Before your splurge on expensive vitamins claiming to have an answer for lacklustre skin and hair, this is what a GP wants you to know.
Your hair, skin and nails, just like the rest of your body, all benefit from proper nutrition. The best way to ‘get’ good nutrition is through eating a well-balanced diet. However, while we may have the best of intentions, our food choices are often less than ideal.
Special vitamin blends targeted at hair, skin and nail health have been formulated and are easily available. Can they fill the gap? To find out, we spoke with GP and NPS MedicineWise medical advisor Dr Jill Thistlethwaite.
A bit about hair growth and loss
Hair growth follows a cycle. In a healthy scalp, about 85 per cent of the hair follicles are actively growing (about 1 cm per month) and 15 per cent are resting. A new hair will grow up under a resting hair and push it out, so it’s normal to lose around about 100 hairs a day as a result of a normal cycle. Washing hair helps remove loose hair, so you might also notice more hair loss if you wash your hair infrequently. A multitude of things can affect hair growth and loss, including skin diseases, bacterial infections and weight loss–even excessive sun exposure.
While it is true that the quantity and quality of hair are closely related to the nutritional status of our diet, much of what is known about the effect of nutrients on hair loss or growth comes from research on the diseases that result in nutritional deficiencies and not from well-nourished people taking supplements.
So if you are concerned your hair loss is excessive, it’s worth talking to your doctor before you buy a supplement to rule out deficiencies and ensure the correct treatment.
Will taking supplements improve hair, skin and nails?
Particular nutrient deficiencies are known to affect hair. However, while formulations marketed as targeting hair, skin and nails usually contain a combination of vitamins and other compounds, these vary considerably and may not be relevant to your needs. In fact, some of them may even contain dosages well above the recommended daily values for some nutrients, which can lead to complications.
For example, many vitamin blends contain vitamin A. This is because vitamin A has a role in building and strengthening skin and other tissues. However, in the absence of deficiency, supplementation may actually prove harmful to hair. Over-supplementation of certain nutrients, including selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin E, has actually been linked to hair loss.
Biotin, or vitamin B7, helps maintain the health of our hair, skin and nails and is commonly added to supplements. Despite its reputation, there is limited research to support the usefulness of biotin in healthy individuals, although it is effective for the treatment of brittle fingernails in cases of deficiency or illness.
Vitamin D supplements might be useful in people with certain types of dermatitis (skin inflammation), but evidence for vitamin E is less conclusive.
It’s the same for nails. Although virtually every nutritional deficiency can affect the growth of the nail in some manner, not much evidence supports the use of vitamin supplementation for improving nail health in well-nourished people.
So although vitamins play key roles in the formation and maintenance of good hair, skin and nails, supplements will generally only be useful if you’re not getting sufficient nutrients already.
Research on the benefits of supplements is ongoing, but remember–the best source of vitamins for the skin, hair and nails, is a properly balanced diet.
While you're here, check out how this famous blogger fixed her hormonal acne. There's also this model who used ingredients from her pantry to cure her acne in one week.
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