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I’ll be the first to admit it, I want great hair!
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be particularly concerned with your appearance, it’s likely that you put significant time and money into keeping your hair looking as good as possible – such as coloring, getting regular trims, and using expensive conditioner.
Indeed, your hair can say a lot about you as a person – but have you ever considered what it says about your diet?
As a Registered Dietitian, I get lots of questions about vitamin formulations that promise stronger, healthier, more beautiful hair.
Are they for real?
In short, they can be – but you need to do your research before buying them to ensure that they contain the right ingredients.
The right vitamins and minerals can make a huge difference when it comes to improving the health of your hair.
Of course, to maintain your overall physical health, you also need to be sure to stick to dosage recommendations (listed here for healthy adults – your needs may be higher if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or over age 70) in order to avoid toxicity or other side effects.
Let’s take an in-depth look at what I recommend as the top supplements for hair health.
10 Helpful Supplements for Healthier Hair
Until the last few years, it seems like biotin sort of flew under the radar as far as vitamin supplements are concerned. If you’re not familiar with biotin already, it’s one of the several “B-vitamins”, technically known as vitamin B7.
If you know anything about the B vitamins, their main claim to fame is that they help produce energy in the body from the metabolism of nutrients such as fatty acids (fat) and glucose (carbohydrates), which can also give you a nice little energy boost if you’re feeling sluggish.
How Biotin Helps Hair
So, what does this have to do with hair health? Plenty!
Biotin plays an important role in building a structural protein known as keratin that is widespread in hair follicles and nails (1).
As you might imagine, biotin deficiency can cause hair loss or slow growth, and biotin supplementation may help improve the rate at which your hair grows, as well as improving its strength (2).
However, if your diet is already relatively balanced and rich in foods containing biotin, supplementation of biotin alone is not likely to provide any additional benefits (3).
Biotin deficiency is relatively rare in developed countries; because foods such as:
- meat (especially liver),
- egg yolks,
- and seeds are plentiful in typical diets.
Vegetarian sources of biotin are also common, such as bananas, soy, and carrots.
How Much to Take
Recommended Dosage: 20-30 μg/day (4)
When it comes to dosage, you don’t need to worry about consuming too much biotin (in your diet or via a supplement) within reason, as it is a water-soluble vitamin and any excess is excreted in urine.
Like biotin, collagen is huge these days. It seems to be everywhere right now – and if you understand what collagen does, you’ll understand why. Like keratin, collagen is an integral structural protein – but rather than being limited to hair and nails, collagen can be found in approximately 25 to 30 percent of proteins in your body (5).
Collagen is widespread in:
- connective tissues (cartilage, ligaments, and tendons),
- blood vessels,
- and even your eyes.
How Collagen Helps Hair
So, where does hair come in? It’s pretty simple. As we already learned, collagen helps strengthen blood vessels and arteries in your circulatory system.
Stronger vessels allow for better circulation, which can help your body provide more nutrients to hair follicles. In general, collagen supplementation can help your hair become stronger, more moisturized, shinier, and grow faster (6).
How Much to Take
Recommended Dosage: 8-12 g/day (7)
As collagen is simply a type of protein, you don’t need to worry about overdoing it – but do be aware that it may take several weeks or even months for collagen supplementation to make changes in your hair, as your body’s depleted collagen stores may need to be refilled.
As a trace mineral, copper is required in very small amounts by the body. However, this certainly doesn’t mean that its functions are anything less than impressive.
How Copper Helps Hair
When it comes to hair, copper is required to cross-link strands of collagen, adding to its strength. Copper also functions in papilla cell development – these are specialized cells that ultimately lead to the growth of hair follicles (8).
Although more studies are certainly warranted, preliminary research has concluded that low serum copper levels may be associated with hair loss resulting from conditions such as alopecia and male pattern baldness (8).
Accordingly, copper supplementation (as part of a multivitamin) may help to prevent hair loss and improve the quality of existing hair.
Recommended Dosage: 700-900 μg/day (9)
If you’ve heard of folic acid before, you might be a parent! Adequate folic acid intake is important during pregnancy in order to ensure that a baby’s nervous system develops properly, so folic acid is typically included in prenatal vitamins.
How Folic Acid Helps Hair
What you might not realize is that folic acid is also one of the many B vitamins – officially known as vitamin B9 or folacin (10).
