Blame it on the Disney princesses, the Kardashians, whomever you want—almost every woman wants thicker, fuller hair. And it’s often the case that your shampoo and conditioner just don’t move the needle.
That’s where healthy beauty foods come in, and a spate of healthy supplements—turbo loaded with horsetail and biotin to iodine—aimed at giving you the hair-tossing power you’ve seen on TV. Just note “hair supplements have not been independently scientifically studied, and results from companies’ own studies are dubious,” explains cosmetic dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD.
Even so, health coach and Eat Pretty author Jolene Hart has seen improvements in women who’ve taken hair supplements over six months (the time it takes your hair to grow out). We got her take on eight top-of-the-market hair supplements. And while none will make you go from limp to lush overnight, in time you might just get a little bit closer.
This article was originally published on August 3, 2014 and was updated September 28, 2015.
Hair Essentials, $37
Hair Essentials acts almost like a multivitamin for your hair, with a wide range of ingredients from zinc and iodine to Chinese herbs like han lian cao (said to stall premature loss of hair color and graying). “Zinc is necessary to produce carotene in the body, which boosts hair growth,” Hart says. “Bamboo and horsetail are sources of silica, which builds hair strength and elasticity. It also has vitamins A and C, which are general beauty vitamins great for repair and renewal. ”
HUM uses nutrition science to create supplements that that each target a specific beauty issue, from stronger nails to clear skin (and they’re conveniently sold at Sephora). This hero product, Red Carpet, is filled with essential omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and vitamin E, all from plant sources, to support fuller, shinier hair (and also glowing skin). Bonus: The pills are encapsulated in algae instead of gelatin, so they’re vegan, plus free of gluten, GMOs, artificial colors, and preservatives.
Neal’s Yard Beauty Boost, $28.50
With vitamins A and C, Neal’s Yard Beauty Boost is a carefully sourced supplement for skin and nails in addition to hair. “The copper in here is wonderful for producing pigment in your hair, which is important for vibrant color,” Hart says. There’s also selenium added for hair elasticity, and a pinch hitter—boswellic acid, AKA frankincense, which can strengthen hair roots, she adds.
Be Well’s hair supplement by Dr. Frank Lipman contains a list of B vitamins. Why? “All of the Bs are important for hair growth,” Hart explains. “Each contributes in little ways for color or strength or both.” It also has a surprising ingredient, green tea extract, “which is probably because caffeine can decrease levels of a hormone that stalls the growth of hair follicles.”
With vitamin B-5 (or pantothenic acid, where the shampoo Pantene gets its name), plus iron, the Aviva Hair Revitalizer “helps prevent thinning hair,” Hart says. Plus, “it has pumpkin seed oil, which is a healthy fat for a healthy scalp.” Another ingredient is iodine, which promotes a healthy thyroid function. One of the signs of a deficient thyroid in women is early hair loss, Hart says.
Unlike most other hair supplements on the market, Nourage contains hydrolysated keratin, a form of the protein that sounds a lot like the one your body makes for skin, nails, and hair—but this one’s made in the lab. (And it may not be vegan.) It has key backup minerals in “silicon, particularly great for hair thickness, and carotene, which is an important protein for hair in your diet, as well as cellulose, which can make your hair stronger,” Hart says.
This collagen-based hair supplement contains vitamin C, which is widely believed to help boost your own collagen production, plus collagens 1 and 3 (not vegan). “Collagen protein, the building blocks of hair and skin, will structurally reinforce your hair,” Hart explains. Though the idea of whether your body uses it in the same way is still hotly debated.
Country Life Biotin, $15
Biotin, or vitamin H, is perhaps the most well-known supplement for hair. “The drawback is, it’s not the only B vitamin you need for hair and nails,” Hart warns. However, cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Tanzi argues that biotin is one of few ingredients to have scientifically been shown to help hair health. “The reason it helps is not entirely known, but it’s speculated that it improves some of the proteins in the hair shaft itself,” Dr. Tanzi explains.
Some people don’t like swallowing pills, so of course there are gummy supplements for hair growth, too. These pack a blend of biotin, vitamin C, and borage oil, an oil made from a plant with the highest known naturally occurring amount of GLA (an omega 6 fatty acid thought to boost hair and skin health). All of the colors, flavors, and sweeteners are derived from fruits, vegetables, and herbs, too.
The Ayurvedic apothecary contains herbs and spices used for healing, medicinal, and beautifying purposes for more than 5,000 years. A handful come together in this formula to address stress—such as Eclipta or false daisy (a detoxing liver tonic), Ashwagandha (an amazing adaptogen like turmeric), and Indian tinospora, a “divine herb” used for all over well-being—which can wreak havoc on your youthfulness, like anyone working 12 hour days knows.