supplements) you get approximately 3450 grams of collagen in the body at any given time, which contains 586 grams of proline and 862 grams of glycine.
It is important to understand those numbers because once you do you really start to get a picture of how insignificant taking an 11-gram scoop (average recommended) of collagen powder is (equals 0.003% of collagen in the body for those who are curious).
Now it is important to note that collagen is found mostly in fibrous tissue in the tendons, ligaments, and skin. This very well could be an explanation for some of the more documented benefits. Unfortunately though, there is a lack of data behind collagens effectiveness for thickening hair and much more is needed to determine if it is a viable option. Plus, the numbers don’t exactly support it either.
Collagen supplements aren’t your best choice
Collagen supplements undoubtedly have proven benefits for skin and joint health. There are plenty of people out there that live for the stuff. But, if you are looking for something that is either going to boost your hair or stop hair loss you are looking in the wrong place.
For one, there is not enough evidence supporting collagens ability to boost keratin production and If you are looking for an antioxidant there are better options available. Look for supplements containing vitamin C, vitamin E, or selenium for a more effective antioxidant.
If you are taking collagen to stop hair loss, specifically male pattern baldness, you are completely on the wrong boat. Collagen does not block DHT, the main hormone responsible for hair loss. There are many options on the market for supplements that do, including Finasteride which is what I recommend most. Collagen also does not work to address many other various causes of hair loss such as dandruff, inflammation, or circulation, making it a less than average option for treating hair loss.
When all is said and done collagen is great for some things and not so great for others, just like any supplement out there. It is important to know why you are taking collagen and what it can realistically do for you.