We all want thick, lustrous locks; beautiful hair is a sign of youthfulness and good health, no matter your age or gender.
Unfortunately, hair loss is an incredibly common issue that can get in the way of this. By age 40, the majority of the population – including men – will experience some degree of hair thinning.
Yet many people don’t realise just how many options they have when it comes to preventing or reversing the hair loss process. From laser surgery, anti-hair loss shampoo to natural remedies, you’re spoiled for choice – it’s not something you have to helplessly suffer through (and you don’t have to succumb to wearing a wig or toupee).
This article shares which vitamins and nutrients to take to boost hair growth – but we’ll start by learning how they actually work.
How hair growth works
You’re stuck with the same number of follicles you were born with – around 100,000. The natural ageing process causes some of these follicles to no longer produce hair over time. Your hair grows at a rate of around 1.25cm per month, though factors such as age, health and hair type also come into play.
We don’t know yet how to speed up the process of hair growth, but we do know how to strengthen the hair and help it regrow. Scientists have found 3 key stages in the hair growth process:
- Anagen: Growth phase, lasting 2-8 years
- Catagen: Transition phase, lasting 4-6 weeks
- Telogen: Resting phase in which hair loss occurs, lasting 2-3 months.
On average, around 90% of our follicles are in the anagen phase and 10% are in the telogen phase. We lose around 100 hairs per day.
The anagen phase is the crucial phase for hair growth. Scientists are still figuring out how to “switch on” the anagen phase in the body. In the meantime, hair loss remedies focus on promoting the production of strong, healthy strands during this phase.
Risk factors for hair loss
Besides genetics, some of the risk factors associated with hair loss are:
- Certain diseases (e.g. thyroid disease)
- Certain medications (e.g. blood thinners, birth control pill)
- Nutritional deficiencies (e.g. iron or protein deficiency)
- Ringworm of the scalp
- Hormonal imbalances
- High stress
- Severe infections
- Excessive use of hair treatments and styling products (e.g. heated hair straightening or perms, dyes and relaxers)
- Styles which pull on the tresses, such as braids and tight ponytails or buns.
Growing healthy hair with vitamins
So while we can’t speed up the hair growth process, we do know how to encourage the hair to grow healthy and strong. The body needs the right dose of vitamins and minerals in order to function properly. Visiting your doctor or a dietician may help you figure out what nutrients you are lacking so that you can start an effective vitamin regime.
Here are some of the vitamin supplements associated with hair growth:
Interestingly, too much vitamin A can actually lead to hair loss. Your doctor can help you determine whether there is an excess of vitamin A in your body.
Vitamin B complex
The class of B vitamins are popularly associated with hair growth, however only certain ones are backed by scientific evidence. Biotin, vitamin B12, riboflavin and folate deficiencies are linked to hair loss, though deficiencies in them are quite uncommon in the Australian population.
Scientists suggest that if your hair loss is due to an iron deficiency, vitamin C will be important in helping you absorb more iron. This in turn will help reverse the signs of hair loss and help regrow healthy locks.
While the role of vitamin D in hair production is not completely understood, a deficiency in this vitamin is associated with alopecia – hair loss. So if you are deficient, considering upping your intake of fatty fish or adding a supplement to your diet.
There is currently only minor evidence suggesting a link between vitamin E deficiency and hair loss. Try to have a healthy amount in your diet regardless.
Other essential nutrients
While vitamins play an important role in producing healthy, thick tresses, other nutrients are important for hair growth, too.
Omega-3 & Omega-6
These fatty acids are associated with improved hair density, which can help make up for daily hair loss. Definitely consider adding more fish or a supplement to your diet!
Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the world, and scientists believed it is linked to hair loss, especially in females, though more research is needed. If you are deficient, you should seek advice from your doctor regardless, as it can have other negative consequences on your health.
Studies suggest that zinc may be helpful in promoting hair growth, but only if you have a zinc deficiency.
What about herbs?
Now that we’ve covered the vitamins and nutrients responsible for healthy locks, you might be wondering what your other options are for improving hair growth. Herbal remedies can also be effective at reducing hair loss, and they are a popular alternative to medication due to having fewer potential side effects. While there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence for them yet, you might want to try some of the following, which have been used as hair growth remedies for centuries:
Also known as hair tonics, hair oils are a mix of herbs in a carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba oil. Some of the most popular herbs used in these tonics are:
Brahmi is a herb which is believed to activate hair growth-boosting proteins.
