If you’re struggling with a hair conditions, like dandruff or eczema, you may feel like you’ve tried everything—washing less, washing more, changing up your pillowcase, using different hair care products, and so on. It might surprise you to learn that skin and scalp health are intimately related to diet. Healthy hair may be a few grocery swaps away. In essence, some foods can trigger or worsen dandruff and eczema flare-ups, while some anti-inflammatory foods can help alleviate it. If you’re ready to grow longer, stronger hair, read on for the best foods for hair growth. Hello, healthy locks.
How common is hair loss?
Just like food can positively impact your skin, the same concept applies to hair health. In other words, certain foods can support your hair’s luminosity, strength, and thickness. As someone who has dealt with hair woes over the years (thanks to a pesky hormonal imbalance), I’m the first to admit that hair loss is both remarkably frustrating and equally soul-crushing. It takes a toll on your self-confidence. The irony, though, is that hair loss is incredibly common. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly 50% of women will experience noticeable hair loss during their lifetime. The most significant cause of hair loss in women is called female-pattern hair loss (or FPHL), affecting roughly one-third of susceptible women. Postpartum hair loss plays a huge role as well.
What Causes Hair Loss?
A wide range of conditions can bring on hair loss. From genetic predisposition to pregnancy, thyroid disorders, menopause, and anemia, hair loss is multifaceted. The most common cause of hair loss for women (and men)? A hereditary condition that happens with age. It usually occurs gradually and in predictable patterns. In terms of temporary hair loss, hormonal changes and medical diagnoses may cause patchy hair loss, scalp infections, and more. Furthermore, an acutely stressful event can lead to the general thinning of hair, several months after a physical or emotional shock. Typically, this type of hair loss is temporary. Finally, some hairstyles and treatments can, unfortunately, cause hair loss. This type of hair loss (like tight hair pulling) is called traction alopecia.
Three Hair Growing Cycles
Throughout our lives, our hair grows in three cycles:
- Anagen phase (growing phase): This can last from two to eight years. This phase generally refers to about 85 to 90% of the hair on your head.
- Catagen phase (transition phase): This qualifies the time that hair follicles shrink. It takes about two to three weeks.
- Telogen phase (resting phase): This takes about two to four months. At the end of this phase, the hair falls out.
For shorter hairs, like eyelashes and eyebrows, they usually have a short anagen phase—about one month. Scalp hair, however, can last up to six years or longer.
How Lifestyle Impacts Hair Loss
In addition to being gentle on your hair (avoid tugging when brushing, use a wide-toothed comb, limit tension with braids, and try to avoid harsh treatments), various lifestyle habits impact hair loss and growth. Beyond genetics and aging, which have influence over hair growth, environmental factors, stress, and nutrition impact hair health and wellness.
Environmental stressors include a range of factors, like exposure to toxins, pollution, and smoking. All of these can be harmful to hair follicles. High pollution environments can lead to itching, dandruff, oily scalp, and more. From using a deep conditioner to wearing a hat outdoors, the more your hair is nourished and protected, the better.
The healthy hair diet
Poor nutrition can cause problems like dry skin, hair loss, and dandruff. More importantly, while products like coconut oil can help revitalize your skin, they’re not a substitute for a proper diet (even if they do feel nice on itchy skin). Healthy hair requires omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish oil, seeds, and almonds. Vitamins B6 and B12 are important for healthy hair, too (salmon, oysters, leafy greens, eggs, legumes, and more). Fortunately, eating a nutrient-rich, whole foods diet—with added nutritional supplements—can offset the worst impacts of diet. Furthermore, products like dandruff shampoo, hair masks, and exfoliators can deliver essential nutrients straight to your hair and scalp. Keep in mind that the best topical choices are a complement a proper diet. In other words, the right hair products plus the best foods for hair growth work hand-in-hand.
4 Foods that cause hair loss
Fatty fish (wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, etc.) is great for your skin and hair. With plenty of essential fatty acids, fish is often thought of as a healthy, nutrient-rich food to consume. However, keep in mind that high-mercury fish can actually lead to hair loss over time. In essence, all heavy metals can lead to hair loss. Fish to be cautious of: mackerel, swordfish, and certain types of tuna.
As alternatives, look for fatty fish like shrimp, sardines, wild-caught salmon, and canned light tuna. These all tend to be low in mercury, so eating them can help you improve your hair, scalp health, and eczema symptoms. Also, these types of seafood are widely available in supermarkets and stores, which makes them easy to add to an eczema diet or healthy hair diet.
We all know that too much sugar can lead to blood sugar issues, hormonal imbalances, sleep issues, and more. Furthermore, sugar can cause problems like seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis. If you want to get rid of dandruff, you’ll need to address your scalp health from both inside and outside your body. Sugar can cause flaky skin, itching, and damage to your hair follicles because it encourages the production of androgen, a hormone that shrinks hair follicle sizes. That means you could quickly develop dandruff, and many medicated shampoo options won’t treat the source of this issue. If you want healthy hair, aim to limit your sugar intake (no need to remove it, entirely!).
