What you can expect from hair vitamins, and what not
There are several vitamins that can benefit your hair health. But first, let’s make clear what vitamins can’t do for your hair. About 95 percent of hair loss seen in men above age forty has genetic reasons. It’s an inherited condition called male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia) that starts out with balding at the hairline just above the forehead. The hairline will gradually recede across the scalp toward the back of the head. 80 percent of Caucasian men eventually will go bald from androgenic alopecia as they get older, provided they live long enough. Also, some 50 percent of elderly women experience thinning hair — albeit not complete balding — because of this genetic condition.
Vitamins won’t stop the progress of pattern hair loss. However, there are U.S. FDA approved drugs, such as finasteride, which has been used for over two decades to stop male pattern balding and even reverse hair loss for some men. Talk to a doctor to find out more about finasteride and other treatment options.
Another form of hair loss is caused by chronic stress on the body, such as a diet poor in vitamins and minerals, serious illness, and exposure to pollution, chemicals, harsh climate conditions, and radiation. Pregnancy and breastfeeding also fall into this category of body stress, as they take away vitamins and minerals from the woman’s body for the baby’s benefit.
Such stress-triggered hair damage can result in thinner and shorter hair, which also is more prone to splitting. Getting the right amount of vitamins, either through food or supplements, can do a lot to restore your hair to health within a few months’ time.
For men with male pattern hair loss making sure their bodies receive enough vitamins is well worth the effort. As mentioned, it won’t stop the regression of your hairline. But it helps maintain healthy hair on other parts of your scalp.
Now let’s take a look at the role of each vitamin. We’ll take it in alphabetic order.
Vitamin A and hair growth
Vitamin A supports cell growth throughout the body, including a moderate boost to hair growth. However, overconsumption of Vitamin A has toxic effects and can lead to sudden balding, as has been well documented by several studies and individual patient cases in the U.S.
Since Vitamin A is widely available in plant and animal sources, Vitamin A deficiency is very rare in the U.S. population. Therefore, without a prior blood test to check whether you lack Vitamin A, taking Vitamin A supplements is unnecessary and risky. There is also a risk of involuntary overdosing if you frequently eat liver (this is where mammals store most of the body’s Vitamin A).
Vitamin B7 (Biotin) and hair growth
Several studies have shown that biotin (B7 from the family of B vitamins, also called Vitamin H) can accelerate hair growth and restore hair lost to temporary stress factors. However, a 2016 study suggests that often the observed improvement happens because hair loss was caused by biotin deficiency to begin with. Nearly 40% of women who noted hair loss had depleted biotin levels (pregnant women typically are at the highest risk). Of course, their hair growth then successfully responded to biotin supplementation.
It is less clear whether hair growth in people with already adequately high biotin levels will accelerate significantly due to additional supplementation. Moreover, most empirical studies on biotin are done with women.
So, there’s not enough data to firmly conclude that biotin could be beneficial for male hair growth. Moreover, biotin deficiency appears only in 1 out of roughly 140,000 people and most of them are women. That said, you can easily measure your biotin levels in a simple blood test and there are also no known toxicity risks to taking oral biotin supplements aside from rare allergic reactions in cases of extreme overdose.
Good natural sources of biotin include egg yolk (by far the largest biotin potency, but only if cooked; raw egg yolk actually depletes body biotin levels), mushrooms, cereals and nuts. Animal liver and kidney are also excellent sources.
Vitamin B12 and hair growth
A 2018 meta-analysis of studies done on the relationship of Vitamin B12 and hair loss/growth found that Vitamin B12 had no measurable effects on hair. Whether with high doses or with a deliberate reduction in Vitamin B12 levels, hair loss did not improve or worsen in either case.
While Vitamin B12 doesn’t have any use as a hair vitamin, it’s still vital for the body in many other ways. Good sources are red meat and fortified milk and other food products.
Vitamin C and hair growth
Among its myriad of uses for the body, Vitamin C protects your hair from getting brittle and breaking since it helps the body’s collagen production. It also helps the body’s iron absorption; thus safeguarding against iron deficiency which can be a cause for hair loss if chronic. However, Vitamin C has no direct role in hair growth or stopping hair loss.
Vitamin C can be found in high concentrations in citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, and other vegetables. Vitamin C is also easy to supplement, as it’s absorbed well by the body. A doctor’s visit and blood test will reveal whether you are in need of supplementation.
Vitamin D and hair growth
Vitamin D’s effect on hair growth works like biotin. It will have a positive effect if, and only if, the initial cause of hair loss was a Vitamin D deficiency. A severe deficiency would make you (temporarily) bald within 3 months. But if your Vitamin D blood levels already are at healthy levels, additional Vitamin D intake won’t do much to accelerate hair growth.
In fact, Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem among adults, especially with office workers who don’t get enough sunlight, as well as during the winter months. It’s not just your hair that suffers, but a prolonged Vitamin D deficiency can seriously damage your health in the long run. A blood test can provide clarity and Vitamin D supplements are widely available and easily absorbable.
A lot of research has gone into the question of whether Vitamin D deficiency could trigger the onset of genetic pattern hair loss or worsen the disease’s progress. The evidence yielded in different studies is conflicting and more future research is needed. However, if you suspect that you have or later on could develop pattern hair loss, making sure to keep Vitamin D at healthy levels may be a worthwhile precaution.
Vitamin E and hair growth
As a strong antioxidant, Vitamin E helps to balance the body’s levels of oxidants and antioxidants, which means it reduces oxidative stress on cells. This includes the cells of hair follicles on the scalp. Healthier hair follicles translate into faster hair growth. Many studies have proven this benefit of Vitamin E, which has made it the darling of the haircare industry since the 1950s. Vitamin E goes into fortified shampoos and other topical products.
Medical research is still investigating the relationship between oxidative stress and pattern hair loss. Several studies show that pattern hair loss tends to correlate with lower blood serum levels of Vitamin E, compared to control groups. One 2010 study found a 34.5 percent increase in hair count over an 8-month period during men took Vitamin E supplements, likely because of the anti-oxidative nature of Vitamin E. Other studies, however, don’t come to the same conclusion.
While more time is needed for researchers to get the full picture on what Vitamin E can do for your hair, check whether your Vitamin E levels are ok. Excellent natural sources of Vitamin E are nuts (especially almonds), sunflower seeds, olive oil, avocado, and some fish like salmon. Supplements are also available, but you best first talk to your doctor before supplementing. Vitamin E is relatively safe when applied to the skin but can have toxic effects from oral overconsumption.
- Almohanna, Hind M, et al. “The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review.” Dermatology and Therapy, vol. 9, no. 1, 2019, pp. 51–70, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30547302, https://doi.org/10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.
- Beoy, Lim Ai, et al. “Effects of Tocotrienol Supplementation on Hair Growth in Human Volunteers.” Tropical Life Sciences Research, vol. 21, no. 2, 2010, pp. 91–9, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3819075/. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.
- Ramadan, R., et al. “The Antioxidant Role of Paraoxonase 1 and Vitamin E in Three Autoimmune Diseases.” Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, vol. 26, no. 1, 2013, pp. 2–7, https://doi.org/10.1159/000342124. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.
- Lee, S, et al. “Increased Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency in Patients with Alopecia Areata: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology?: JEADV, vol. 32, no. 7, 2018, pp. 1214–1221, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29633370, https://doi.org/10.1111/jdv.14987. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.