What's one of the best-kept secrets for healthy hair? Is it the latest exotic potion from Europe? An exclusive Hollywood salon conditioner?
You might be surprised to learn that it's a balanced diet. Experts agree that a healthy diet with the right mix of protein, iron, and other nutrients can help improve the health, look, and feel of your hair.
"To a doctor," says dermatologist Amy McMichael, MD, "healthy hair is hair that's growing appropriately out of every follicle, not easily broken, and connected to a healthy scalp.... it's hair that's as long and full as you'd like it to be. It's bouncy, shiny, and manageable."
A balanced diet can give your hair all the nutrients it needs to satisfy both definitions for healthy hair, says McMichael, who directs the Hair Disorder Clinic at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Healthy Hair: Protein Is Important
Your hair needs the same well-rounded diet that provides all the recommended vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed for good health in the rest of your body.
Take protein, for example. A strand of hair is composed of mostly protein, which means your hair needs protein to grow. "Hair and nails are both protein fibers," says dermatologist Paradi Mirmirani, MD, of the Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, Calif., and a member of the North American Hair Research Society.
At any given time, about 90% of your hair is in the growing phase. For each individual hair, this growing phase lasts 2 to 3 years. At the end of that time, hairs enter a resting phase that lasts about 3 months before they are shed and replaced by new hair. If you don't get enough protein in your diet, a disproportionate number of hairs may go into the resting phase.
A typical scalp has about 120,000-150,000 strands of hair, and sheds about 50 to 100 strands of them each day. Most people don't even notice that small amount. But if an unusually large number of hairs enter the resting phase at the same time, hair loss can become noticeable.
If not getting enough protein is the reason, you can fix that through your diet.