How to Improve Hair Health: The Complete Evidence-Based Guide
How to Improve Hair Health
Having healthy, vibrant hair can make us feel confident and beautiful. But when hair looks dull, feels brittle, or is falling out more than normal, it can negatively impact self-esteem and quality of life. The good news is there is a lot you can do to restore hair health naturally. This comprehensive explains How to Improve Hair Health, research-backed guide covers all aspects of achieving strong, shiny hair through proven lifestyle, diet and hair care tweaks.
The Basics: What Makes Hair Healthy?
Hair health stems from having adequate moisture, nutrients, oxygen flow and proper follicle stimulation. The hair structure itself is made up of a protein called keratin that contains sulfur bonds providing strength and elasticity. A protective cuticle layer surrounds the hair and preserves moisture and protein inside the hair shaft (1).
Many factors like nutrition, genetics, hormones, scalp health and lifestyle habits influence the structure and growth cycles of hair. Addressing these foundational areas through optimal hair care routines, diet adjustments and lifestyle changes is key for improving both existing and new hair quality.
Signs of Unhealthy Hair
How do you know if hair health could use an upgrade? Be on the lookout for these signs:
- Increased hair falling out, including more than 100 strands per day
- Thinning hair, a widening part line or balding patches
- A flaky, irritated scalp or dandruff
- Lots of split ends and breakage
- Lackluster color and shine
- Fair hair feels coarse or straw-like; dark hair feels stiff
- Hair won’t grow past a certain length
- Increased tangles, knots and difficulty managing
- Changes in texture like new straight hair developing kinks
If experiencing multiple symptoms of lackluster locks, don’t fret — there are so many solutions. Read on to learn research-backed steps for restoring hair wellness from the inside out.
Nutrition Strategies for Healthy Hair
Proper daily nutrition provides the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and protein strands fundamental to building healthy hair structure and fueling new growth. Research shows poor diet quality correlates strongly with dandruff, dullness, thinning and slow growth rates . Target a hair-healthy diet by:
- Protein – Hair is almost entirely composed of a protein called keratin. Adequate protein prevents excessive shedding and keeps existing hair strong. The recommended dietary allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for adult women and men. Great protein-rich choices include fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Iron-rich foods – Iron enables oxygen and nutrient delivery to follicles for growth and repair. Iron deficiency is a very common cause of hair problems, especially in women. Include more iron sources like red meat, eggs, spinach, lentils, pumpkin seeds and cashews (3). Consider having iron levels tested if experiencing hair issues along with exhaustion, dizziness or pale skin.
- Zinc foods – Zinc is crucial for protein synthesis and DNA production in hair follicles. Lack of zinc hampers follicle recovery and growth cycles. Great dietary sources include oysters, meat, pumpkin seeds, lentils, spinach and yogurt (4).
- Biotin – Getting extra biotin via food sources has been shown in studies to thicken hair shafts, prevent thinning and aid growth. Top biotin providers include almonds, liver, egg yolks, salmon, sweet potatoes and avocados.
- Vitamin C – This antioxidant thickens and strengthens connective tissues anchoring hair follicles. Load up from citrus, kiwi, red bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli and tomatoes.
- Refined Sugars – Diets high in sugar lead to systemic inflammation shortening the growing phase of hair and increasing hair loss according to research (5). Limit added sugars and refined grains like white bread, candy, soda and desserts.
- Omega-6 Vegetable Oils – While the body needs some omega-6 fatty acids, excess from vegetable oils like soybean, corn, cottonseed and sunflower oil can trigger inflammation causing hair loss when omega-3 intake is insufficient (6). Limit use of these processed oils.
- Caffeine – Consuming large amounts of caffeine may damage hair health, potentially by inhibiting absorption of key nutrients like iron or zinc. One study found women downing 3 or more cups of coffee daily were more likely to experience hair loss (7).
Nutrient or Vitamin Deficiency Screening – Getting blood work screened for common deficiencies impacting hair growth like iron, zinc, vitamin D or thyroid hormone imbalances can provide useful insights as well. Lab tests help determine any issues requiring treatment through dietary adjustments, further testing or possible supplements.
As a bonus, many of these foods also boost energy, brain health, immunity and chronic disease prevention. So optimizing diet and nutrition bolsters total body wellness in addition to a luscious mane!
The Best Supplements for Hair Loss
Can supplements or vitamins make hair grow faster and stronger? Targeted use of research-backed hair health supplements can help improve growth and thickness when paired with a quality diet and hair care regimen.
