Vitamins enter our lives early in childhood. From the fruit-flavored Flinstones® chewables many of us remember taking once a day, to the marketing campaigns for Sunny-D® and the Got Milk® commercials, we’ve grown up hearing about the benefits of these mysterious support compounds.
Well, now that we’re adults and starting to see the effects of time, we can see why they matter.
Vitamins are important to our health and wellness, but they can have particular relationships with parts of our lives — including our hair growth and hair health — that might not be obvious.
Whether you’re here out of curiosity or concern for your own hair, you’re probably wondering if vitamins offer some secret key to better hair. The answer to that question isn’t a simple yes or no, but it will make sense in a few moments.
First, however, we need to explain some basics about your hair.
The Basics of Normal Hair Loss
In case you’re reading this due to a concern about the hair you’re seeing in the shower each morning, we can tell you that, for the most part, that’s totally normal.
The average person, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), has more than 100,000 hairs on their head, and will normally shed around 100 a day .
A word on your self-perceived thinning: most of the hair you’re seeing on the floor, pillow or in the drain has been dead for some time. The hair growth cycle is broken into three phases : anagen phase, catagen phase and telogen phase.
About 90 percent of the hair on your head will be in the anagen — or growth phase — at any given time.
Hair will stay in this phase for most of its life cycle, and will only enter the catagen phase as it winds down its stay on your head.
The catagen phase is sort of retirement for your hair. It’s done growing by this point and is just enjoying its last few days until the telogen phase begins.
The telogen phase begins when the hair is dead, and at that time it begins to release from the follicle. About nine percent of your hair is in this phase at any time, and it will remain there until the cycle begins again.
This all assumes that you’re keeping your hair healthy, and that you’re not experiencing any health conditions like hair thinning, reduced hair density or alopecia areata .
The Types of Hair Loss
Hair loss is a complicated activity for your scalp, and there’s no one cause of hair loss. Many factors can contribute to reduced hair follicle growth, including genetics or a medical condition.
Here are some of the most common hair loss types.
Androgenetic alopecia , also known as female pattern hair loss , may show up as early as your 20s , though it may take longer to develop. And for women, it typically begins after menopause . It will appear as hair thinning or reduced hair density, and is caused by genetics.
Treatment for female pattern hair loss can include topical and oral medications to slow or stop the thinning, and in some cases they can even restart healthy hair growth.
Telogen effluvium is generally caused by trauma or stress to the body, and can be a result of everything from a high fever to a recent medical procedure, significant and sudden weight loss or recovering from serious illnesses.
With telogen effluvium, more than 10 percent of your hair follicles enter the telogen phase, causing a disproportionate amount of dormant hair follicles. Typically, fuller hair will return over time, but may be aided by treatment.
The medical term for wearing your hair in high pony so tight that it damages your follicles is traction alopecia.
Sometimes referred to as traumatic alopecia, it is typically the result of damage due to hair styles, but in rare cases can be caused by psychological conditions like trichotillomania — literally pulling your own hair out.
Much of this damage is permanent, but can sometimes be reversed by proper medical treatment.
Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss caused by your own immune system, which actually makes it a symptom of an autoimmune disease.
Your autoimmune system attacks your follicles, causing damage that stops the hair from growing altogether and can sometimes cause scarring alopecia damage.
Vitamins for Hair Loss
There are a substantial number of vitamins associated with hair loss in one way or another, though most of them only address hair loss due to vitamin deficiency.
Still, hair growth supplements including these vitamins have basis in research.
The below list represents the key vitamin relationships that will impact hair growth for patients with hair loss.
Vitamin A presents a unique set of facts with regard to hair loss.
Vitamin A compounds are a particularly useful tool in skincare, where they may enhance cellular growth.
Too much Vitamin A, however, can cause symptoms — including hair loss — which makes this vitamin something to keep an eye on, not to consume to excess.
Vitamin B takes on many forms, including riboflavin, biotin, folate and B12. Insufficient amounts of these vitamins are associated with hair loss.
A deficiency in riboflavin (B2), while rare, can cause hair loss because it’s an important part of cellular growth.
B7 or biotin is important for cell signaling and gene regulation. It’s rare to see inadequate intake of this vitamin, but when it occurs, hair loss can be a symptom.
Vitamin C is a critical component of intestinal iron absorption, and inadequate iron levels can cause hair loss.
But outside of the iron absorption connection, vitamin C is also key to proper hair growth, and low levels have been associated with abnormalities in hair growth (though not necessarily hair loss). That may mean changes in your hair structure or an increase in brittle hair.
Vitamin C is also crucial in reducing oxidative stress that may harm hair follicles.
As an antioxidant, vitamin E is an essential vitamin in limiting the effects of oxidative stress to your hair follicles.
While the research is developing, there’s information out there to suggest that vitamin E is relatively deficient in people dealing with androgenetic alopecia.
In one 60-person study , researchers observed that people with androgenetic alopecia had significantly lower levels of vitamin E in their body than people in a healthy control group.
Selenium is another two-edged sword when it comes to hair.
Inadequate selenium levels and selenium deficiency have been associated with hair loss in clinical studies of specific types of cancer, and selenium supplements in this case can reduce the chances of hair loss.
However, selenium toxicity is just around the corner, and excessive selenium levels can induce hair loss on their own.
Though not common, zinc deficiencies can cause hair loss, and in these cases it’s crucial to the recovery process to take an oral supplement of zinc to undo the damage.
Other Medical Treatment Options
Vitamins may present some benefits, but they’re certainly not the best hair loss treatment options for women .
The most common medication prescribed for hair regrowth is the topical agent minoxidil , which can increase blood flow to hair follicles (and encourage hair growth in the process).
A study showed increases in hair growth by up to 18 percent over a 48-week period, and while these lab tests focused on men, there’s no reason to assume women can’t expect similarly effective results.
None of this is to say vitamins aren’t part of the balanced healthy hair care effort, particularly if you have a vitamin deficiency.
If you’re experiencing nutritional deficiency that are inhibiting your hair growth, you might consider a multivitamin (like hers’ Biotin Gummy Multivitamins ).
Hair Loss Vitamins and Beyond
Whether you’re seeing thinner hair or weaker hair, or are just trying to take preventative steps to make sure your hair is here for the long haul, vitamins can be a great way to support your system. An even better way to support your system, however, is to consult a healthcare professional .
Medical professionals will be able to talk to you not just about the basics of healthy hair, but about your particular concerns, and how your health in the big-picture sense may contribute to problems.
They may make recommendations for specific treatments, some we’ve listed, and some related to diet , exercise and holistic health concerns.
If you’re struggling with your hair health, consider starting with some of our resources. We have hair care products for treating many hair problems, and if you’d prefer to do things more conveniently, you can also purchase them together in our Complete Hair Kit .