Did you know that collagen – the protein responsible for skin elasticity – also plays a critical role in the growth of healthy, strong hair (1)?
In this post, I’ll explain what collagen is (including its two most common forms in hair products) and the role it plays in hair health and growth. I’ll also show you how to make your own collagen shampoo, and introduce another way to supplement with it.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a long-chain amino acid that consists of four individual amino acids: arginine, glycine, hydroxyproline, and proline (1). In fact, it’s the most abundant protein found in the human body, and it plays a significant role in cell maintenance and renewal.
It’s is found mostly in fibrous tissues, such as ligaments, tendons, and skin. But it’s also found in other areas of the body, and it functions differently depending on its degree of mineralization.
For example, collagen in bones is rigid while collagen in tendons is more flexible. Interestingly, it’s also found in cartilage, blood vessels, and teeth (dentin).
Essentially, collagen is a protein with a wide array of uses.
Is Collagen Necessary for Healthy Hair Growth?
As you now know that collagen is present in a wide range of body tissues, it may not surprise you to learn it can also be found in hair (2). It’s essential for maintaining the hair’s strength and elasticity, and a reduction in collagen can lead to breakage and excess shedding.
This is especially true for those over the age of thirty, as this is when natural collagen levels begin to deplete.
When it comes to hair, this can be particularly damaging.
A 2016 Japanese study found that, as we age, the damaged DNA responds by attacking the collagen (particularly collagen type xvii) in our hair follicles (3).
As collagen plays a role in maintenance of the hair follicle, this then leads to hair miniaturization and, eventually, thinning and balding.
Fortunately, it was also found that forced maintenance (i.e. supplementation) of collagen levels can prevent this outcome from occurring.
Can Collagen Shampoo Be Used to Treat Hair Loss?
So, if we know that collagen can play a role in preventing age-related hair thinning and balding, how can we use it most effectively? One popular way is with collagen shampoo.
As it sounds, this kind of shampoo is a hair product fortified with collagen. It works by increasing the levels of this special protein present on the scalp, and it can strengthen the hair strands and follicles.
Collagen vs. Gelatin: What’s the Difference?
In your research, you may find that collagen and gelatin are used interchangeably. This is most confusing when comparing supplements, or when looking at ingredients lists.
There is a difference between the two products though, both in what they are and how they can be used. Let’s take a closer look.
As I mentioned above, collagen is a protein found in the body that’s made up of four separate amino acids. It’s widely used in hair and skin products, and can be commonly found under the name hydrolyzed collagen.
Hydrolyzed collagen is slightly different than the collagen found in our bodies, and is actually more closely ‘related’ to gelatin (4). This is because hydrolysis – a chemical process that adds water to a substance – is the first step in the gelatin-making procedure.
The major difference between our bodies’ collagen and hydrolyzed collagen is that hydrolyzed collagen is a broken down version of collagen. Essentially, the process splits the larger molecule into smaller molecules, which are easier to digest.
Gelatin is a derivative of collagen (5). As such, it’s too an amino acid that can be beneficial for the human body. However, gelatin is actually a substance that’s created when collagen is heated (typically boiled).
The major difference between gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen (the type found in hair products) is the process that creates them.
While hydrolyzed collagen is completely hydrolyzed, gelatin only undergoes partial hydrolysis. This creates a gel that is not as completely absorbed as collagen.
What Should You Look for In Hair Products?
Both collagen (hydrolyzed) and gelatin can be found in hair products, such as shampoo. But which should you be using if you hope to combat hair loss?
While gelatin is often used to strengthen hair, I recommend collagen if you’re looking for regrowth. This is due to the chemical structure of hydrolyzed collagen as opposed to gelatin.
With hydrolyzed collagen, the peptides are better able to penetrate the hair follicle (6). This isn’t so with gelatin, which is much better at ‘coating’ the hair strands and strengthening them from the outside.
Collagen Shampoo On the Market: A Good Option?
There are quite a few collagen-containing shampoos on the market, including Organix, Renpure, and Luseta. They all contain biotin as a primary ingredient, as well as hydrolyzed collagen.