Biotin – One of the most well-studied supplements for hair, biotin has been shown to thicken hair shafts, stimulate growth of new hairs, and prevent excessive shedding and thinning, particularly when biotin deficiency is present (8). Consider taking 2,500 – 5,000 mcgs per day under medical guidance, along with food sources like egg yolks and nuts. Those on medications impacting gut bacteria may require higher doses.
Iron – Remember iron deficiency is extremely common in those struggling with hair health, especially in women. If lab tests confirm low iron, an iron supplement is warranted, usually at a dose between 40-80 mg elemental iron daily depending on lab measures and medical advice. Vitamin C rich foods help absorption. Those prone to constipation may get gastrointestinal side effects.
Zinc and selenium – Research finds that low zinc is strongly associated with hair loss (4). Zinc supplementation between 25-45 mg per day under medical supervision may support regrowth. Selenium boosts zinc absorption, so a combined zinc and selenium supplement (or each individually) is effective for hair wellness. Brazil nuts offer a tasty natural selenium source.
Probiotics – Improving gut health also benefits hair! Probiotic supplements help nurture healthy gut bacteria tied to immune and hormone systems influencing hair growth. They also maximize nutrient absorption capacity from foods. High strain count probiotics with acidophilus, bifidobacterium and lactobacilli strains support total body balance as well as lustrous locks.
Other specialized hair supplements include curcumin, ashwagandha, vitamin D, omega-3s and sulfur compounds that combat inflammation, stress and nutrient deficiency pathways contributing to hair thinning. Talk with your healthcare provider about testing to determine if specialized supplements may help in your situation. Quality whole foods should remain the basis of dietary intake rather than relying on supplements alone.
Scalp Massage Benefits
The scalp is home base for hair health, so keeping it relaxed, nourished and stimulated ensures ideal environment for follicle growth beneath skin. Scalp massage offers a natural, effective way to enhance circulation, remove product buildup, boost thickness and make hair ridiculously soft in one soothing step with research indicating (9):
Increased blood flow – Using massage techniques like small circular motions or finger pad presses causes mild physical stress activating hair follicle stem cells and increasing local blood circulation in the scalp. Better blood flow whisks oxygen and nutrients to hair roots bolstering healthy new growth.
Removal of dead cells and product residue – Rubbing exfoliates skin and lifts away dirt, oil and stuck hair products that can block follicles and age hair faster. Clearing this debris away leaves space for vital oxygen and growth compounds to reach nascent hairs.
Conditioning dry scalp – Many essential oils and nourishing carrier oils moisturize on contact when massaged into the scalp, improving environment for existing hair durability and emerging strands. Oils also protect hair proteins keeping moisture locked in.
Relaxation response – Massage naturally eases tension carried in shoulder, neck and skull muscles that attach close to follicles and can indirectly restrict blood flow when tight. Releasing held tension helps hair follicles function optimally. The soothing massage process also switches on the body’s relaxation response for whole body benefits!
Use hair growth botanical oils – Certain plant oils stimulate hair cycling phases when applied topically. One study found regular scalp massage with rosemary, lavender, thyme and cedarwood essential oil mixes increased hair growth after just 7 months! (10). Mix a few drops into a nourishing carrier oil like jojoba or coconut and massage away.
Aim try giving yourself a weekly scalp massage focusing on areas seeming thinnest. Or get one monthly from a hair stylist using targeted techniques during washes. Being gentle and consistent pays off with thicker, stronger strands.
Lifestyle Adjustments for Improving Hair
Our hair offers visible insight into deeper metabolic processes regulated by immune function, hormones, neurotransmitters and genetics. Key lifestyle factors influencing these interconnected systems and hair growth pathways include :
Manage stress – Stress fuels whole body inflammation while raising cortisol depleting nutrients, starving follicles, shifting growth cycles and exacerbating hair fallout. Master daily tension relief via sufficient sleep, restorative yoga, meditation, fun hobbies, therapy, saying no to obligations causing drain. This reduces internal strain so hair stays resilient.
Get plenty quality sleep – Lack of sound sleep increases stress hormone cortisol while decreasing testosterone balance essential for thick hair, especially in women. Poor sleep quality also impairs glucose metabolism and inflammation regulation pathways affecting follicle function (12). Make sleep a priority aiming for 7-9 hours nightly, limiting blue light exposure before bed and creating an environment primed for uninterrupted rest.
