The Best Vitamins, Supplements and Products for Healthier Hair

And five reasons for damaged hair that have nothing to do with styling
Woman shopping for a vitamin supplement

You want hair so healthy that it shines. But can anything other than good genes turn you into a walking shampoo ad?

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Yes, says dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, with the help of some nutrients and products.

5 reasons your hair is damaged

Coloring, blow-drying and overwashing can all harm your hair, but there are also some other landmines to watch out for, such as:

  • Inadequate nutrition: Hair — like anything that grows — needs the right nutrients and conditions to thrive. And it starts with what you eat.
  • Health problems: Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid problems and anemia, can negatively affect hair health and growth.
  • Genetics: Between 60% and 70% of the population carries the gene for male and female pattern hair loss.
  • Age: “At any given time, we have hairs growing, resting and shedding,” explains Dr. Khetarpal. “But as we enter our 30s, the percentage of hairs actively growing goes down.”
  • Major life events: All hair (healthy or not) has a relatively short life cycle. “It’s normal to shed anywhere between 100 and 200 strands a day,” Dr. Khetarpal notes. “But some life events cause periods of increased shedding, including major surgery and having a baby. In fact, up to half of your hair can shift from a growing to a shedding phase postpartum.”

Supplements and vitamins that improve hair growth and health

A well-balanced diet is the first key to top-notch tresses. But you may still need extra help to kick-start your hair restoration.

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“Your primary care doctor or dermatologist can help you safely determine which hair growth shampoos and supplements would be the most appropriate,” Dr. Khetarpal says.

Here are six to consider for a full head of luxurious locks:

  1. Multivitamins: A multivitamin can help bridge your nutrition gap. Dr. Khetarpal recommends one with B-vitamins, zinc and at least 2,000 international units of vitamin D. Both B-vitamins and zinc play a role in hair follicle health, while vitamin D may help make new ones, she says.
  2. Iron: Iron is important for hair growth and health. Lack of iron also leads to anemia, which can cause hair loss. “If you eat red meat fewer than two or three times a week, consider an iron supplement,” says Dr. Khetarpal.
  3. Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 naturally occurs in foods such as shellfish and flaxseed, but you can also find it in supplements like fish oil. It’s critical to cell health and is thought to make your scalp and hair healthier.
  4. Biotin: Taking biotin for hair growth may be just what the stylist ordered. And since it’s a water-soluble B-vitamin, any excess will leave your body through urine. Dr. Khetarpal recommends taking 3 to 5 milligrams daily.
  5. Zinc pyrithione: Zinc pyrithione is the active ingredient in some over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos. And these shampoos have a hidden perk: “They’ve been shown to grow hair, too,” Dr. Khetarpal says: “This is because we all have some yeast that lives on the scalp. If that yeast grows too much, microscopic inflammation causes our hair to shed. You can use these hair growth shampoos to improve scalp and hair health, even if you don’t have dandruff or flaking.”
  6. Minoxidil: Minoxidil (Rogaine®) is a foam or solution you apply directly to your scalp. While it can be an effective way to regrow hair on your head, it may work a little too well. “It has a field effect — if you put it in one area, you might notice hair growth on your face,” Dr. Khetarpal cautions. “It also should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.”

Setting expectations for your Extreme Makeover: Mane Edition

Dr. Khetarpal says that success depends more on the duration of hair loss than anything else. People who have been losing hair for only two or three years are more likely to see noticeable results than those losing it for 10 or 20 years, she explains.

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“You may be able to restore your hair to what it was like five years ago, but not much beyond that. Those are the hair follicles that can be woken up with nutritional supplementation and medical treatments,” she says. “Hair that has become too thin and fine can no longer penetrate and exit the surface of the scalp. You have to be reasonable with your expectations.”

And, always talk to your doctor if you start shedding more hair than is normal for you.

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