However, I recommend against these (and the majority of other off-the-shelf products) for a variety of reasons.
Foremost, even the most “organic” choices include preservatives – this enables it to remain shelf stable, but they can be harmful to your hair and scalp.
This is especially true for anyone with sensitivities or previous irritation (such as that associated with hair miniaturization).
So, if you shouldn’t purchase these shampoos, what should you do?
How to Make Your Own Collagen Shampoo
Instead of off-the-shelf shampoos, I recommend you make your own collagen-containing shampoo at home.
You only need a few ingredients, most of which can be purchased from the grocer.
DIY Collagen Shampoo
- Liquid castile soap (½ cup)
- Jojoba oil (2 TBSP)
- Essential oil (5 drops)
- Hydrolyzed collagen (or collagen peptides) (1 TBSP)
Combine the liquid castile soap, jojoba oil, essential oil (of your choice), and collagen in a container of your choosing. Mix well.
Apply the mixture to your scalp, massaging for 2-3 minutes.
Let sit for 2 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly.
Liquid castile soap is a gentle cleansing agent and, when combined with jojoba oil, works to cleanse and hydrate the scalp.
You can choose any essential oil you’d like, which enables you to create a unique blend that fits your exact needs.
Last, the hydrolyzed collagen will strengthen the hair strands and improve the quality of your hair follicles.
Are There Other Way to Use It for Hair Growth?
While collagen shampoo is a popular option, it isn’t the only one. In fact, recent research has shown that oral supplements can be just as beneficial to prevent signs of aging (including hair loss).
In 2014, a group of researchers from London conducted a multi-country study consisting of 294 subjects in total (10). The goal was to determine how effective oral supplementation of collagen (specifically, Pure Gold Collagen) was at reducing signs of aging.
The subjects were split into three groups, each of which focused on a different sign of aging.
For group one, 217 subjects from across five countries were assessed for overall skin condition. This included hydration, fine lines/wrinkles, and photodamage.
Group two consisted of 13 subjects in one location. Over the course of 12 weeks, they were assessed for collagen density using ultrasound skin imaging.
Group three consisted of 70 volunteers in one location. They were assessed for skin firmness using the SkinLab USB Elasticity Module.
All subjects were instructed to consume one bottle (50 mL) of Pure Gold Collagen each morning before breakfast.
Each subject had a baseline appointment, where measurements were taken. Group one was expected to return at days 20 and 60. Group two was expected to return at weeks 4, 8, and 12. Finally, group three was expected to return at days 50, 80, and 130.
These are the results of the two main measurements: collagen density and skin firmness:
But what does this have to do with hair?
The skin on your scalp and the structures within it – especially the hair follicle – are crucial to the hair growth process. Signs of aging, which is caused by a reduction of collagen in the skin, can certainly play a role in hair loss.
What the results above show is that collagen can be supplemented orally to combat common signs of aging. This, in turn, is beneficial for the scalp and hair.
Bone Broth: A Hearty Source of Collagen
If supplements aren’t your thing, but you still want to increase your collagen intake, a particularly healthy (and delicious) source is bone broth.
Bone broth is made when bones (from animals such as poultry and beef) are boiled for long periods of time. For poultry, this tends to be 6-12 hours. However, beef and lamb is typically boiled for upwards of 24 hours.
The process slowly removes the nutrients from the bones (and the marrow, specifically) and infuses it into the water. One such nutrient is collagen, which is found in abundance in bone broth.
For best results, I recommending drinking one cup per day. You can prepare a large batch, and then freeze smaller batches to enjoy throughout the week.
As we age, our bodies begin to lose vital proteins. One such protein is collagen, and its loss can lead to signs of aging such as wrinkles and brittle hair (12).
With the help of collagen shampoos and supplements, though, we can help to slow signs of aging and perhaps even reverse its effects (10).
Is collagen the answer to all of your hair problems? Absolutely not. But for those who fear that their thinning and balding is a sign of aging, it’s a great place to start.
*This article was reviewed by Dr. Anil Simhadri