Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Wondering why your formerly healthy hair is now thin — even sparse? Shedding is a normal part of the hair growth cycle, so some hair loss is natural. But interruptions to this cycle — from stress, hormonal shifts, illness, scalp inflammation, even aging—can impede growth and hurry the loss of hair.
Lack of vitamins, minerals, protein, and other key hair-nourishing nutrients can hamper hair growth and promote shedding. And damage to the hair shaft from sun exposure, blow drying, harsh products, or overly enthusiastic styling, can cause breakage, making hair look thinner — even if you’re not actually shedding.
The good news: most of the time, excessive hair loss can be slowed or even reversed. Here’s how:
Top 8 Nutrients for Healthy Hair
1. B Vitamins
These play a role in the body’s production of keratin, the primary protein in hair, and deficiencies are linked with hair loss. Plus, B vitamins protect against stress, known to disrupt hair’s growth cycle and exacerbate shedding. Biotin in particular keeps scalp and follicles healthy and is needed for keratin production. Because it’s found mainly in eggs, organ meats, and seafood, vegans and vegetarians may be lacking. Research links biotin deficiencies with increased hair loss, and studies suggest supplementing with biotin can slow shedding and enhance new growth.
2. Vitamins A and E
These powerful antioxidants help reduce inflammation, nourish the scalp and protect hair follicles from free radical damage, linked with both hair loss and graying. In one study, supplementing with vitamin E significantly improved new hair growth. And vitamin A helps sebaceous glands in the scalp produce oils that lubricate the scalp and keep hair soft and healthy.
Vitamin C is required for the production of collagen, vital for strengthening hair and preventing breakage and thinning.
3. Vitamin C
Like vitamins A and E, vitamin C protects hair follicles from inflammation and free radical damage that can impede normal hair growth. Plus, it’s required for the production of collagen, vital for strengthening hair and preventing breakage and thinning. And vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron, necessary for healthy hair—deficiencies in iron can lead to excessive shedding.
These essential fatty acids are crucial for scalp and follicle health, and research suggests fish oil and omega-3 supplements can improve volume and density of hair and promote new growth. One study showed fish oil supplements significantly lessened loss and enhanced hair growth, and another study found omega-3 fats combined with antioxidants increased hair density and thickness in 62 percent of women in the trial.
As an herbal adaptogen, ashwaganda naturally balances the body’s systems and lowers stress that can, literally, make your hair fall out. Ongoing stress, anxiety and tension boost levels of cortisol, known to disrupt the normal growth cycle of hair, and research links chronic stress and elevated cortisol with increased hair loss and excessive shedding. And dozens of studies point to ashwagandha’s effectiveness in minimizing cortisol and easing tension, anxiety and psychological stress.
This is a key factor in thick, lustrous locks, nourishing the skin on the scalp, and research suggests collagen can promote significant hair growth and lessen thinning. One study found supplementing with collagen for three months led to improvements in overall hair volume, scalp coverage and thickness. And amino acids in collagen, especially proline and glycine, play an important role in keratin production, contributing to a stronger hair shaft that’s more resistant to breakage.
This herb has been used for hundreds of years for lush, healthy hair. It’s rich in silica, a compound that strengthens both hair and nails, and research suggests horsetail supplements enhance thickness, reduce brittleness, and make hair more resistant to breakage. Antioxidant compounds in horsetail also protect follicles from free radical damage and prolong hair’s active growth phase, and some studies suggest horsetail supplements inhibit the activity of chemicals that promote shedding.
8. Saw Palmetto
Here’s another herb that has been traditionally used to lessen hair loss. It is thought to work by impacting hormonal activities involved in thinning hair. Research suggests compounds in saw palmetto berries inhibit the formation of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a derivative of testosterone. Excessive DHT is associated with hair loss—mainly male pattern baldness but also thinning hair in women. Some research suggests saw palmetto supplements can slow hair loss, improve new growth, and enhance hair thickness and strength in both men and women.
6 Supplement Formulas for Healthy Hair
2. Nutrafol, with collagen, ashwagandha, saw palmetto, antioxidants, horsetail, curcumin, and other hair-nourishing nutrients. In one study, participants who took Nutrafol for six months showed significant improvements in hair growth and thickness.
3. Viviscal, with marine complex, horsetail silica, and antioxidants to promote growth and lessen shedding. One study found Viviscal increased hair volume and reduced hair loss after 90 days, compared to a placebo.
4. Vitafusion Hair, Skin and Nail Gummies, with biotin, vitamins C and E, zinc, folate, and other hair-nourishing nutrients to enhance hair growth and strength.
5. Biosil Hair, Skin and Nails, with ch-OSA—a patented, bioavailable form of silicon—and other nutrients essential for strong, healthy hair. Several studies show ch-OSA improved hair strength and elasticity, and resulted in thicker hair.
6. MegaFood Skin, Nails and Hair 2, with B vitamins, biotin, vitamins C and E, and other hair-nourishing nutrients, plus horsetail and ashwagandha for enhanced growth, less loss.
From Better Nutrition.