What to eat for healthy hair

Just like skin, the condition of your hair is an outward sign of inside health. The cells that make up each strand of hair require a regular supply of key nutrients.

A woman looking in a mirror and brushing her hair

Eat the correct balance of the following nutrients including protein, vitamins and minerals to supply hair with all that it needs to remain shiny, lustrous and strong...


As hair is made of protein, ensuring you have enough protein in your diet is crucial for making hair strong and healthy. If you are not consuming enough protein in your diet, your hair is likely to become dry, brittle and weak. Extremely low protein diets may result in restricted hair growth and even hair loss. Choose chicken, turkey, fish, dairy products and eggs as excellent sources of protein along with vegetarian sources such as legumes and nuts.

Eggs on a table


Iron is an especially important mineral for hair and too little iron is a major cause of hair loss. The hair follicle and root are fed by a nutrient rich blood supply. When iron levels (serum ferritin) fall below a certain point, you may experience anaemia. This disrupts the nutrient supply to the follicle, affecting the hair growth cycle and may result in shedding. Animal products such as red meat, chicken and fish provide iron with a high bioavailability, meaning the iron is readily available to the body. Vegetarians can raise their iron stores by including lentils, spinach and other leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and salad greens.
More about iron-rich diets
Iron-rich vegetarian recipes

Vitamin C

Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron so foods high in vitamin C are good to eat in conjunction with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant so is used readily by the body. The best sources are blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, guava, kiwi fruits, oranges, papaya, strawberries and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C helps in the production of collagen which strengthens the capillaries that supply the hair shafts.

Fresh blueberries


Omega-3 fatty acids are important fats our body cannot make itself, and therefore must be obtained through our diet. Omega-3s are found in the cells that line the scalp and also provide the oils that keep your scalp and hair hydrated. Include oily fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, trout and mackerel and plant sources like avocado, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is needed by the body to make sebum. Sebum is an oily substance created by our hairs sebaceous glands and provides a natural conditioner for a healthy scalp. Without sebum we may experience an itchy scalp and dry hair. Include animal products and orange/yellow coloured vegetables which are high in beta-carotene (which makes vitamin A) such as carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes on a table

Zinc and selenium

Scalp protection involves other important minerals, notably zinc and selenium. A lack of zinc can lead to hair loss and a dry, flaky scalp. Fortified cereals and wholegrains are a good source of zinc along with oysters, beef and eggs.

Vitamin E

The sun can damage our hair just like it can damage our skin so ensure you eat foods rich in vitamin E to provide protection for your hair. Nuts are nutritional powerhouses, providing zinc and selenium as well as vitamin E so try to include them as part of a balanced diet.

Almonds in a bowl


Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin. Too little biotin can cause brittle hair and may lead to hair loss. Include biotin rich foods such as wholegrains, liver, egg yolk, soy flour and yeast.

Natural treatments

Make your own hair mask for a deep, nourishing treatment every two weeks. Whisk an egg yolk and mix with half a mashed avocado and a spoonful of honey. Massage onto damp, clean hair and leave for 30 minutes before rinsing thoroughly.

Recipe suggestions...

An overall balanced diet is necessary for a healthy scalp and healthy hair. Try out some of the following tasty recipes to support your locks.

Legumes like kidney beans and lentils are sources of protein, iron, biotin and zinc:
Jerk chicken curry with beans
Pepper lime salmon with black-eyed beans
Basic lentils
Spinach, sweet potato & lentil dhal

Nuts are rich in zinc and selenium:
Spiced cauliflower with chickpeas, herbs & pine nuts
Baked aubergine stuffed with roast pumpkin, feta & walnuts with minted courgettes
Fig & walnut slice
Tropical treat

Beef is a brilliant source of protein and iron:
Chilli beef shepherd's pie
Thai beef stir-fry

Don't forget orange vegetables and dark leafy greens!
Pumpkin & parsnip cassoulet
Stir-fried curly kale with chilli & garlic
Orange, carrot & mint soup
Sweet potato & chicken curry

Boost your omega-3 with these fishy favourites:
Spicy salmon & lentils
Griddled tuna with bean & tomato salad
Warm mackerel & beetroot salad
Smoked mackerel, orange & couscous salad
Sardines with chickpeas, lemon & parsley

The hair cycle...

Each hair is attached to the scalp via a follicle. There are between 100,000 and 350,000 hair follicles on the human scalp. Each follicle grows its hair for an average of 1000 days (three years) and then rests for a period of around 100 days (three months) before being shed and a new hair begins to grow. This pattern of active growth followed by the resting period varies significantly from person to person and is influenced by age, diet and our state of health.

