Beauty comes from the inside out, and although treatments and stylers are great, a healthy diet rich with nutrients is the key to cultivating a head of beautiful hair. We tapped two experts, Francesca Fusco, M.D., a leading dermatologist in New York City, and Kimberly Snyder, nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author, to find out about the best foods for healthy hair.
Benefit: Stronger hair, less breakage
Hair health, and your health in general, is tied to digestion. So upping your probiotics is key. “The hair follicle has to absorb nutrients and if your body is clogged [not properly digesting], it’s going to hinder that,” Snyder says.
How it works: Probiotics are a form of live bacteria that are a key part of the natural world and crucial to our survival, according to Snyder. They help good bacteria flourish in the body, while hindering the growth of harmful microorganisms. This has a deep impact on both your digestion and your nutrient absorption.
What to eat: Snyder swears by a probiotic supplement like Kimberly Snyder Beauty Detox Probiotics to aid digestion. “The SBOs [soil-based organisms] in this product not only help eliminate unfriendly bacteria, but they also pave the way for beneficial bacteria to thrive,” she says. If a supplement is not your style, work foods that are rich in probiotics into your diet such as yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, or sourdough bread.
Benefit: Hair growth
Bad news first: There is no food you can eat to make your hair grow faster. “The rate of your hair growth is determined by many factors including age, hormonal status, genetics, disease, and nutrition,” Fusco explains. The good news? There are critical nutrients that are necessary to keep healthy hair growing, and protein is an essential building block of healthy hair.
How it works: Protein is a structural component of hair. “It makes up to 90 percent of the hair fiber and starts to work at the hair follicle,” she says. “It’s essential to the hair growth. Even though there’s nothing that can speed up the process, there are things you can do to slow it down, and not ingesting enough protein is one of them.” When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids, which are necessary for hair health. Without enough protein in your diet, you might experience weak, brittle hair, breakage, and shedding.
What to do: Take a page out of a Paleo cookbook. It’s easy to incorporate protein into meals on a daily basis. Try foods like eggs, lean meats, lentils, beans, quinoa, protein shakes or bars, and cheese. Expect to see improvement after two weeks and stick with it for at least three months for maximum benefits.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Benefit: A healthy scalp
Your scalp is an extension of the skin on your face, but it differs due to the dense population of hair follicles and oil glands. The most common scalp complaint most people have is dandruff or flaking. “Ingesting oily foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids is a great supplement to scalp and hair health especially for individuals who have a lot of treatments like hair color,” Fusco says.
How it works: A healthy scalp is necessary for thick, luxurious hair, and essential fatty acids will help nourish your scalp. Plus, quality fats keep the oil levels on your scalp balanced and prevent dryness.
What to do: Look for foods that boast omega-3’s like tuna and salmon, or add chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, dark leafy greens, or hemp milk to a daily salad or smoothie. You’ll start to see an improvement after two weeks. Need instant results? Try a shampoo and conditioner with pyrithione zinc in it. “It’s hydrating and therapeutic for the scalp, and will effectively control the overgrowth of yeast that causes dandruff,” Fusco says. Try: Clear Complete Scalp Care Shampoo and Conditioner, which contain pyrithione zinc but don’t look, feel, or smell clinical like some other anti-dandruff formulations.
Benefit: More manageable, less frizz
It’s no surprise that water hydrates your body and your hair from the inside out. “Because your body will take care of your vital organs and tissues first, with limited water intake, your hair can get dehydrated far sooner than the rest of your body,” Snyder explains. “Water also helps flush toxins from the body that can hinder your hair from growing in healthily.”
How it works: Just like when your muscles can’t fire properly when you’re dehydrated during a workout, your hair can’t grow thick and healthy with a lack of hydration. “Dehydration can also lead to scalp issues like dandruff, and can slow hair growth because there isn’t enough moisture in the hair root to allow for healthy new hair growth,” says Snyder.
What to do: Drink more water! It’s as simple as that. Snyder suggests skipping the morning coffee and starting your day with warm water and lemon. “It’s an instant infusion in hydration after many hours during the night without any liquids,” she says. You can also increase your water intake substantially by munching on watery fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, and celery. Every little bit helps.
Vitamin B Complex
Benefit: Hair health
Biotin (vitamins B8 and B12) is widely known for maintaining healthy hair, but biotin isn’t the only vitamin that supports hair growth. All the B vitamins are important along with a host of other nutrients that support the hair follicle at a cellular level.
How it works: Vitamin B complex includes all the B vitamins. Ingesting them all at once allows them to work together and will help the other nutrients you consume (like proteins and fats) work better. Fusco says, “B vitamins are a cofactor to help your body metabolize fats and protein for good, shiny hair. They inherently have the building products you need for healthy hair and healthy oil glands to function.” In other words, fats and proteins will still nurture your hair, but B vitamin complex will make them more effective.
What do to: The easiest way to take all the B vitamins is to take a B-complex vitamin supplement, says Fusco. It’s quicker, easier, and sometimes more effective than incorporating them into your diet because you don’t have to consider the preparation of food, cooking it, or freezing it. But if you can’t or don’t want to take a supplement, add lots of green leafy vegetables, shellfish, and cheese into your meals to get a healthy dose of all B vitamins.