Like other B vitamins, you can be deficient in folic acid if you don’t get adequate intake of its dietary sources. Folic acid deficiency can cause anemia, hair loss, and low energy.
As with other B vitamins, folic acid has many different roles in the body, including providing nutrients and blood to the scalp and hair follicle. Many foods are fortified with folic acid, such as bread and cereals.
However, if you still find that your folic acid intake is lacking, a supplement may help with the health of your hair as well as other problems.
Recommended Dosage: 300-400 μg/day (from the diet – or 600-800 μg/day supplemental folate) (4)
Bet you didn’t see this one coming. Iron is essential for so many processes in your body, and it’s a bit of an unsung hero when it comes to hair health.
How Iron Helps Hair
Similar to collagen, its role has to do with the bloodstream, but unlike collagen, iron is a mineral rather than a protein. However, iron is a component of a protein known as hemoglobin found in red blood cells.
Unfortunately, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, especially among women of childbearing age (due to both poor intakes as well as blood loss through menstruation) (12). Iron deficiency anemia can cause a variety of problems, including hair loss or thinning (13).
While most people that take an iron supplement are aiming for decreased fatigue and improved energy levels, healthier hair is always a nice side effect. In general, iron helps improve the growth and thickness of hair, as well as preventing excessive hair loss.
How to Take Iron
- 8-11 mg/day for healthy adults,
- 15-18 mg/day for women age 14-50 (9)
If you choose to take an iron supplement, make sure to take it separately from calcium supplements, milk, or antacids, as calcium may interact with the absorption of iron.
Iron absorption is typically best on an empty stomach, but if vitamins tend to make you nauseous, you can certainly take it with a snack or meal.
Even if you think you know a bit about nutrition, you might be unfamiliar with this one. Well, let’s dive right into it. L-cysteine is one atomic arrangement of the amino acid cysteine. Like other amino acids, cysteine is a building block for different types of protein.
However, cysteine is one of a handful of amino acids classified as conditionally essential. This means that our bodies typically produce some cysteine, but not always enough for our needs, especially during periods of illness, injury, or growth.
How L-Cysteine Helps Hair
When your body has enough cysteine, it can be used to build keratin, allowing your hair to stay strong, prevent breakage, and even retain moisture. Cysteine is also required for the metabolism of biotin, which we’ve already established can help you maintain healthy hair.
One study found that a supplement containing L-cysteine helped women with alopecia to regrow a significant amount of hair within only three months (14).
Meanwhile, a 2015 study concluded that L-cysteine could improve the strength of hair as well as increasing hair growth in women with thinning hair (15).
How to Take L-Cysteine
Recommended Dosage: 600-900 mg/day (16)
Although it isn’t likely to be a common supplement available at your local drugstore, you should be able to find quality L-cysteine supplements online. Just make sure that you select a trustworthy brand that is upfront about ingredients, processing, and dosage.
If you prefer to get cysteine from dietary sources (and who wouldn’t?), it can be readily found in foods like cheese, soybeans, sunflower seeds, oats, and beef.
Vitamin A is pretty much a rockstar when it comes to your hair. Not only does vitamin A help hair cells grow, it also works with the skin to produce sebum, a substance that helps to keep your scalp and hair moist and strong (17).
If your diet is lacking in vitamin A, you may suffer from hair loss (18). Since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, deficiency can occur in people who consume a diet low in fat.
However, as with all fat-soluble vitamins, taking too much vitamin A can cause toxicity, as excess will be stored in your tissues rather than being removed in the urine. Oddly enough, excessive vitamin A can also lead to hair loss (19).
Recommended Dosage: 600-700 RAE/day for women, 600-900 RAE/day for men (4)
If you know anything about one vitamin, it’s probably vitamin C. This water-soluble vitamin is lauded for immune health as well as many other functions – but did you know that it also plays a major role in the health of your hair?
How Vitamin C Helps Hair
Vitamin C is required in order for the body to synthesize collagen, and as we’ve already learned, collagen is incredibly important for strong, healthy hair follicles (20).
Vitamin C also plays a role in the metabolism of protein, which of course includes collagen and keratin.
Vitamin C is also required for iron absorption (which we’ve also learned is important for healthy hair) and it serves as an antioxidant, helping the cells of your body fight against the aging process.
Since humans can’t make vitamin C as other animals do, we need to get it from our diet. Luckily, vitamin C is found abundantly in delicious fruits and vegetables that you likely already eat. Since vitamin C deficiency is rare these days (have you seen anyone with scurvy lately?), chances are that you don’t need a supplement.
