Our hair, skin, and nails undergo various changes as we age. And while coarser hair, drier skin, and brittle nails can be a natural part of this process, many of us still like to take steps to stay as healthy as we can and mitigate these effects.
Nourishing your body from the inside-out by eating a healthy diet full of vitamins and minerals is one of the most effective ways to boost the condition of your hair, skin, and nails.
With this in mind, here are seven important vitamins and minerals for hair, skin, and nail health.
How do our hair, skin, and nails change as we age?
Many people’s hair becomes drier and coarser as they age. This is largely due to the fact that sebum (the oil produced by our scalp that keeps hair moisturised) production begins to slow.
In addition, hair follicles gradually stop producing melanin (the skin pigment responsible for giving hair strands colour), causing hair to turn grey or white. This happens to 74% of people between the ages of 45 and 65.
Skin also loses moisture over time and becomes increasingly dry as cell turnover and production of natural oils slow.
When this happens, the dermis (second layer of skin) becomes thinner, the connective tissue begins to lose its elasticity and firmness, and wrinkles and skin sagging can begin to show.
The growth rate of our nails also slows, and we may experience changes to the texture, thickness, colour, and shape of our nails. These changes are largely the result of environmental influences, such as long-term exposure to chemicals or ultraviolet light.
7 important vitamins and minerals for hair, skin, and nails
We all know the importance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) when it comes to health, but quite often it’s our micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) intake that we need to think about more. And this can be especially true when we’re trying to boost the health of our hair, skin, and nails.
Some of the most important vitamins for our hair, skin, and nails include…
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is one of the most vital compounds for our health because all cells require it to grow.
It’s needed to make sebum, which moisturises our scalp, and research has linked vitamin A deficiency with hair and skin conditions – including dry skin and sparse hair.
Vitamin A also boosts the production of collagen – a protein that works with elastin to support firm, healthy skin. For example, this study found that people with higher vitamin A concentrations in their skin tend to look younger.
Experts have also credited vitamin A with the ability to fight signs of sun damage, including hyper pigmentation, and improve skin tone by stimulating the production of new blood vessels.
Some of the best sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, pumpkins, kale, and spinach. It’s also found in animal products like eggs, milk, and yoghurt.
You can find out more in our complete guide to vitamin A. Or for meal ideas, check out these healthy vitamin A recipes from Eating Well, which has everything from sweet potato mash, to shepherd’s pie and chicken tacos.
Note: Just as being deficient in vitamin A can harm your health, having too much of it can also be dangerous. According to the NHS, men need 700mcg of vitamin A a day, and women need 600mcg. You can find out more about vitamin A toxicity here.
2. B vitamins
Comprising 12 total vitamins, the group of B vitamins play an important role in our health. They’re responsible for helping create red blood cells that carry oxygen and nutrients to different areas of our body – including hair, skin, and nails.
A lack of vitamin B7 – otherwise known as biotin – can cause symptoms such as hair loss, skin rashes, and brittle nails. However, in this study of people with brittle nails, 2.5mg of biotin a day for six weeks improved the symptoms of 63% of participants.
Biotin is good for hair growth because it causes hair follicles to grow faster and stimulates the production of keratin (the protein hair is made of). In this study, consuming more biotin improved the hair growth of people with biotin deficiency.
Vitamins B2 and B3 also help to support healthy skin, and vitamin B12 has been shown to promote nail strength and reduce brittleness.
Foods high in B vitamins include leafy greens, salmon, oysters, and legumes. To get your daily boost, why not try one of these 12 recipes packed with vitamin B from Daily Burn? From whole grain raspberry jam bars, to homemade hummus and vegetarian chilli, these will cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For a breakdown of all the different B vitamins and information on recommended daily intake, visit the NHS website.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient found in the outer (epidermis) and inner (dermis) layers of the skin. Vitamin C cannot be produced by the body itself, so it has to be obtained through diet.
Research shows that vitamin C’s antioxidant properties help to protect skin against damage by free radicals (molecules that can cause damage to cells). For example, when applied as a serum, studies show that vitamin C boosts the effectiveness of sunscreens – reducing sunburn cell formation by 40-60%.
Vitamin C also stimulates the production of collagen which is essential for strong, healthy hair, skin, and nail structures. For example, this study found that deficiency in vitamin C can cause brittle nails, as well as slowed nail growth.
According to the NHS, adults need 40mg of vitamin C a day. Good sources of vitamin C include strawberries, tomatoes, guavas, bell peppers, and citrus fruits.
For more information, have a read of our article; Everything you need to know about vitamin C. Or, why not try some of these vitamin C-rich recipes from Eating Well? You could use the healthy blackcurrant jam to sweeten your breakfast, or the apricot energy balls for a delicious on-the-go snack.
4. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another antioxidant that protects the body from free radicals.
It’s beneficial for hair health because its antioxidant properties help to protect and preserve a healthy scalp – providing the hair a strong base to grow from. In this study, people who suffered from hair loss experienced 34.5% more hair growth after taking vitamin E supplements over the course of eight months.
Vitamin E is also a popular ingredient of many cosmetics – particularly those aimed at a more mature audience – because of its ability to strengthen skin barrier function and help protect skin from environmental stressors such as UV rays, smoke, and pollution.
For example, studies have shown that avocados (which are high in vitamin E) can calm skin irritation and redness, fight harmful free radicals, help protect from sun damage, and treat eczema.
The NHS recommends 4mg a day of vitamin E for men and 3mg for women. Aside from avocados, other sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, wheat germ oil, spinach, and almonds.
If you’d like to introduce more vitamin E into your diet, why not try some of these plant-based recipes packed with vitamin E from One Green Planet? From buckwheat pancakes to chocolate granola bars and chickpea meatballs, these will be enough to tickle your taste buds.
You can also read more about vitamin E in our complete guide.
Iron is an essential mineral required for the growth and development of all cells in the body.
Our bodies use iron to make haemoglobin – a protein found in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body.
Studies have shown that a lack of iron (and therefore oxygen) can lead to vertical ridges in the nails, or cause them to become concave. Plus, iron deficiency is a major cause of hair loss – especially in women – because iron is needed to ensure hair follicles are served with a nutrient-rich blood supply.
Reduced oxygen flow can also deprive the skin of its colour and make it look sallow, whereas a healthy dose of iron can brighten skin.
Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the world, and many of us can be low on iron without even knowing it. According to the NHS, the recommended daily allowance for men and women over the age of 50 is 8.7 mg.
Our bodies absorb iron found in animal products such as chicken, fish, and eggs, better than the iron found in plant foods like dark green leafy vegetables, seeds, peanuts, and beans. However, research shows that consuming vitamin C alongside plant-based iron sources can improve iron absorption by as much as 67%.
You can find out more about iron in our article; Iron: what it is, why it’s important, & how to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. Or, to up your iron intake, check out these iron-rich recipes from BBC Good Food which include slow-cooker beef stew, lentil ragu, and lamb and quinoa burgers.
Magnesium is a vital mineral and the fourth most abundant chemical element within the human body. It’s involved in over 300 reactions – including protein synthesis, which is essential for nail growth.
Research shows that not getting enough magnesium in your diet can cause vertical ridges to appear in your nails.
In addition, magnesium plays an important role in promoting hair follicle growth. Most experts also agree that magnesium has natural anti-stress effects and can help to prevent hair loss – as science shows stress is a leading cause.
When it comes to skin, if the body’s low on magnesium, other key substances – such as collagen and fatty acids – that keep your skin moisturised may also decrease. This drop in the components needed for clear, healthy skin can result in dryness, wrinkling, and an uneven skin tone.
According to the UK government, the recommended daily allowance of magnesium for adults is 300mg for men and 270mg for women. However, some people over the age of 55 find magnesium more difficult to absorb and may sometimes require more.
Foods high in magnesium include pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, spinach, and quinoa.
For more information, check out our article; Magnesium – what it is and why it’s important. You could also try some of these magnesium-rich meals from One Green Planet which include cashew fried rice, creamy pumpkin pasta, and BBQ tofu with ranch dressing.
Zinc is required for many reactions within the body including growth and tissue repairs, and is also needed to maintain healthy hair, skin, and nails.
Our nails are made up of a type of cell that grows and divides very quickly and a steady supply of zinc is needed to ensure continued nail growth. For example, studies have revealed that not getting enough zinc can contribute to the degeneration of your nail plate – causing white spots to appear on your nails.
Zinc also plays an important role in hair tissue growth and repair, which helps to keep oil glands around hair follicles working properly.
And when it comes to our skin, research shows that zinc helps to regulate the production of oil, excess sebum, and hormones – preventing clogged pores and acne. It also strengthens skin barrier function, reduces moisture loss, and boosts the production of collagen and elastin, which support the underlying structure of the skin.
To add more zinc into your diet, why not try making one of these zinc-rich recipe ideas from One Green Planet? The chickpea curry and blueberry walnut crumble bars look especially delicious.
Our bodies undergo natural changes as we age. But as science shows, making sure we’re topped up with the right vitamins and minerals can go a long way in boosting the condition and health of our hair, skin, and nails.
What steps do you take to look after your hair, skin, and nails? Have you noticed any age-related changes to your hair, skin, and nails? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.