How can I get long, shiny, healthy hair?
This is a question I get asked a lot, because exhibit A.
But let me be honest, I’m very lucky my hair is naturally thick, luscious and wavy. It also grows ridiculously fast - I put that down to good genes and a beautifully nourishing diet. The only real problem I have is trying to battle the frizz, especially in hot, humid weather.
But I understand that you may want some helpful, holistic tips on how to get healthier, shinier or more luscious locks of hair. However, before I share my tips, I would like to point out that it’s important to remember that the condition of your hair (and skin) can be a good indication of the state of the body on the inside, so its essential to address the body as a whole to improve your hair health (and skin) for the long term.
WHAT AFFECTS HAIR HEALTH NEGATIVELY?
Many of us run into problems with slow growth, excessive shedding, thin hair, dullness, frizziness, dandruff, sensitive scalps and more. So let’s go through some of the most common causes.
Many medications can have side effects that cause hair loss and thinning. They can also deplete us of important vitamins and minerals. All drugs are anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are substances that bind to other nutrients, making them useless. They also tie up enzymes needed in digestion and other body functions. Some cause problems by creating a greater need for certain nutrients. Others cause nutrients to be excreted more rapidly from the body. For example;
Aspirin (for pain and fever) can leave us with low levels of Vitamin B1, K, C
Antibiotics can leave us with low levels of Vitamin K, A, B12, C, magnesium and folic acid + they disrupt your immune system and gut bacteria negatively
Tetracycline (for infections) can leave us with low levels of zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, Vitamins K, B2, B3, C & folate
Cortisone (for inflammation or allergies) can leave us with low levels of zinc, potassium, folate, Vitamins C, D and calcium
These are just a few examples. If you’re taking one (or even several) of these, a great idea would be to replenish the nutrients the drug is removing from your body so you don’t become malnourished (which will affect the health of your hair) and also brings me to my next point.
Malabsorption & Nutrient Deficiencies
When a person's body is malnourished, from poor diet, medications, gastrointestinal infections, malabsorption, eating disorders, anemia and leaky gut, the nutrient, minerals and protein stores in their body get depleted. When this occurs, the body has to make sure that it takes care of essential organ functions first. Our hair is made up of a protein called Keratin which is not as essential to our body's functioning, so the hair growth stops to enable the body to focus on keeping that person alive. Put simply, your body isn't getting enough zinc, iron, B vitamins, essential fatty acids, amino acids and other nutrients that are responsible for healthy hair growth.
Iron is an essential nutrient to many biological processes, especially the maintenance of healthy skin, nails and hair.
Low Stomach Acid
Stomach acid is required by your body to absorb iron, so if this is deficient it could lead to anaemia.
Celiac Disease, Gluten Intolerance or Sensitivity
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. In response to gluten consumption, the immune system produces antibodies that attack the lining of the small intestine resulting in malabsorption and inflammation. However, even if you don't have celiac disease, consuming gluten can still be detrimental to your hair health as it can cause an inflammatory process in the body in some people which can cause hair loss or hair thinning. It may also require a more focused action, such as an autoimmune protocol (with support and guidance from a qualified practitioner).
Candida & Parasites
Both have been linked to causing hair loss as they rob the body of nutrition. They live in the intestines and eat our food. They also prevent your body from absorbing vitamins, minerals, and proteins necessary for hair growth. Gut health is directly related to the health of our entire body, including our hair.
Sleep is vital to allow the body to repair and regenerate it cells, including hair cells.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of hair damage and greying. It causes systemic inflammation and rapid ageing in your whole body, including your hair. In fact, there have been a few cases of extreme stress causing baldness overnight. When your body is stressed, it's in survival mode which means oxygen is diverted towards vital functions and away from hair growth which is a non-vital function. Make it a priority to manage your stress.
Hormones are often a major cause of hair loss or poor hair growth and unfortunately, there can be many causes of hormone imbalance. This is also the reason for hair loss after pregnancy.
Exposure to Heavy Metals & Chemicals
Poor hair growth, as well as hair loss, can be caused by toxic metals. Lead, cadmium, mercury, iron, and copper are the most common causes of hair loss. Chemical additives in shampoo, conditioners and other hair products have also been known to wreak havoc on the body and express themselves as a host of different symptoms.
These are just some of the things that have been linked to unhealthy hair, there are many more, however, this is just a snapshot to get you thinking of what could possibly be the root cause for you or someone you know.
WHAT SHOULD I DO TO GET LONG, LUSCIOUS, HEALTHY HAIR?
I'm sorry to say there are no instant solutions, magic pills or potions you can take to magically get thick, shiny, luscious locks (that I know of) however I do believe that lifeless hair comes from the inside out. These are some of my tips and suggestions you can try to get beautiful hair naturally.
