If you have been experiencing hair loss, thinning or breakage you may be wondering what you can do to get your hair looking fuller and stronger. Healthy hair is often considered as a symbol of good health and beauty, therefore it is essential to understand all the important factors that contribute to hair health. While factors like genetics, hormones, and stress management are key aspects that influence our hair’s health, it is crucial to recognise the vital role that good nutrition and vitamin intake play in nourishing our hair. This article will focus on the key nutrients and vitamins required to achieve voluminous, healthy hair and ways to incorporate them into a well balanced diet.
How does hair grow?
Each hair follicle on your head goes through a cycle of hair growth and shedding throughout its life. The 4 stages of the hair growth cycle are: anagen, catagen, telogen and exogen. During the phase anagen, the hair actively grows out of the follicle for a period of many years until the growth eventually slows during the catagen phase and then stops in the telogen phase. Once the growth stops, it enters into the exogen phase where the old hair sheds and the growth of new hair begins.1 It is very important to maintain a normal hair growth cycle to promote hair growth and avoid hair loss.
What factors are important for hair health?
Growing healthy, luscious hair relies on many factors. Genetics, age and hormones all play a part in healthy hair growth, but more controllable factors such as stress management, good hair care and nutrition also play an important role. These factors are all vital in the maintenance of a normal hair growth cycle.1,2
Why are vitamins important for hair health?
Vitamins are essential in supporting overall hair health and the hair growth cycle. They help your hair follicles stay healthy, strengthen your hair strands and improve the blood circulation to your scalp. As vitamins play such a key role in hair growth, deficiencies in certain vitamins can lead to unhealthier hair and hair loss.3
There are different types of hair loss that can occur as a result of vitamin deficiency and these include the following.3
Telogen effluvium: Excessive shedding of hair due to a large number of hair follicles entering the no-growth phase (telogen) early.
Alopecia areata: Hair loss due to the immune system attacking the hair follicle.
Androgenetic alopecia: A genetic form of hair loss also known as male or female pattern baldness. Whilst vitamin deficiencies don't directly cause this type of hair loss, having the right vitamin intake can help slow down the process.
Which vitamins are important for hair growth?
There are many different vitamins that are important for healthy and thick hair and preventing hair loss. It is important to know the different foods in which these vitamins are found so you can maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
Hair is the fastest growing part of the body. Vitamin A is very important in helping your cells grow, so therefore very important in helping your hair grow too. Vitamin A also helps with the production of sebum (an oily substance produced by glands in your skin), which keeps your scalp moisturised and reduces dryness. However, too much Vitamin A intake is also linked to hair loss, so it’s important to keep a well-balanced diet and not to over-exceed the recommended daily allowance.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin A for adult people assigned male at birth (PAMAB) is 900 micrograms (mcg) and 900 mcg for adult people assigned female at birth (PAFAB). The upper limit of Vitamin A intake is 3,000 mcg and any value above this can cause adverse side effects.
Good dietary sources of Vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, kale, liver, fish, eggs and dairy products.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
The Adequate Intake (AI) for Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, for adults is 30 mcg and contributes to hair growth and preventing hair from breaking.
You can get biotin through foods such as eggs, liver, salmon, avocados, pork, sweet potato, nuts and seeds.
Despite biotin supplements being a highly popular choice for hair growth, there is not enough evidence to support taking them. Biotin deficiency is rare in the UK, and you should be able to get all the biotin you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.
Vitamin C protects your scalp from oxidant damage, which is when harmful molecules called free radicals damage cells and speed up the ageing process. The production of collagen, a protein that helps strengthen hair, also needs Vitamin C. Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, a mineral that is important in hair growth.3 The RDA of Vitamin C for adults is 90 milligrams (mg) for PAFMAB and 70 mg for PAFAB.3
Rich food sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and cabbages.8
Vitamin D plays an important role in hair growth. Vitamin D receptors are present in hair follicles, so can stimulate hair growth upon binding. Vitamin D also plays a role in the hair growth cycle. Deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked to telogen effluvium and alopecia areta.4
The RDA of Vitamin D for adults is 15 mcg for PAMAB and PAFAB, and 20 mcg for adults over 70 years old.
Vitamin D can be found in cod liver oil, salmon, swordfish, egg yolks, fortified orange juice and fortified milk. Of course, don’t forget to get your daily dose of sunshine to keep those Vitamin D levels up.
Like Vitamin C, Vitamin E is also an antioxidant that helps protect the scalp against damage from free radicals. There has been some evidence suggesting that Vitamin E deficiency is also linked with Alopecia areta. However, Vitamin E must also be taken in moderation as an excess of vitamin can cause hair loss.3 The RDA of Vitamin E for adults is 15 mg for both PAMAB and PAFAB.
Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds, wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, avocados, spinach and mangos.
Other nutrients important for hair growth
Vitamins are not the only part of your diet that is important for your hair health. Overall nutrition is key to healthy hair and extreme diets or sudden weight loss can cause hair loss due to nutrient deficiencies.5 There are also other specific components of your diet that are vital for overall hair health such as iron, zinc, selenium and some fatty acids.
Iron is a mineral that plays a key role in the blood supply to hair follicles which stimulates hair growth.4 Iron deficiency has been linked with hair loss, particularly in women.
