The hair shaft is considered as an important facet of appearance. Most people desire shiny, healthy thick locks of hair, but quite a few of us have a daily struggle of dealing with dry, thinning and brittle hairs. The clinical relevance of hair and its growth impairment are many. More than 300 genetic conditions include hair abnormalities. Constant change of natural style of one’s hair is seen to cause split ends, loss of lustre and other hair problems. Different hair products and remedies are popular now days to improve the volume, texture, frizz and promote new hair growth. Many variations of curly, straight, wavy, blonde, black, brown, gray or white hair are seen. (Sinclair, 2007).
Hair health is also affected by scalp conditions. Besides adequate sleep, fluids, less stress, limited alcohol and smoking, incorporating a balanced diet can help one get the key nutrients necessary for keeping hair, skin and nails in great shape. (Ablon et al, 2015). Let’s see which nutrients help strengthen hair. According to Guo et al. (2017), the most important nutrients for hair growth include:
Proteins and Amino Acids are very important for keeping the hair strong and avoiding hair loss. The Amino acids, cysteine and methionine are particularly very important. Examples of high biological value proteins are lean meat, chicken, lentils, beans, nuts, peanut butter, soy products, low fat greek yogurt.
Omega-3 & 6 Fatty Acids are important for a healthy scalp. Examples: Fatty fish like salmon & sardines, eggs, flax seeds powder, and walnuts.
Vitamin A: Helps with preventing scalp dryness and brittleness of hair. Also protects the hair from external agents. Examples: Eggs, fortified breakfast cereals & skimmed milk, orange & yellow vegetables, and fruits.
Vitamin B complex: Most of the B-group vitamins play an important role.
B1, B2, B3, B5 are beneficial in nourishment of hair. Example: Whole grain foods, meat/fish/poultry /eggs, legumes, green leafy vegetables.
B9 prevents dandruff formation. Examples: Pork/poultry/fish/soya beans/oats/nuts/peas.
B7 (Biotin) is used in the treatment of various hair disorders.
B9 helps in hair growth, also known as Folate. Examples: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, cabbage, peas, chickpeas, beans, breakfast cereals.
B12 helps to prevent hair loss. Example: Meat/fish/milk/eggs/cheese/Inactive nutritional yeast.
Vitamin C helps with the better absorption of iron, essential for cellular supply. Examples: Citrus fruits, berries, sweet peppers.
Vitamin D helps with preventing hair loss, favors growth and thickness of foliage. Examples: Milk & other dairy products, fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, red meat, eggs.
Vitamin E helps with counteracting dangerous free radicals which can damage the scalp. Examples: Almonds, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wheat germ.
Zinc plays important role in hair structure. Example: Meat, shellfish, dairy products, bread, cereals (Daniells et al, 2010).
Iron helps in nourishment of the hairs, especially the hair bulb. Example: Organ meat, beans, nuts, fortified breakfast cereals, soy bean flour, dried fruits.
Selenium helps with hair growth. Example: Brazil nuts, fish, meat, eggs. (PEN, Guo et al, 2017, Blume-Peytavi, 2007).
It is important to note that in the absence of deficiency, over-supplementation of nutrients may also damage the hair. Though there are many natural hair care and hair growth promoting products available, there is still limited or lack of medical literature available to support their use. (Guo et al, 2017).
Some of the popular hair care products available in markets are:
Grape seed extracts, which have shown to promote hair follicle cells.
Ginkgo biloba leaf extract is used in several hair care products.
Aloe vera gel has been used traditionally for the treatment of alopecia.
Cysteine protein enhanced hair growth in various studies. It is also listed as a cosmetic ingredient with functions that include hair conditioning, hair waving/straightening.
Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil and Leaf Oil are used in various hair care products. The Ginseng extract has shown to promote hair growth in many studies.
Some fatty acids like gamma-linolenic, linoleic, palmitic, elaidic, oleic, and stearic acids have shown to be effective for hair growth.
Some of the over-the-counter botanical (natural) hair promoters incorporate minoxidil as an active ingredient.
Henna or Lawsonia Alba L. (Lythraceae) has been recognized and used as a hair promoter since Egyptian times.
Sage (Salvia officinalis L.) is an old favorite, and the extract is massaged into the scalp to control dandruff and to treat alopecia. Sage contains vitamins A, C, and B complex, and high amounts of calcium and potassium.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.) and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) are used as a tonic or rinse to remove oil (seborrhea), and to add volume and shine to the hair.
Walnut (Juglans regia L. Juglandaceae) leaves have been used to treat skin rashes, acne, alopecia, scalp dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis.
There is a need to create more safe products whose therapeutic and cosmetic claims are based on a good scientific basis. Even the role of specific vitamins and minerals affecting hairloss is a subject of ongoing research.
Written by Monika Sharma, RD
Updated: December 15/2020
Almohanna, H. M., Ahmed, A. A., Tsatalis, J. P., & Tosti, A. (2019). The role of vitamins and minerals in hair loss: a review. Dermatology and therapy, 9(1), 51-70.
For more details on food sources of various nutrients, refer to PEN links below:
Blume-Peytavi, U., Whiting, D. A., & Trüeb, R. M. (Eds.). (2008). Hair growth and disorders. Springer Science & Business Media.
Guo, E. L., & Katta, R. (2017). Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatology practical & conceptual, 7(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.5826/dpc.0701a01
Sinclair, R. D. (2007, December). Healthy hair: what is it?. In Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings (Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 2-5). Elsevier.
Sinclair, R. D., Schwartz, J. R., Rocchetta, H. L., Dawson Jr, T. L., Fisher, B. K., Meinert, K., & Wilder, E. A. (2009). Dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis adversely affect hair quality. European Journal of Dermatology, 19(4), 410-411.
Squire, R. A., & Goode, K. (2002). A randomized, single-blind, single-centre clinical trial to evaluate comparative clinical efficacy of shampoos containing ciclopirox olamine (1.5%) and salicylic acid (3%), or ketoconazole (2%, Nizoral®) for the treatment of dandruff/seborrhoeic dermatitis. Journal of dermatological treatment, 13(2), 51-60.
Jourdain, R., Moga, A., Vingler, P., El Rawadi, C., Pouradier, F., Souverain, L., … & Breton, L. (2016). Exploration of scalp surface lipids reveals squalene peroxide as a potential actor in dandruff condition. Archives of dermatological research, 308(3), 153-163.
Schwartz, J. R., Bacon, R. A., Shah, R., Mizoguchi, H., & Tosti, A. (2013). Therapeutic efficacy of anti‐dandruff shampoos: A randomized clinical trial comparing products based on potentiated zinc pyrithione and zinc pyrithione/climbazole. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 35(4), 381-387.
Finner, A. M. (2013). Nutrition and hair: deficiencies and supplements. Dermatologic clinics, 31(1), 167-172.
Daniells S, Hardy G. Hair loss in long-term or home parenteral nutrition: are micronutrient deficiencies to blame? Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2010 Nov;13(6):690-7. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32833ece02. PMID: 20823774.
Ablon G. A 3-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the ability of an extra-strength marine protein supplement to promote hair growth and decrease shedding in women with self-perceived thinning hair. Dermatol Res Pract. 2015;2015:841570. doi: 10.1155/2015/841570. Epub 2015 Mar 25. PMID: 25883641; PMCID: PMC4389977.