Studies have shown that jatamansi can boost hair growth in chemotherapy patients.
Ginseng is a popular herb for treating hair loss due to the saponins it contains.
This is believed to promote hair growth and increase follicle size.
Also known as salves, herbal ointments are a commonly used hair loss remedy consisting of a mixture of herbs and a base such as lanolin or cocoa butter. The most commonly used herbs in these ointments are:
This Ayurvedic herb is believed to boost blood circulation to the scalp, thus stimulating hair growth.
Commonly used for soothing burns, aloe vera can also be used to help condition the scalp and promote hair growth.
Gooseberry contains a number of key antioxidants, and it may help to both strengthen and promote strand growth.
This fragrant herb is associated with reduced hair loss; it is also believed to help alleviate itching due to dandruff or hormonal imbalances.
Creams are a less oily alternative to ointments and are more quickly absorbed by the skin. Here are the most commonly used herbs in hair creams:
Studies suggest that this shrub may prevent baldness and improve hair growth.
Research suggests that giant dodder can help reverse baldness caused by steroids due to its enzyme-inhibiting properties.
False daisy may help to promote hair growth and is linked to faster hair growth in mice.
For a totally oil-free alternative, try a herbal hair gel. Some of the herbs you might find in these gels include:
Marking nut is used in Siddha and Ayurvedic medicine for promoting hair growth, though more research is needed on its effectiveness.
It turns out that this cooking spice also comes with hair growth benefits! Research suggests that it can improve hair density in people with moderate hair loss.
This is an advanced technology which consists of crystalline, liquid nanoparticles. Some of the herbs you might consider using are:
This healthy berry is used in Chinese medicine to improve hair growth. It contains zinc, which may also help with preventing dandruff.
This is a traditional Chinese remedy for hair thinning. It helps inhibit certain enzymes and stimulate growth.
This Mexican herb is used to promote a healthy scalp and strengthen the hair. Research suggests it may also improve hair growth.
Potential side effects
While herbal remedies are associated with fewer health risks than hair loss medications, they do still come with some possible side effects.
The most common side effect is an allergic reaction. You can check to see if you are allergic to a particular herbal product by performing a patch test, in which you place a tiny amount of product to your wrist and leave for 24 hours. If you do not experience any irritation in this time, you should be fine to use it normally.
Common symptoms of an allergic reaction are:
- Trouble breathing.
Seek prompt medical assistance if you experience any of these symptoms.
Other possible side effects of herbal hair loss remedies are:
- Dry, red or itchy scalp
- Increased hair loss.
Avoid using herbal remedies for hair growth if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, unless your doctor has approved a specific product for you.
Some of the other options for treating hair loss include:
- Medications: Rogaine and Propecia are FDA approved for treating male-pattern baldness
- Hair transplant: This includes treatments such as grafting
- Scalp reduction: This involves removing hairless skin from the scalp and stretching the hair-bearing skin over the bald area
- Laser therapy: An FDA approved treatment which uses lasers to stimulate hair growth at the follicle.
How long will it take?
While it is natural to want immediate results, the reality is that you will have to wait a while before your hair starts to grow back thicker and fuller. The exact amount of time will depend on a number of factors, such as your age, health and the type of product(s) or treatment(s) you are using. An average estimate is at least 30 days with a consistent regime.
If after 30 days you do not see any results, you may just need to be patient. Alternatively, you might want to have another chat to your health practitioner to discuss whether your treatment is working for you or if you should try something else.
Research suggests hair growth benefits for a number of vitamins, nutrients and herbs, including thicker strand density, improved strand growth and stronger locks. However, it is unlikely that a single vitamin or product will work miracles on your hair, so be wary of companies which claim to offer a cure-all. A combination of treatments may be most effective in reversing hair loss.
It is a good idea to talk to your doctor about your symptoms and check to see if you have any nutritional deficiencies or health conditions that need to be addressed. They will be able to guide you on your options and refer you to an appropriate practitioner if necessary.