Essential nutrients for looking after your hair
Reviewed by Dr Neel Patel
For lots of us, our hair is a point of pride, and we want to do everything we can to take care of it.
While the thickness and texture of our hair is mostly dictated by genetics, there are a few things we can do to ensure that it stays healthy. One important place to start is with good nutrition.
In this article we’ll look at the things you can do to keep your hair healthy, potential vitamins and supplements that could support your hair and also treatments for hair loss/hair thinning, if that’s something you’re experiencing.
How can I improve my hair health?
There are lots of ways you can look after your hair, to keep it as healthy as possible.
Eating a healthy balanced diet supports your body from head to toe, and your hair is very much included in this. We’ll go into this in more detail in the rest of the article.
Quitting smoking if you’re a smoker is also a way to improve your hair health. Smoking causes all sorts of issues in the body which can make hair loss worse.
It’s also important you look after your hair as this helps to keep the hair healthy and prevent hair loss causes by damage. Looking after your hair involves keeping it clean with shampoo and conditioner, avoiding really tight hair styles and not using too much heat on the hair (straighteners, hair dryer, sun exposure).
Tips for healthy hair
If you search online or on social media, you’ll find endless sets of top tips for healthy hair. But here we’ll just outline a few simple tricks you can add into your daily routine to keep the hair as healthy as it can be.
As we’ve mentioned, eating a healthy balanced diet is a great way to support your hair health.
Sometimes a deficiency of certain vitamins or minerals can contribute to hair loss. Not eating enough calories in a day can also contribute to hair loss. So, a balanced diet will hopefully give your body the nutrients it needs to keep the hair as strong as possible.
Hair washing routine
Taking care of your hair with a good hair washing routine will help look after it. Here’s some tips to bear in mind:
- It’s advised you use a gentle shampoo that only contains a few ingredients, some shampoos can actually take moisture out of your hair.
- It’s a good idea to use conditioner every time you wash your hair, if you can. Conditioner provides protection and keeps the hair smooth. This reduces frizz, friction and can reduce breakage and split ends.
- Try to shampoo and condition your hair using only your fingertips, not your palms. Using the palms can cause damage, especially if you have thinning hair or hair that’s falling out.
- Try to avoid heavy scalp massage – even if it feels good – as it can pull and cause damage to the hair.
As well as washing and conditioning your hair, it’s also important you look after your hair in other ways, especially if your hair is often styled. Some things to consider:
- Avoid backcombing or hair brushes which are very bristly.
- Use a wide tooth comb where possible, especially when the hair is wet.
- Don’t touch or handle your hair too much (this includes habits like twisting, rubbing or pulling your hair).
- Try to avoid really tight hairstyles for long periods of time (e.g. tight buns/ponytails, braids or cornrows).
- Avoid using too much heat or heated products on your hair, this includes really hot showers and exposure to the sun. This can all weaken the hair.
- If you go swimming, it’s worth wearing a tightly fitted swimming hat to avoid too much contact between your hair and the chlorine in the water. Afterwards make sure you use a deep conditioner.
What to eat for healthy hair
Eating a healthy balanced diet is important for all bodily functions, but also keeping hair healthy. A deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals can cause hair loss. So to look after your hair you’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients like protein.
Your hair is almost entirely made of protein, called keratin. Which is why ensuring you get the protein you need from your diet is essential for healthy hair production.
It’s recommended that adults eat no more than 70g of protein per day. Sources of protein include lean meat, eggs, beans, pulses and fish.
What factors affect hair growth?
How quickly our hair grows varies from person to person. There are a number of factors that affect hair growth including:
Male and female pattern baldness are influenced by your genes. Some people will experience this type of hair loss and some won’t.
Hair loss, including a receding hairline can be a natural part of ageing. In fact hair loss affects half of men over the age of 50.
It’s thought that male hair grows faster than female hair. However, the sex you were born as, doesn’t affect how your hair grows.
Ensuring you get all the vitamins and minerals you need through your diet can help support hair growth. Biotin supplements are thought to support hair growth too, find out more about biotin supplements here.
What are the best vitamins for hair growth?
There are a few specific nutrients which are linked to hair health, including iron, possibly zinc, and vitamin C and D. Not getting enough of these may cause a deficiency, and in rare cases, lead to hair damage or hair loss.
