Hair is one of your most prominent features, and it's something a lot of people will immediately notice about you. A haircut or hair dye is immediately impactful, and people will react to any change, good or ill. Unlike personal attributes like weight, it's much more socially acceptable to comment on, and becomes the topic of small talk and gossip.
So of course it's reasonable to want to take care of your hair. Numerous problems can crop up with hair; thinning hair, too much hair in the wrong places, graying hair, and so on.
Luckily, hair is something you can affect with diet and supplements. Vitamins and minerals can affect your hair in both good and bad ways, so knowing what to eat, what to moderate, and what to avoid can help you take care of your hair and your body at the same time. Let's get started!
Minerals and Nutrients That Affect Hair
This first section is all about the vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and other ingredients that can affect hair, in positive or negative ways. Stay tuned for the second section, which is how to get or avoid these nutrients in your diet.
Many of these benefits are also not just for hair. Many of the same mechanisms that produce healthy hair also produce your nails; that is, the production of keratin, the same substance used in both. Healthy hair and healthy nails are one and the same.
1: Protein. Protein is essential for fueling hair growth. Too little protein in your diet can lead to thin hair or hair loss. Protein is also critical for keeping your hair follicles – the pores in the skin that generate hair out of old cells and keratin – healthy and active.
2: Biotin. Biotin is the common name for Vitamin B7. It's a vitamin your body uses to turn nutrients into energy. Deficiency is rare, but low biotin levels can lead to hair loss in the scalp and across the body. High doses of biotin have been known to improve hair disorders in children, though they can affect certain medications in large amounts.
3: Zinc. Zinc is a mineral used throughout the body for a number of beneficial effects, including a boost the immune system, which is why a common homeopathic remedy for the common cold is Zinc supplements. Zinc is used for hair tissue growth and repair, as well as keeping your natural hair oils clear and functioning.
4: Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a collection of vitamins your body needs that can be found in food and supplements. It's a great antioxidant and is involved in immune function. Studies have shown that Vitamin E supplements can boost hair growth, so take more if you're losing hair, and less if your hair is too prominent.
5: Vitamin C. One of the most common beneficial vitamins, Vitamin C has long been thought to help the immune system, and is a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C is also crucial in the production of collagen, which we'll cover in a moment. On top of that, Vitamin C is necessary for the body to properly absorb iron, another healthy nutrient.
6: Iron. Iron is essential for oxygenation of the blood, and an iron deficiency – anemia – is a common cause of hair loss. Iron deficiency is surprisingly common in today's world of junk food and frozen dinners, too.
7: Collagen. Collagen is a protein your body uses for a wide variety of effects, including joint health, skin elasticity, and hair production. Your body needs Vitamin C to produce collagen, but you can also get collagen from supplements and from dietary sources like bone broth.
8: Vitamin A. Most of the nutrients on this list can cause hair loss when you get too little of them, but Vitamin A is different. Vitamin A causes hair loss if you get too little of it, but getting too much of it also causes hair loss. Thus, you should monitor your Vitamin A situation carefully and try to stay within the healthy range of 900 micrograms for men and 700 micrograms for women.
9: Vitamin B3. Also known as Niacin, Vitamin B3 is one of the more common B vitamins your body needs. B3 is critical for hair health and is possibly one of the most important nutrients on this list. A deficiency can also lead to all manner of problems, from hair loss to kidney disease.
10: Vitamin B6. While it's not as glamorous as the other B vitamins, B6 is important for protein metabolism and hormone regulation, which can impact hair growth, particularly in areas other than the scalp. Getting enough B6 is very important to maintain a healthy head of hair.
Foods to Get More of Essential Nutrients for Hair Care
Now that you know what vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need to get out of your diet, where can you get them? We're going to list a bunch of foods below, but keep in mind that this is a very incomplete list. A lot of different foods can include the same nutrients in different proportions, so check with your current diet and see what you might be lacking or, in the case of Vitamin A, getting too much of.
11: Supplements. We're just lumping this one together here, because every single ingredient up above can be purchased as a supplement. Iron, Collagen, Protein, and other ingredients can be purchased on their own, or as part of a multi-purpose supplement. Vitamins like A and C can be purchased on their own or as part of a multivitamin. B vitamins can also be purchased on their own, as part of a B-complex vitamin, or as part of a comprehensive multivitamin. Just be aware if the presence of Vitamin A in any supplement you take, to make sure you're not getting too much of it.