How Much to Take
- 45-90 mg/day for men,
- 45-75 mg/day for women (4)
However, if you’re a notoriously picky eater that avoids fruits and vegetables at all costs, supplemental vitamin C may be worthwhile. It’s a water-soluble vitamin, so you don’t need to worry about overdoing it, but it’s still a good rule of thumb to follow the recommended dosage on the bottle.
Like vitamin C, vitamin E also plays a role as an antioxidant. However, vitamin E is a bit less well-known than its counterpart.
How Vitamin E Helps Hair
Vitamin E has been researched for its ability to prevent hair loss, and one study found that vitamin E supplementation helped improve hair growth compared to a placebo (21).
Another study concluded that supplemental vitamin E provided 34.4 percent more hair growth compared to placebo after eight months (22).
How Much to Take
Recommended Dosage: 11-15 mg/day (4)
As with other fat-soluble vitamins, you should be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage for vitamin E, as excess amounts will not be flushed from the body, and they can lead to toxicity.
Like copper, zinc is a trace mineral requiring minimal intake for maximal results (23). Zinc particularly plays a role in hair health – specifically growth and repair, as well as maintenance of glands associated with hair follicles.
How Zinc Helps Hair
Although zinc deficiency is relatively rare, hair loss is one of its major symptoms (24). People who suffer from malnutrition stemming from alcoholism or illness (especially inflammatory bowel disease and malabsorptive syndromes) are at an increased risk to develop zinc deficiency.
Additionally, many people with conditions causing hair loss (such as alopecia) have been found to be zinc-deficient (25).
How Much to Take
- 8-11 mg/day for males,
- 8-9 mg/day for females (9)
If you determine that you are zinc-deficient, supplementation may help you to prevent further hair loss and regrow hair you have already lost (26). However, you need to be careful with the dosage, as excessive supplemental zinc can actually have the opposite effect – encouraging hair loss.
If you choose to supplement, make sure to limit zinc supplementation to a few weeks at most, as long-term use can affect your immune system and even lead to copper deficiency (24).
If you prefer to get your zinc from food sources, pumpkin seeds, lentils, and spinach are excellent sources.
Final Say on Choosing Hair Supplements
So, we’ve tackled a lot of information here. The above vitamins are some of the best you’ll find for healthy hair, but of course, they aren’t the only options out there.
So, how do you go about deciding what to take?
First, do your research
If you’re reading this, nice work! All this information should be incredibly helpful to you as an informed consumer. As the old cliché says, knowledge is power.
Next, talk to your doctor
Even if you don’t take any medications or have any medical conditions, they may have some helpful information for you. They might have access to recent bloodwork that shows a mild deficiency or see something else in your medical record that you have no clue about.
Let your doctor know that you’re thinking of taking a supplement for your hair, and see what they suggest. It’s very likely to be something on this list, and they’re bound to have a recommendation as far as dosage, frequency, and how long to take it.
Once you’ve decided what supplement to try
Take a very close look at it. What are the ingredients? Are there things in there that you don’t recognize? Does the ingredient list look like a chemistry book?
Typically, fewer ingredients are better, especially if you’re only trying to supplement one thing. Take your doctor’s advice regarding dosage, and make sure the supplement you choose lines up with that amount.
Don’t randomly select a bottle because it’s a pretty color, and don’t just pick the cheapest one you can find. Quality is often slightly more expensive, so be willing to make that investment in your looks and your health.
Finally, once you begin taking the supplement
Pay attention to your body . . . not only your hair but keep an eye out for any side effects or unusual things occurring. Most supplement side effects are quite rare and only occur if you take huge mega-doses of vitamins or minerals, but it’s always better to be on the safe side.
Otherwise, enjoy the beneficial effects of your chosen supplement on your hair health, and discontinue use after a few weeks or months per manufacturers’ or your doctor’s recommendations.
Keep reading: 7 Best Supplements for Healthy Skin
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Kathryn.
Stock Photos from Syda Productions / Ollyy / Shutterstock
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About the Author
Kathryn Bubeck, RD, LDN is a clinical Registered Dietitian based in Hickory, North Carolina. She is a freelance nutrition consultant and copywriter focusing on integrative and functional nutrition, oncology dietetics, gastrointestinal disorders, and nutritional neuroscience. Email Kathryn.