These key nutrients, along with B vitamins and selenium, are often found in hair loss supplements. The role of B vitamins and selenium is not really clear. Most people get all the nutrients they need from food, particularly if you eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Iron is an essential nutrient for the body. It helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. If you don’t get enough iron, you might develop iron deficiency anaemia, which can sometimes lead to hair loss.
Iron deficiency anaemia is more common in pregnant women, women who have heavy periods, and anybody with a condition that causes blood loss. You might also develop a deficiency by not eating enough iron-rich foods such as:
- Red meat
- Green leafy vegetables
- Dried fruit
- Fortified breakfast cereals
You can take iron supplements if you think you’re not getting enough in your diet. However, if your GP thinks you have a deficiency they’ll probably prescribe iron tablets, which are much stronger than supplements.
Zinc is another vital nutrient that’s linked to hair health. Zinc aids the immune system and helps with wound healing. It helps to build new cells and enzymes, and to process the nutrients in the food we eat. We also need zinc for normal growth and development.
If you have a poor diet that doesn’t contain enough zinc, you might develop a deficiency. One of the symptoms of this is hair loss, along with weight loss, rashes, and getting sick more often.
Foods rich in zinc include:
- Meat and shellfish
- Dairy such as cheese
Vitamin C is a nutrient that helps to maintain and repair the skin, bones, teeth, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Not getting enough vitamin C in your diet can lead to scurvy, which can affect your hair, causing it to split.
Foods rich in vitamin c:
- Oranges and orange juice
There seems to be a link between hair loss and low vitamin D levels. Most people in the UK have low-ish vitamin D levels, so getting more exposure to the sun (observing sun safety advice) or taking vitamin D supplements might be a good idea, particularly if you live up north.
Aside from sunlight, sources of vitamin D include:
- Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
- Fortified cereal and spreads
What are the best vitamins for thinning hair?
If you’ve noticed that your hair is thinning and you think the cause might be a vitamin deficiency, you may benefit from taking vitamin supplements. However, it’s important to speak to your GP first to make sure you’re getting the right treatment in the right dose.
Though hair loss or split hair as a result of vitamin deficiency can happen, it’s important to remember that thinning hair is a natural feature of getting older that has little to do with nutrition.
Can hair vitamins stop hair loss?
In short, for most people, taking supplements like iron and zinc specifically to try and reverse thinning and hair loss is unlikely to be effective.
What might be causing my hair loss?
Male or female pattern baldness
As we’ve seen, severe vitamin deficiency can lead to hair loss and damage. A severe vitamin deficiency is quite rare in the UK. However, in the vast majority of cases hair loss is caused by female or male pattern baldness. This is a genetic condition that causes a distinctive pattern of gradual hair loss, sometimes starting as early as your 20s.
There’s no cure for male or female baldness, and taking vitamins won’t have any effect on this type of hair loss. However, there are some effective treatments that can be used to halt hair loss in the short-term, including minoxidil and for men - finasteride.
In some cases, hair loss that causes widespread thinning may be a sign of telogen effluvium. This is where more hairs than usual move into the “telogen” phase from the “anagen” phase and stop growing.
This type of hair loss is normally triggered by something like injury, illness, or stress (you can find out more about stress and hair loss here). It can also be caused by weight loss, an iron deficiency, or a significant change in diet – in this sense, it can be related to nutrition. The good news is, this type of hair loss is usually temporary.
Telogen effluvium has been linked to people who've had COVID-19. Find out more about a potential link between COVID-19 and hair loss.
If your hair loss happens suddenly, or if you develop bald patches or lose hair in clumps, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP.
When to seek treatment for hair loss
It’s a good idea that anyone who experiences hair loss, especially if it’s sudden, should speak to your GP. They will help you find out what might be causing this by looking at your scalp and hair; they might also suggest some blood tests.
If you’re experiencing male pattern baldness, there are some prescription treatments that can help.
At Online Doctor we can prescribe the tablet Propecia, or its generic equivalent Finasteride. This is a tablet designed for men that should be taken daily. It helps to halt hair loss and, in some cases, encourage regrowth. We offer Regaine for men and Regaine for women.
You can also combine Regaine and Finasteride if you're a man, our clinicians can prescribe these treatments together in a bundle. Or you can choose a bundle which has minoxidil solution (the active ingredient in Regaine), hair loss shampoo and biotin tablets.
Find out more by visiting our hair loss clinic.