Close up of braided hair

What is hair made of?

Hair is primarily made of a protein called keratin that also makes nails and forms the outer protective layer of skin. Each hair consists of three layers:

1. The cuticle - the outer layer, thin and colourless. It acts as the protective layer.
2. The cortex which contains melanin, which is responsible for hair colour.
3. The medulla, the innermost layer which reflects light.

Did you know...
...Whether your hair is straight or curly depends on the shape of the cortex. On average, blondes have more hair and redheads have the least.

Through thick and thin...

The length of hair that you are able to grow is controlled by the duration of the growing phase, which varies between individuals. We all lose some hair naturally each day when we brush, comb or wash it and as long as new hairs are being produced at the same rate as those falling out, there will be no difference in hair volume. However if the rate of shedding exceeds production the net result is hair loss or thinning.

A variety of factors can alter the normal hair growth cycle and cause temporary or permanent hair loss including medication, chemotherapy, exposure to chemicals and toxins such as nicotine, hormonal factors, thyroid disease, stress or nutritional factors.

Hair loss

We shed hair every day as part of our body's natural process. Hair loss can happen at any time of life for any number of reasons. When hair loss becomes a concern, it is important to determine the cause before seeking out the appropriate treatment.

Potential non-dietary factors for hair loss include:

  • Age influences hair strength. As we grow older, there is a tendency for our hair fibres to become finer and shorter and we may experience hair loss or greying. It is normal for women to experience changes to their hair post pregnancy and as they enter the menopause.
  • Genetic hair loss is the most common hair loss problem affecting men and women. The onset is usually during the mid to late 20s and is often unavoidable. Women experiencing baldness may want to consult a trained medical professional.
  • Repeatedly losing and regaining weight can take its toll on your hair, causing it to become brittle and lacking lustre. Crash diets are often short in essential vitamins and minerals and over long periods of time this type of dieting will reflect in your hair.
  • Hormonal imbalances including thyroid dysfunction can produce significant changes to hair growth and quality. Thyroid function can only be assessed by blood test. If you are experiencing considerable hair loss, please consult your GP.

A note on alopecia areata (AA)...

This condition can result in total loss of hair from the head and sometimes loss of body hair also, although most sufferers develop a few isolated patches of hair loss, which may correct themselves without any treatment. Since the cause is unknown, treatment is hard. Talk to your GP if you are concerned about hair loss.