Exercise moderately – Regular exercise drives blood flow delivering oxygen and nutrients critical to hair follicle cells. It also balances weight, hormones and blood sugar for optimal energy allocation to growing hair. Ideally mix in strength training to boost testosterone while keeping cortisol in check. Yoga helps by lowering inflammation markers. Excessive high intensity training can excessively raise stress hormones though, so moderation is key.
Limit tobacco and excess alcohol – Smoking drastically reduces blood flow to the scalp choking hair follicles while upping inflammation and free radical damage. Alcohol intake above moderation likewise spikes inflammation, alters hormone balance and depletes folate levels needed for rapid cell division during hair production (13). Quit or cut back tobacco use and keep alcohol intake within national dietary guidelines for resilient hair.
Paying attention to whole body wellness through nutrition, stress relief practices and healthy lifestyle factors gives hair the best chance to replicate with strength season after season.
Science-Backed Hair Care Tips
Caring for those luscious locks with optimal hair care routines enhances shine, reduces breakage and prevents stripping of essential moisture and proteins that keep hair supple and strong. Follow these dermatologist-approved best practices:
Avoid over-washing – Many think washing hair daily keeps it cleanest, but over-washing actually dries hair by stripping the scalp’s protective sebum oils faster than they replenish while removing beneficial proteins. Limit shampoo to just 1-3 times per week focusing efforts on the scalp, only lightly shampooing mid-lengths to ends when hair is especially dirty. Condition well after shampooing concentrating on ends.
Use warm, not hot, water – Scalding hot showers damage hair proteins through thermal effects and dehydrate cuticles causing frizziness and making hair prone to snapping. Keep temperatures warm, not steaming. Finish with a burst of cool water to seal cuticles locking in moisture. Also avoid needlessly wetting hair throughout the week.
Gently towel dry– Vigorous hair rubbing with towels stresses delicate wet strands when most prone to breakage. Instead gently squeeze out excess moisture then wrap hair in a microfiber towel allowing it to slowly absorb water rather than rubbing. Limit brushing or combing when wet too for less risk of damage. Let hair air dry when possible.
Detangle properly – Only comb out knots and tangles when conditioned, well lubricated and slippery using a quality wide-toothed comb or wet brush. Never rip a comb or brush through dry, tangled hair as this causes more snarls and breakage. Instead thoroughly wet hair, evenly distribute conditioner throughout, let sit briefly, then gently work in small sections from bottom up.
Protect with silk or satin – Rubbing against cotton pillowcases overnight dehydrates hair and leeches nutrients essential for strength. Choose silk or satin pillowcases and hair wraps which provide silky smooth, non-absorbent texture allowing hair to retain natural oils and proteins for reduced bedhead tangles and improved moisture. Also opt for scrunchies over hair ties and avoid tight hairstyles that pull relentlessly on strands.
Address chemical or heat damage – Use thermal protectant sprays before hot tools, allowing hair to air dry rather than overusing damaging dryers and stylers. Also avoid or limit chemical processing that weakens bonds over time. If hair feels especially brittle or straw-like from accumulated damage, do a chop to let new growth emerge or invest in reparative Olaplex or protein bond-building treatments to get healthy looking strands back on track.
Consistent research-backed hair care allows hair to maximally benefit from the dietary and lifestyle measures promoting growth and beauty from within!
Top At-Home Treatments for Hair Loss
In addition to the thorough hair care regimen above, those experiencing temporary hair shedding or loss can benefit from specialized at-home treatments stimulating follicle activity to enhance regrowth during recovery.
Red light therapy – Also called low level laser light therapy, red light penetration deeply stimulates cellular regeneration pathways that energize follicles back into growth mode, especially when hair loss relates to abnormal growth cycles or inflammatory conditions (14). Clinical-grade devices provide optimal results.
Scalp microneedling – This stimulates a controlled skin injury response tricking the body into sending a fresh rush of nutrient rich plasma, white blood cells and growth factors to heal the targeted area (i.e. the scalp) – essentially naturally boosting factors that rally hair back into growth cycle locally (15). Use a 1.5mm roller once monthly.
Hair stimulating essential oils – As covered earlier, diluted peppermint, rosemary, cedarwood and thyme oils massaged into the scalp activate cellular pathways similarly to laser treatments amplifying follicle proliferation and growth phases based on research (16).