12: Eggs. Eggs are high in protein and biotin. You can get protein from other sources with ease, but biotin might be a bit less common depending on your usual diet. Eating a couple eggs for breakfast will go a long way for healthy hair. Eggs also contain smaller amounts of other useful nutrients, including zinc and selenium.
13: Berries. Berries are fruits with a lot of benefits. They have a range of antioxidant compounds in them particularly darker colored fruits like purple grapes and blueberries. They also contain plenty of Vitamin C, which is useful for absorbing iron, fighting free radicals, and keeping you healthy.
14: Leafy Greens. The number one green to eat for nutritional benefit is spinach, which is great, because fresh spinach is delicious. Skip that canned stuff, friends. Spinach is packed with basically everything on the list up above except protein. You can also eat other leafy greens, like kale, for similar benefits.
15: Fatty Fish. Salmon is the poster child for fatty fish with health benefits, particularly the omega-3s, but they also include antioxidants, protein, and vitamins from the list above. Salmon isn't the only fish you can eat, though; herring and mackerel are both good options as well.
16: Orange Vegetables. Orange vegetables get their orange color from beta-carotene, which is famously known to benefit eyesight. It's also the nutrient your body uses to create Vitamin A. Be careful with these foods, though, because of the aforementioned overdose of Vitamin A causing hair loss. Orange vegetables include pumpkin, sweet potato, and carrots.
17: Avocados. Avocados are a great source of various healthy fats your body needs, and they have a lot of different vitamins useful to your body. In addition to the B vitamins above, they also include Vitamin E, which helps protect the scalp from damage and stress that will reduce the presence of hair follicles and lead to hair loss.
18: Nuts. A variety of different nuts will give you a range of different vitamins and minerals, including the B Vitamins, zinc, and other nutrients. They can also include some valuable protein. Try almonds, walnuts, and cashews for a start.
19: Seeds. If you've ever watched a science fiction show and wished you had a tiny, compact superfood full of nutrients you can just eat, well, that's what seeds are. Seeds contain all manner of beneficial nutrients, including vitamins E and B, selenium, zinc, and protein. They can also contain omega-3s in greater proportion than even salmon, though it's a different kind of omega-3 and thus harder for the body to process. Which seeds should you try? Look for flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds. Try to avoid the over-cooked, over-salted seeds, as you'll run into high sodium issues if you eat them too often.
20: Oysters. One of the more unusual foods on this list, oysters aren't always in the ideal diet plan, but they're actually hilariously great superfoods if you have a taste for seafood. Oysters are high in iron, Vitamins D, B3, B1, and B12, zinc, selenium, and protein. They're also fatty, but the healthy kind of fat, so they're a beneficial food source all around.
21: Whole Grains. Various whole grains have a range of different benefits, largely in the form of vitamins, minerals, and some protein. Go for oats in the morning or as an additive for smoothies, wheat germ as a supplement, barley and quinoa as staples, and any fortified cereal grain for a whole range of vitamins and minerals. You have a lot of options here, so play around to find a diet you enjoy.
22: Citrus Fruits. Traditionally one of the most common recommended sources of Vitamin C, citrus fruits are also full of nutrients like potassium, Vitamin B6, folate, niacin, and thiamin. Oranges are great, but you can also try to work in some lemon, grapefruit, and lime. Alternatively, you can look into some of the more exotic citrus fruits, like kumquat, ugli fruit (yes, it's really called that because of branding, though the real name is Jamaican tangelo), and the Japanese yuzu.
23: Red Meat. Believe it or not, red meat can have an impact on your hair. In addition to getting you relatively healthy protein and plenty of iron, red meat is also a source of collagen, though you're more often going to want collagen from something like bone broth or a direct supplement to get workable amounts of it.
24: Dairy. Dairy is a great source of some vitamins and minerals your body needs, though since it's high in calcium and Vitamin A, too much of a good thing can possibly lead to hair loss. On the other hand, there's evidence to suggest that milk alternatives might also lead to hair loss, so really, just eat and drink whichever one you enjoy the most, in moderation.
25: Lentils. Lentils are the red meat of the vegan world. They're packed with protein and iron, the same as red meat, but they also have added nutrients like zinc and biotin. Those of you living with a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle should consider lentils to be one of your core staples.
So there you have it: 25 nutrients and foods that affect your hair. Other than making sure you don't get too much of a good thing in Vitamin A, most of these are beneficial in higher-than-normal doses and won't have any adverse effects. Just make sure your doctor knows what you're taking on an ongoing basis, in case you have any medical issues you need to worry about.