Hair care is a large aspect of beauty, and brides-to-be know that even the best hairstyles for Indian weddings look better when our hair is inherently strong, healthy and lustrous.
In order to understand how to make it look and simply be its healthiest best, let’s first take a look at the factors that prevent it from being so in the first place.
Hair problems can exist in many forms: hair fall, hair breakage, split-ends, dullness, dandruff, oily hair and dry hair. Some of these issues can be related to skin problems, because our hair strands are anchored into our skin by hair follicles; someone with oily skin almost always has oily hair as well. So taking care of our skin might just eradicate a particular hair problem we’re facing as well.
Generally speaking, though, hair problems arise as a result of factors like genetics, hormones, inadequate nutrition, surgery, trauma, stress, lifestyle habits (like smoking and drug abuse), and external factors (like sun rays and pollution).1
While we may not be able to control all these factors, we can always work on our nutrition – which can make all the difference. In fact, unhealthy hair can be a sign of an unbalanced diet in itself; when our body is low on nutrients, it redirects its limited resources towards areas that are needed for our survival – our hair, understandably, is not one of them.
The nutrients that affect our hair
Have you ever noticed that when people follow extreme low-calorie diets (especially the ones with less than 1000 calories per day), more often than not, their hair turns thin, sparse and fragile, and sheds easily?
When there isn’t a sufficient amount of carbohydrates coming from our diet, the body is forced to use the food’s amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to provide energy, instead of using them to build protein.2
Given that the hair shaft (the part above the skin’s surface) is almost entirely made of protein, this dearth of amino acids unsurprisingly affects its quality.2
You can see why this also happens when a diet has a regular amount of calories but not enough protein.2
2: Anti-inflammatory food
‘Inflammation’ is part of the process that takes place when our body feels threatened and activates our immune system.
However, an improper diet (with an unbalanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids) and other lifestyle factors can lead to a state of constant low-grade inflammation.
The modern diet has an unbalanced ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids, which leads to a state of constant low-grade inflammation. When this happens, the cells of the immune system secrete certain compounds that interfere with the quality of our hair follicles – this can result in hair damage or loss.3 Oily skin and hair are also caused by the inflammation of the follicle’s oil glands.4
These compounds (known as ‘pro-inflammatory compounds’) can also be jolted into secretion by free radical damage in our body, through factors like the sun’s UV rays, smoking, pollution, and stress.
Here’s what we can do to help: include antioxidants in our diet through plant pigments from fruits and vegetables; antioxidants neutralise free radicals, consequently reducing inflammation as well.
At the same time, increasing our intake of omega-3 fatty acids like fatty fish, seeds, nuts and avocadoes can directly fight inflammation. GLA (gamma linolenic acid) is an omega-6 fatty acid which also fights inflammation. This fatty acid is essential to the condition of our skin, which, as we know, also affects our hair.
Although GLA can be made in the body (from a precursor obtained from food), nutritional issues and imbalances make its conversion inefficient.5That’s where a GLA-based supplement like Nutrova Keratrength comes in, giving us preformed GLA to support healthy hair.
3: Other nutrients for hair growth
Because hair grows so quickly, better nutrition can help us fix the problem at the same rate, by focusing on growing hair. Especially when it comes to these nutrients:
Organic sulphur –
Sulphur plays a pretty significant role when it comes to our hair structure. Groups of sulphur are contained in an amino acid called cystine, which is present all across our hair’s protein (keratin).
What makes sulphur so important is the fact that these groups tend to find one another and bind together – this tightens the structure and keeps our hair strong.7 Chemically treated hair has substantially lower amounts of cystine, which is possibly the reason it gets weak.8
Our body also uses a compound called methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM that contains sulphur to grow hair, nails, and bone; the reason beer is said to be good for a hair wash is because of its MSM content. Methylsulfonylmethane is also found in hair supplements, as well as several foods: cow’s milk, corn, tea, coffee, tomatoes, Swiss chard, alfalfa sprouts, apples, raspberries, whole grains and legumes.9
Iron and Zinc –
Iron and zinc serve various functions in the hair growth process, like contributing to protein-building and cell division. They are usually supplied through a normal diet, but deficiencies are still common.3
Red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, dark leafy greens, dried fruit are all good sources of iron, while meat, beans, nuts, and whole grains have zinc in them. Interestingly, adding black pepper and garlic to food can increase the amount of zinc and iron absorbed by the body.10
Cystine needs vitamin B6 to get incorporated into our hair from our body.11 Inadequate vitamin B6 levels also increases some signs of inflammation. Both facts would strongly indicate the importance of this vitamin when it comes to keeping our skin and scalp healthy.11 Rich sources of it include meat, fish, potatoes and bananas.
Although scientists aren’t quite sure as to how it works, vitamin B7 (biotin) seems to strengthen hair and nails. It is found in several foods including peanuts, almonds, sweet potatoes, egg yolk, onions, tomatoes and leafy green vegetables.
Found in eggs, fish and meats, vitamin B12 is required for the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Amongst other grave issues, a deficiency of vitamin B12 causes greying of hair.2
Other Hair Management Tips
#1: Comb & Brush
Combing and brushing our hair improves the scalp’s blood circulation, which helps oils move from the hair roots to the rest of the shaft more efficiently. This prevents oil build-up on the scalp, and gives hair its shine.
#2: Hair Oil
Coconut oil is a very rich source of a fatty acid called lauric acid. The molecular structure of lauric acid allows coconut oil to actually penetrate into human hair (more efficiently than mineral oil found in most serums and hair products).12 This allows it to condition hair, as well as block out about 20% of damaging UV light.
Olive oil can also penetrate the hair shaft, in a similar manner.13 The antioxidants from olive oil are especially effective at fighting inflammation – so much so that it has been shown to work like the popular anti-inflammatory drug, ibuprofen.14, 15
Most importantly – don’t stress over hair fall; that, ironically, only makes it worse! Just follow these tips, and take comfort in the fact that you’re doing all that you can to get stronger, healthier hair.
1. Ioannides D, Tosti A. Alopecias – Practical Evaluation and Management. S. Karger AG, 2015.
2. Finner AM. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 167-172.
3. Breitkopf T, et al. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 1-19.
4. Wójcik A, et al. Post Dermatol Alergol 2011, XXVIII(6): 498–505.
5. Muggli R. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 2005, 27(4): 243-249.
6. Jackson AJ, Price VH. Dermatologic Clinics 2013, 31(1): 21-28.
7. Trüeb RM, Tobin D. Aging Hair. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2010.
8. Robinson V. J Soc Cosmet Chem 1976, 27: 155-161
9. Akbari L. Every Woman’s Guide to Beautiful Hair at Any Age. Sourcebooks, 2007.
10. Meghwal M, Goswami TK. Phytother Res 2013, 27(8): 1121-1130.
11. Friso S, et al. Circulation 2001, 103(23): 2788-2791.
12. Rele AS, Mohile RB. J Cosmet Sci 2003, 54(2): 175-192.
13. Keis K, et al. Journal of cosmetic science 2004, 56(5): 283-295.
14. Lucas L, et al. Curr Pharm Des 2011, 17(8): 754-768.
15. Beauchamp GK, et al. Nature 2005, 437(7055): 45-46.