It’s easy to run to the nearest beauty salon when your locks look dull or feel lifeless – but there are actually some natural solutions you can work into your routine from your very own kitchen.
Overall hair health, including strength and appearance, has been linked to the foods you’re eating. The basis of healthy hair starts with each strand’s individual composition, which can directly be influenced by the nutrients you may (or may not) be consuming.
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, told Health that nutrients naturally found in some foods can influence the state of your keratin levels, the protein that makes up the composition of your hair and nails.
The key to hair production is protein and blood flow – the American Academy of Dermatology breaks down how each strand of hair begins to grow in the follicle, and it all starts with the root of your hair, which is made up of cells from protein. Your blood flow circulates across your scalp, supporting the root of each hair follicle, helping each strand to grow out fully over time. In addition to a myriad of other health issues, a lack of protein and poor blood circulation could affect how your own hair grows.
It might be tempting to seek out a short-term solution, but the secret to truly healthy hair lies in foods loaded with protein and nutrients that help restore strength and thickness to your locks.
Here’s a list of hair-strengthening foods and a few great ways to work them into your daily menu:
These nuts are full of shorter-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say are officially known as alpha-linolenic (ALA) acids. These omega-3 fatty acids help keep your hair sleek and hydrated as they reduce inflammation in your scalp and provide natural moisturizers in each follicle, Health reports.
Try this: Pan-Seared Salmon with Pear and Walnut Spinach Salad
Foods full of antioxidants and zinc, like oysters, can help restore the fullness to your hair as well as overall shine, according to Health. If you’re not a big fan of oysters, you might try increasing red meat consumption instead – but moderation is still key.
Try this: Roasted Oysters with Lemon-Anise Stuffing
Vitamin C is necessary for your body to maintain its protein levels, including the proteins used in the creation of your hair follicles. A cup of strawberries is only 49 calories and delivers 149 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. Looking for other sources of vitamin C? Many citrus fruits will do the trick, as well as the equally powerful guava.
Try this: Strawberry-Chicken Salad with Pecans
There’s a reason why the American Heart Association recommends two servings of oily fish, like salmon, each week. Salmon is enriched with omega-3 fatty acids that help maintain your scalp’s oil levels by improving heart health and blood flow, which can directly affect the hydration of your hair. Unlike walnuts, the kind of omega-3s found in salmon are long-chain fatty acids known as eicosapetaenoic acids (EPA) and docosahexaeonic acids (DHA). If your hair is feeling particularly dull or lackluster, salmon is a wholesome ingredient to consider consuming on a more frequent basis.
Try this: Sautéed Salmon with Citrus Salsa
Without sufficient protein in your system, Health says your hair can enter what’s known as a “resting phase” which can result in noticeable hair loss. If you’re feeling like your mane is thinner than usual, your protein consumption might be lacking. Try tossing some whey protein powder into your morning smoothie for an easy, no-cook way to boost your protein.
Try this: Berry Green Smoothie
Biotin is another important vitamin that can help your hair grow longer and stronger. The National Institute of Health recommends that adults seek out biotin vitamins attached to natural proteins and points to protein-rich items, including legumes such as chickpeas, black beans, and lentils.
Try this: Chickpea “Meatballs” with Crunchy Romaine Salad
Brown Rice and Quinoa
Other essential vitamins for Rapunzel-esque hair include niacin as well as vitamins B6 and B12, all found naturally in whole grains. The University of Maryland’s Medical Center points to niacin’s ability to improve circulation in the bloodstream, a must for the healthy growth of individual hair strands.
Try this: Quinoa Bowl with Avocado and Egg
Eggs pack a one-two punch of proteins and biotin – a hearty breakfast could be a great way to ensure your body is producing sufficient keratin.
Try this: Half-Moon Browned Omelet
A big cause of hair imperfections and even hair loss, according to the Mayo Clinic, is simple – stress. If you’re continually stressed out, there’s a good chance your hair will be the first to show it. To aid your body in fighting stress, the University of Kansas’ School of Medicine recommends seeking out foods that are high in magnesium, the element that makes up the structure of your teeth and bones and helps keep muscles relaxed and blood pressure low. The National Institute of Health shares that an ounce of almonds can provide you with up to 20 percent of your recommended daily value of magnesium – leafy greens and whole grains are also great sources.
Try This: Avocado and Almond Leafy Salad
Another cause of thin and weak hair is iron deficiency. Many people with low iron turn to supplements, but you can actually find iron naturally in red meat, says the National Institute of Health. Other sources of iron include leafy greens, beans, and iron-fortified cereals and breads.
Try this: Slow-Cooker Thai Beef Curry
When changing your diet isn’t enough, adding a conditioning treatment can help strengthen, soften, and smooth your hair—from the inside out. Here are four products we love.
Eva NYC Therapy Session Hair Mask
Deeply conditions with argan oil and anti-breakage ingredients that help improve strands’ flexibility. Can be used daily or weekly and works in less than five minutes. $15, amazon.com
The Ultimate One Repair Mask
This luxurious mask from hair genius Frédéric Fekkai helps deliver less breakage after just one use. It mends split ends and shields against environmental stressors—plus, it smells amazing. $42, fekkai.com
Oribe Gold Lust Pre-Shampoo Intensive Treatment
It may feel odd to add a treatment before you cleanse, but this product helps deeply hydrate, nixes frizz, and improves elasticity without weighing hair down. $68, oribe.com
Budget pick: Garnier Fructis Treat Hair Masks
This is a one-stop shop: Use it as a hair mask, conditioner, or even as a leave-in treatment. Available in five different “flavors,” each delivering specialized results. $4.50, amazon.com