Is it just me, or have you noticed a recent explosion of collagen products on store shelves? Everywhere you turn, there is mention of powders for your morning coffee or pills that promise eternal beauty (I may be exaggerating a bit, but you get my point). Collagen seems to be the next big thing in health and beauty. So, I set out to investigate further and find out what the hype is all about. I had a few questions in mind. Like… What is collagen in any way? Will it help me look 25 forever (yes, I know that takes me back in time, but I think I am holding up pretty well)? What about my skin and hair? Is it worth the hype? Let’s dive in!
What is collagen? Why is it important?
Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein. It makes up 75% of your skin’s dry weight and is found in your muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, hair, and even your teeth. There are 28 different types of collagen. Type I, found mainly in your skin, makes up 90% of the collagen in your body. As we age, the amount of collagen we have in our bodies often decreases. The loss of collagen weakens the skin and causes it to lose fullness and elasticity, thin, and wrinkle. Not to mention the havoc it can wreak on our joints. This loss in collagen begins as early as 20 years old and drastically increases in menopause. Maintaining high levels of collagen is seen by many as the key to the “fountain of youth.”
So, I get why collagen may be essential for the skin. But, does collagen help hair?
When collagen is broken down by the body, it is converted into amino acids. It uses these amino acids as building blocks to build many things, including keratin, which is responsible for hair structure and strength. It is also an antioxidant that can fight free radical damage. So, collagen can improve hair health in many ways. Some of these benefits include:
- Stronger hair – Improved strength from keratin production.
- Healthy hair follicles – Prevention of free radical damage to hair follicles.
- Reduced hair thinning – Strengthens the dermis where the root of the hair is found.
- Less graying – Antioxidant properties can potentially fight cell damage and slow graying.
Do collagen supplements work?
With all of these potential benefits in mind, there is no wonder why people are purchasing supplements, adding collagen powders to coffee and smoothies, and finding ways to get more of this “fountain of youth” ingredient. But, questions remain around whether or not ingesting collagen in our diet provides these desired benefits.
There are two collagen sources commonly used on the market: 1) marine collagen, which is typically derived from fish, and 2) animal collagen (i.e., cows and pigs). When we ingest collagen from these sources, our bodies first break down the large collagen molecule into smaller proteins and amino acids. The ability to gain similar benefits from this ingestion compared to body production is debatable among medical professionals. However, early studies suggest that there may be some clinical benefit from using oral collagen supplements. If seen, this benefit would be noticeable over time and would not result in an overnight transformation.
Can I increase collagen naturally through my diet?
Definitely! There are many food sources that either provide a direct collagen source or help the body produce more collagen. One of the best dietary sources for collagen is bone broth. But other sources that help the body to produce collagen include foods like cheese, broccoli, beans, onions, garlic, and quinoa. To the surprise of many, citrus fruits, which are a great source of vitamin C, also aid collagen production. A well-balanced diet is always recommended, but if you are looking to supplement collagen naturally, bone broth is likely your best bet. If you would like to avoid eating meat, consuming vegetable protein sources can provide the necessary building blocks for collagen production.
The list of benefits of collagen for skin and hair continues to grow. Whether you decide to take a collagen supplement or boost your collagen production through your diet can help improve your skin and hair health and condition. It’s not the mythical “fountain of youth,” but it may be the closest we have to magic. Have you tried collagen lately? Share your experiences in the comments below.
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Bolke L, Schlippe G, Gerb J, and Voss W. A Collagen Supplement Improves Skin Hydration, Elasticity, Roughness, and Density: Results of a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Blind Study. Nutrients. 2019 Oct; 11(10): 2494.
Varani J, Dame MK, Rittie L, Fligiel SEG, Kang S, et al. Decreased Collagen Production in Chronologically Aged Skin Roles of Age-Dependent Alteration in Fibroblast Function and Defective Mechanical Stimulation. Am J Pathol. 2006 Jun; 168(6): 1861–1868.
Choi FD, Sung CT, Juhasz ML, Mesinkovsk NA. Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(1):9-16.