Ketoconazole shampoo – This prescription anti-fungal cleanser combat malasseazia fungus overgrowth on scalps that drives inflammation contributing to hair loss for some individuals. Using a few times weekly helps balance scalp microbiome and reduce local inflammation that can shift follicles into shedding mode.
Caffeine shampoos and conditioners – Caffeine Confederates applied topically constrict blood vessels in the scalp optimizing circulation and delivery of nutrients to hair roots to facilitate growth. One study saw highly significant increases in total hair count after consistent use of caffeine containing products (17).
Minoxidil – This over-the-counter topical solution is the only FDA approved ingredient for stimulating growth from dormant follicles, allowing healthy regrowth of thin or balding patches when used consistently long-term (18). It extends time hairs spend in active growth phase before dropping out. Results peak around 4 months with twice daily use.
While still undergoing further study, other natural options like castor oil, green tea extracts, pumpkin seed oil or black seed oil also show preliminary promise for encouraging healthy hair when applied directly to the scalp. Pair these treatments with internal hair health strategies covered earlier in this guide for best effect.
When to Seek Help for Hair Loss
Mild to moderate daily hair shedding is completely normal, but losing more than 100-150 strands daily or noticing widening thin patches may indicate an underlying issue requiring medical insight.
See your general practitioner or dermatologist promptly if experiencing :
- Sudden loss of clumps of hair rather than gradual daily shedding
- New bald patches and areas of complete hair loss
- Prolonged hair loss lasting over 6 months
- Hair loss following major stressful life events or nutrient deficiencies
- Scalp redness, itching, burning, scabbing or bleeding along with hair falling out
- Hair falling out in conjunction with new medications started
- A family history of hair loss conditions
Blood tests can determine contributing factors like vitamin/mineral deficiencies, hormone imbalances (thyroid, sex hormones), inflammatory conditions and fungal overgrowth that may all trigger higher than normal hair shedding if not addressed.
Getting to the root cause is key for ruling out underlying health issues. Doctors may prescribe treatments like steroid injections, medicated shampoos, or off label medications depending on diagnoses like alopecia areata (autoimmune hair loss), telogen effluvium (growth disturbance induced shedding) or androgenic (hormonally driven) alopecia. Quick intervention leads to better regrowth success.
Can Hair Regrow After Loss? What is the Outlook?
The hopeful news according to top hair restoration physicians is that hair can often fully regrow depending on underlying reasons for shedding, how quickly it is addressed, and how long hair follicles go without adequate nourishment .
Hair thinning from stressful life phases, post pregnancy, supplements, aging or scalp conditions often completely resolves through dietary improvements, stress reduction and treatment of health conditions driving imbalance. Specific areas of hair loss can take 3-6 months to return to normal fullness as follicles recycle into active growing phases again following temporary shedding periods depending on contributing factors.
In those prone to androgenic alopecia, early intervention with topical or oral medications helps prolong anagen (growth) phase while reversing miniaturization of hair follicles over time. The key is starting treatments like microneedling, red light therapy and collagen boosting supplements sooner than later.
Talk to your dermatologist about medical and cosmetic procedures that transplant or surgically extract dormant yet viable hair follicles from back of scalp to inject into thinned areas if hair restoration does not sufficiently progress after 1 year. This surgically stimulates regeneration.
With the tremendous advances in non-surgical hair treatments today combined with aggressive lifestyle changes, the outlook for restoring hair growth and reversing loss is extremely promising. Where previous generation options like wigs, invasive transplants or topical minoxidil provided limited results, newer regenerative approaches like microneedling, plasma injections, laser light therapy and stem cell activation offer better solutions without going under the knife. Combining these cutting edge treatments with the comprehensive dietary, supplement, scalp care and stress reduction steps outlined earlier gives hair the best ability to regain thickness and beauty.
While genetics and aging contribute for some, research shows hair can reactivate when the body receives all the building blocks vital to construction of keratin strands. Commit to a hair health optimization protocol using both internal and external interventions covered here for at least 6 months. Be patient through temporary shedding periods as follicles reset into growth mode. If substantial improvement does not occur after a year, discuss surgical hair transplantation to stimulate regeneration.
The key is not waiting once excessive loss begins. Seek specialist input early and start robust multi-modal treatment right away before follicles miniaturize past the point of return. With a disciplined approach utilizing both medical therapies and natural wellness strategies as covered extensively here, the likelihood of restoring a lush mane long-term is high.