This article was last reviewed on 4 July 2019 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the Association for Nutrition with a specialism in public health. Follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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Sankha Paul's picture
Sankha Paul
11th Sep, 2018
grt one really great information
28th Oct, 2017
I'm only 20 now, finding out losing more hair than usual recently. Like I used to lose 30 during washing hair, it turns to 100 and more today. What I suppose to do?
28th Jun, 2016
I have struggled with my hair for a long time now. I am quickly approaching my 40s and I have bad hair quality. Recently, I have also noticed that my hair has stopped growing as it used to. A few years ago I went to the salon on a monthly basis. Now, it takes me almost two months before I even need to cut my hair! I am desperate and I really need help right now. Hair is one of the most important parts of a woman and I don't want to give up on this one. I went to the doctors but they didn't found anything wrong with me. The exams I took showed that I am healthy and there's no reason for this to even happen to me. Please, I really need hair advice urgently!!!!!!!!!!!!
29th Jul, 2017
Hi Emily, I hope your hair is better since you posted. Likely not enough protein and not enough iron to deliver nutrition to the hair follicles which isn't really a priority for the body. If you are not eating enough, any nutrition is likely to go to your organs first before your hair. I went through a period of extreme hair loss two years ago where I honestly feel like I was going bold and every day when I brush there was just so much hair everywhere but nothing growing. My hair was also just so dry and lifeless that no matter how I blow dry it it still looked unhealthy and tired, it made me look so much older. This was also most obvious when I was also stressed from work. I started taking a high quality nutrition meal several months later which change the situation, it is a low-glycemic blend of proteins, fat and carbohydrates, each serve containing 15g of protein (mostly soy protein isolate) , 48mg iron, zinc and 20 other vitamins and antioxidants. From personal experience, in addition to the nutrimeal, I also found that eating lots of tofu helps. For example, if i eat one serve a day for several days consecutively, the texture of my hair changes, it becomes more silky and less dry and brittle. Egg whites have the same effects, if you have two or three at once. It was really exciting to see lots little strands of hair grow again and have people commenting on how healthy and shiny it is. Now that it is back to normal, sometimes I am not as careful with my diet anymore and my hair would become so dry. I just had to constantly remind myself to eat more of those things. I also have a hair brush from The Mason Pearson London which is made from boar hair, it's suppose to stimulate hair growth and follicles. Whether it does that, I am not really sure, but it does give hair a healthy and shiny finish. I hope that helps :). Jeanette
12th Sep, 2016
Hi Emily, I am sharing my home made remedy for hair growth : 1) Castor oil 2) Coconut oil 3) Olive oil mix them all (castor oil < coconut oil < olive oil) amount : according to the quantity of hair. Process : take them all in a small bowl (bowl 1), take another big bowl filled the water (bowl 2) then put the bowl 1 (mixture of all the oil) into bowl 2, and heat the the bowl 2. Note : Don't direct heat the bowl 1. After that, mix two drops of honey into the mixture and apply it on your hair, massage your scalp for 10-15 min. yous will notice the difference after 2 months.
21st Mar, 2016
My hair has always been my pride and joy. I figured since it is pretty damn healthy, it could deal with some bleach damage. And I figured the master stylist who did all the color-corrections would know how much would be too much. I was wrong, and now I want to burst into tears every time I look at my hair or touch it. I just don't know what to do. my hair has also NEVER been shorter than this and it breaks and falls out. What should i do to regrow hair?
24th May, 2016
I know EXACTLY what you are going through. The healthiest thickest hair and then a stylist (who was covering for my stylist of 15 years while on materinity leave) totally destroyed my hair! Devastated! So I have been dealing with this for 4 months now, and I am working my way back to healthy hair. The problem is still it is still breaking. I am being told that truly time is what I need now. But in the meantime this is what I did, and it does work to make your hair the best it can be now....patience. 1) 10,000 mg of biotin a day 2) Twice a week a deep mask overnight 3) Three times a deep mask for an hour at least 4) No curling iron (I still blowdry, but am more gentle) and switch back and forth between heat and cool 5) I eat ALOT of biotin, iron and vitamin enriched foods that will help my hair grow faster (eggs, including yolks, sunflower seeds, almonds, tomatoes, yellow and red peppers, tuna, etc) 6) Shampoo and conditioners that promote hair growth. 7) Don't wash hair everyday (tough one, but I don't wash at least 2x a week) 8) Switch stylist. It's unfortunate, but had to change stylists as well. My regular stylist didn't offer the support I thought she should give to me. She didn't want to inform the one who did the damage to me that damage was done. I felt she chose her over me, so I chose a new stylist. Hang in there, truly patience is the most important thing throughout all of this!
4th Dec, 2015
I regrew my hair and you can too. -I've been bleaching my hair on and off since forever. My hair wouldn't grow any longer it would just snap off. I've dreamed about having thick, long hair. And when I say dreamed, I mean it quite literally. So i decided to do something about it. My friend suggested Biotin when we were talking about my hair loss. I’ve tried like 4 different brands until i found that the best one for me. Now i’m 26 and I've been taking Biotin every day for years. My hair and nails grow SO much quicker. Hair has increased in the rate and are so long now. Also my energy levels are high. I remember that at the beginning i did heavy cardio and interval training which helped me lose weight fast but i did not realize how biotin played a part in my weight loss until AFTER i stopped working out. I continue to take biotin every day and now that I am no longer on my diet i eat whatever i want and i don't gain weight. It appears the biotin may be keeping my metabolism to the level it was at during my training. So i highly recommend it to you. For me the best is www.certifiedbiotin.com my friends also use this one
4th Dec, 2015
Please help. My hair has always been my pride and joy. I figured since it is pretty damn healthy, it could deal with some bleach damage. And I figured the master stylist who did all the color-corrections would know how much would be too much. I was wrong, and now I want to burst into tears every time I look at my hair or touch it. I just don't know what to do. my hair has also NEVER been shorter than this and it breaks and falls out. What should i do to regrow hair?
Mohammed Abid
29th Oct, 2015
Using curry leafs in coconut and applying on the scalp threes a week for 2 hours. Which also gives you a great result in hair. depilatory cream


25th Apr, 2018
Which biotin brands are best? What to pick?
goodfoodteam's picture
25th Apr, 2018
Thank you for your question. In this article we have recommended dietary sources. Speak to your doctor if you're concerned that you may need a supplement.
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