Some food sources that are rich in iron include red meat, spinach, fish, chicken, lentils and pumpkin seeds.
Zinc plays an important role in DNA synthesis and the synthesis of new cells, including hair follicles.3 It is also important in protein synthesis, including the synthesis of keratin which strengthens hair. Zinc deficiency has been linked to telogen effluvium.
Zinc can be found in red meat, seafood, chicken, nuts, seeds and dairy products.
Selenium is an antioxidant like Vitamin C and E. However, excess amounts of selenium are linked with hair loss.4 The RDA of selenium for adults is 55 mcg a day.
Selenium can be found in Brazil nuts, fish, chicken, eggs and dairy products.
Fatty acids are important in promoting overall scalp health and nourishing hair follicles.4 Deficiency of fatty acids is linked to loss of scalp and eyebrow hair.
Fatty acids can be found in fish, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts.
|Vitamin or mineral||Recommended daily allowance for people assigned male at birth (mcg a day)||Recommended daily allowance for people assigned female at birth(mcg a day)|
Should I take vitamin supplements?
Recently, vitamin supplements have become an increasingly popular way of trying to achieve healthier-looking hair. Whilst vitamin supplements can help in preventing hair loss in those who have deficiencies in certain vitamins, there is little evidence to support the efficacy of vitamin supplements in healthy individuals. In fact, excess of certain vitamins can lead to harmful side effects and excess Vitamin A and E can actually lead to hair loss.4
Therefore, the best way to ensure you have enough vitamins is through maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet. Consuming foods rich in vitamins will help your hair look full and healthy whilst also reducing the risk of hair loss. If you suspect you have a vitamin deficiency, taking vitamin supplements may benefit you, but it is worth talking to your healthcare provider about this first.
When should I see a doctor?
If you suspect you are experiencing hair loss, it may be worth speaking to your healthcare provider. Hair loss can be due to many causes such as genetics, hormonal imbalances, an underlying disease or nutrient deficiencies and speaking to a doctor can help identify the cause. Your doctor may diagnose the cause of your hair loss by asking you questions related to your hair loss, performing a physical examination and in some cases blood tests.14 A blood test can identify vitamin deficiencies that may be contributing to your hair loss. If you do have a deficiency, the doctor may prescribe a supplement to correct the deficiency, alongside dietary advice and in some cases can prevent hair loss.
How else can I promote hair growth?
Maintaining a balanced diet enriched with vitamins and eating enough calories a day is vital for promoting good hair health. However, it’s not the only thing you can do to keep your hair looking healthy. Good overall health and a well-established hair care routine can have a significant positive impact on your hair.
One key part of establishing good overall health includes managing your stress levels. High-stress levels can have a big impact on your health and have been linked to telogen effluvium and alopecia areata. Some ways of reducing stress include practising yoga, meditation and exercise. Staying well hydrated, getting enough sleep and limiting smoking and alcohol intake all also have a positive impact on your hair health.
Looking after your hair can help keep it looking its best and some of the things you can do to reduce hair loss and promote growth include:
- Brushing and washing your hair gently is important when your hair is fragile to reduce hair breakage and fall out
- Good conditioners can strengthen your hair and reduce breakage and split ends
- Limiting colouring and heat on your hair as this can add extra stress on your hair and weaken it
- Avoiding tight hairstyles for long periods of time as this can pull on your hair and cause hair loss
Maintaining a well-balanced diet is important for hair growth. It is vital to incorporate a variety of vitamins in your diet to achieve healthy, thick hair. Vitamin deficiencies can be a cause of hair loss, so it is important to talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing hair loss to find the root cause and get treatment if needed. If your hair loss is due to a vitamin deficiency, taking a vitamin supplement can benefit you and promote hair growth. However, there is little evidence supporting the benefit of taking vitamin supplements in healthy individuals for hair growth, and exceeding the RDA of vitamins can result in harmful side effects. Whilst vitamins are crucial for healthy hair, taking care of your overall health and practising good hair care habits are also key for achieving thick, luscious, healthy hair.
- Grymowicz M, Rudnicka E, Podfigurna A, Napierala P, Smolarczyk R, Smolarczyk K, et al. Hormonal effects on hair follicles. Int J Mol Sci [Internet]. 2020 Jul 28 [cited 2023 Jul 27];21(15):5342. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7432488/
- Rushton DH. Nutritional factors and hair loss. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology [Internet]. 2002 Jul 1 [cited 2023 Jul 27];27(5):396–404. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/ced/article-abstract/27/5/396/6626095?redirectedFrom=fulltext
- Almohanna HM, Ahmed AA, Tsatalis JP, Tosti A. The role of vitamins and minerals in hair loss: a review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb) [Internet]. 2018 Dec 13 [cited 2023 Jul 27];9(1):51–70. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6380979/
- Guo EL, Katta R. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatol Pract Concept [Internet]. 2017 Jan 31 [cited 2023 Jul 27];7(1):1–10. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315033/
- Finner AM. Nutrition and hair: deficiencies and supplements. Dermatologic Clinics [Internet]. 2013 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Sep 18];31(1):167–72. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0733863512001039