Hair is made of protein. If you eat low-protein foods all the time, you’re not giving your hair the building blocks it needs. When most people think of protein, they think of animal protein. And while I encourage a well-rounded diet, there are plenty of foods—high in protein—that are plant-based. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, some protein-rich foods include tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils, and beans. These might minimize dandruff, provide the fundamental nutrition your hair needs, and even make it easier to remove dead skin cells that linger on your scalp.
Although not a food group, too much alcohol can lead to itchy skin because it reduces the overall levels of zinc in your body. Zinc is fundamental to healthy hair growth, so over time, too much alcohol isn’t helpful. Alcohol is still fine for your hair in small amounts, so you don’t have to completely avoid it when trying to get your dandruff under control. Furthermore, alcohol can also dehydrate your body, which could affect conditions like dermatitis and dandruff. Make sure you stay hydrated while drinking alcohol to mitigate the worst of these conditions.
12 best Foods for Hair Growth
Consuming adequate protein, drinking plenty of filtered water, and loading up on iron and zinc-rich foods can all contribute to healthy and strong hair. B vitamins are super important too. Think: Dark leafy greens, whole grains, pasture-raised animal protein, and healthy fats—like olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados. These all help prevent deficiencies that can eventually manifest as hair loss. Eating a balanced diet can help promote hair growth, especially if you think you’re experiencing hair loss due to inadequate nutrition.
For many of us, our bodies require a diet high in plant-based foods, fiber, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and high-quality protein for optimal hair growth. Consuming these 11 foods, as part of a nourishing diet, can aid in supporting the hair growth process. A win-win, they also contribute to the building blocks of producing healthy skin and nails.
- Bell Pepper
- Bone Broth
- Brussels Sprouts
- Greek Yogurt
- Sweet Potato
Right out the gate, healthy fats are essential to hair health. In fact, because our bodies can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids on their own, we need to get them through our diet. Enter: Avocados. This superfood fruit nourishes hair follicles with its vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. They are rich in vitamin E and antioxidants, helping stimulate strong, shiny, and lustrous hair.
A wonderful source of vitamin C and fiber, bell peppers trigger hair growth through the improvement of blood circulation in the scalp. As a member of the capsicum family, bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and B6.
Organic bone broth and collagen (ideally from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals) support hair elasticity and strength. Bone broth also provides the building blocks for connective tissues to hold everything in place. Well-sourced and high quality, bone broth and collagen are beneficial ingredients for hair-building amino acids.
Cruciferous veggies—like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower—are rich in folate, which is necessary to improve weak, thinning, or brittle hair. Cruciferous veggies also aid in the natural production of keratin, due to containing sulfur-rich amino acids. These amino acids are an important subgroup that builds keratin. Keratin, in many ways, is both an external protective and internal structural protein to protect hair and keep it healthy.
Because our hair is made up of protein, foods like pasture-raised eggs, wild-caught fish, organic chicken, etc. are essential for hair growth and health. Eggs are also an easy source of biotin, an ingredient found in many hair supplements. Furthermore, egg yolks may be useful in moisturizing hair that appears dry.
Like eggs, Greek yogurt is high in protein and essential vitamins and minerals, like zinc. In addition to its protein content, Greek yogurt also has an ingredient that helps with blood flow to the scalp. Vitamin B5 (known as pantothenic acid) has been shown to help against hair thinning and loss. To upgrade your normal Greek yogurt bowl, add in omega-3 fatty acids like chia and ground flaxseed.
From the legume family, lentils are rich in hair-strengthening vitamins like iron, zinc, and biotin. Biotin is necessary for keratin production, which is a foundational component of hair, skin, and nails. Lentils and beans are also convenient, healthy sources of protein for plant-based eaters.
Oranges, like other citrus fruits, are rich in antioxidants, playing a major role in facilitating hair growth. The antioxidants fight off free radicals, preventing hair damage and boosting hair growth. Oranges also contain fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin E—all further helping repair damaged hair follicles.
Nutritious fish—like salmon and mackerel—are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Their compounds aid in hair luminosity and growth, thanks to their healthy fats, protein, and B vitamins. In essence, this oily fish can help restore hair’s shine and are essential to retaining a healthy scalp.
An excellent source of iodine, seaweed aids in supporting a healthy thyroid, which in turn is important for overall hair health. Furthermore, eating seaweed helps promote scalp hydration, which improves the condition of dry hair. Last but not least, it increases hair mineralization, which can lead to thicker hair.
Sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, the precursor for vitamin A. Vitamin A is necessary for a healthy scalp and promotes hair growth. As prebiotic, sweet potatoes also support gut health, and studies show that a healthy gut microbiome supports the production of nutrients needed for growing hair. Last but not least, sweet potatoes are also high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that improves skin health.
Images courtesy of Unsplash.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.