Frances Phillips is a registered nutritional therapist, specializing in skin and beauty related issues. Her passion for beauty nutrition was inspired by her own skin struggles, which she experienced while working as a model. Now, she offers private nutrition consultations and freelance writes, both with the goal of helping others get to the root of their beauty woes.
Eating for healthy skin gets a lot of press these days but eating for healthy hair is still a relatively sidelined topic. Coloring, washing, blow-drying and styling all damages hair; I’m equally as guilty as my fine, highlighted hair really gets tested to its limits. While cutting back on how often you use your hair dryer (and curling wand, and straightener...) can help, it's actually more important to strengthen your hair from within so it can deal with these external stressors.
As our hair is essentially already “dead,” it can take several weeks to see results through dietary changes, but if you’re having problems with dry, fragile, thinning hair, or hair loss, you may need to take a look at prioritizing your diet rather than your products. Here are my top beauty nutrients for healthy hair and where you can find them.
Keep reading to see the top nutrients for healthy hair.
1. High-quality protein
Our hair is essentially made of protein, mostly one called keratin. As it’s the building block of our hair, it’s important to consume enough high-quality protein for healthy hair growth and strength. When you don't get enough, your hair can become brittle, weak, or dry—and extremely low protein diets may even result in hair loss.
Where to find it: Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils
Iron is a crucial mineral for hair health because being deficient is a major cause of hair loss. Our hair follicles and roots receive blood supply through tiny blood vessels in our scalp. If a diet is lacking in iron, oxygen and adequate nutrients carried through the blood might not be delivered to the hair. This could lead to “shedding” or fragile locks. It’s particularly important for women of menstruating age to be getting adequate iron through the diet because you lose some every month during your cycle.
Where to find it: Green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, whole grains, oats, meat, fish
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron in food, so it's good to eat alongside iron-rich foods. For example: a squeeze of lemon (rich in vitamin C) on wilted spinach (rich in iron). Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and essential for collagen synthesis. Collagen strengthens the capillaries that supply the hair shafts as well as forming part of the hair protein itself.
Where to find it: Blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, kale, kiwi fruit, oranges, papaya, strawberries, and sweet potatoes.
Antioxidants help to strengthen the tiny capillaries near to the surface of our skin. This in turn helps the scalp receive all the nutrients it requires via the blood to keep hair “fed” and conditioned.
Where to find it: All fruits and vegetables; blueberries, cherries, sweet potatoes, and açaí are especially high in antioxidants
You may have heard about the benefits of silica in relation to skin health, but it’s also important for hair health because silica is required to produce collagen, which again strengthens the capillaries that supply the hair shafts. It also prevents hair thinning by helping the body absorb other vitamins and minerals, ensuring the hair follicles are supplied with all the nourishment they need.
Where to find it: Whole grains, apples, cherries, almonds, oranges, fish, oats, seeds
Sulfur is essential for holding keratin—hair's all-important building block—in shape. It also strengthens hair and helps the absorption of other important proteins.
Where to find it: Onion, garlic, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli
Zinc helps to balance the production of sebum—aka oil—by the sebaceous glands at the base of the hair follicle. Balanced sebum levels ensure hair is well-conditioned. A lack of zinc could lead to hair loss or a flaky scalp.
Where to find it: Pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, lentils, oysters, lamb
8. B vitamins
B vitamins boost hair elasticity and strong growth. Not getting enough of one B vitamin in particular, biotin, has been linked to hair loss.
Where to find it: egg yolks, whole grains, mushrooms, beans, lentils
9. Essential fatty acids
If you hair is unusually dry, you may benefit from additional essential fatty acids (EFAs) in your diet. They help balance sebum production in the body. It's important to get the balance of omega 3:6 right but in general, most people can benefit from including much more omega-3 in the diet.
Where to find it: Wild-caught fish such as salmon or mackerel, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds
Originally published October 31, 2018. Updated October 30, 2020.
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