The first thing to do;
Eliminate Gluten & Wheat 100%
Aside from causing autoimmune hair loss, gluten can cause malnutrition leading to nutritional forms of alopecia. One of the main side effects of gluten is damage to the intestinal lining (leaky gut). This damage can lead to malabsorption of vitamins and minerals. The loss of nutrients long term can contribute to many problems, one of which is hair loss. For example, gluten intolerance and sensitivity can create nutritional deficiencies in protein, iron, vitamin C, calcium, selenium, B-vitamins, and many others necessary to maintain proper and healthy hair growth. If you need help removing gluten from your diet, please get in touch.
2. Eliminate Chemicals
While people are more and more aware about what is in their food - whether it's sugar, preservatives or GM-free or organic – often we don't spare a second thought to what is in our skin care or personal care products. According to research, women expose themselves to over 200 chemicals a day through personal care and skin care products and makeup. Scary thought, when you start to investigate what those ingredients are. We put on creams and lotions and gels and sprays into our hair thinking we are doing our best to keep our skin and hair healthy, yet often we are completely unaware of the product's ingredients or the effect they have on our health.
Our scalp absorbs chemicals in our hair products, increasing our body's toxic load. This means more work for our liver and puts stress on our often already overworked adrenals and detoxing organs. Chemical additives have been known to wreak havoc on the body and express themselves as a host of different symptoms. Here is just a small snippet of what damage these chemicals can do;
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a harsh chemical detergent and surfactant used in many commercial shampoos Its purpose is to strip away dirt, oil, and other impurities, while also creating that rich lather we’re all used to getting from typical shampoos. But, it’s important to know that SLS is far from being a gentle cleanser. In fact, it’s also found in paint remover, household cleaning products and dishwasher detergents. SLS can strip away your naturally occurring hair oils, you need these as they help to moisturise your hair naturally. If they get stripped away too much, it can lead to hair breakage, dryness, brittleness and even hair loss.
Parabens are chemical preservatives added to products to keep bacteria at bay and prolong their shelf-life. Unfortunately, they’re also extremely irritating to the skin and can even trigger allergic reactions in some people. Parabens also have the ability to mimic estrogen, which leads to a hormonal imbalance. Parabens have also been linked to female pattern hair loss, tumour development and mood swings. Did you know that estrogen plays a central role in regulating collagen production? So when your estrogen levels are disrupted from chemicals like this one, you can’t make collagen efficiently, and your hair, skin teeth, nails, and joints all suffer.
To keep the skin on your scalp healthy, you definitely want to avoid DEA. It’s an emulsifier and lather-producing substance used in products such as; detergents, fabric solvents, shampoos and conditioners. Studies have shown skin application of DEA in mice causes skin lesions and hyperkeratosis as well as damaging effects on the liver.
Studies have shown that chemical fragrances can act as endocrine disruptors, damaging and changing levels of certain hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Any compound that messes with your natural hormone levels may result in unwanted hair loss.
Is another preservative used in cosmetics to prevent bacterial contamination. It’s also classified as a known and probable human carcinogen. It can be found in hair gels, hair straightening products, deodorants, shampoo, nail polish, soaps and cosmetics. It has been found to cause; skin irritation, breathing difficulties, asthma and of course cancer.
Now more than ever we need to take the time to shop around for natural hair products that don't have these harmful chemical ingredients.
WHAT ARE THE BEST FOODS FOR HAIR HEALTH?
Protein is essential for hair growth, so consuming enough protein can make sure that your body has the necessary building blocks for hair. Complete sources of protein like quality meats and fish are the most beneficial for hair growth and many meats also contain iron, which is another essential aspect of healthy hair growth.
4. Bone Broth, Collagen & Gelatin
All provide abundant amounts of protein, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous which helps to build and maintain strong teeth, nails and hair. Collagen is an integral part of your skin and hair, giving hair its strength and shine. It is abundant in our body, but as we age, beginning in our 20’s, natural collagen production begins to decline (think wrinkles and sagging skin). Fortunately, collagen can be supplemented in the form of collagen powder, which comes from either bovine/cow or marine/fish sources and it can also be found in gelatin and bone broth. I personally notice when I drink lots of bone broth or eat things such as jelly, panna cotta, gummies and my chu chus regularly, my hair is shinier, stronger and I don’t get as many split ends or hair breakage. Read my blog Collagen Vs. Gelatin and What’s The Difference for more recipes, tips and brands I recommend.
5. Omega 3’s
Help to support healthy oil production and lubricate the hair shaft to promote growth. Shiny, strong hair needs beneficial fats and essential fatty acids to grow. For example; wild caught salmon is loaded with hair supporters like Vitamin D and protein, but it also contains omega-3 fatty acids that help restart hair growth, help hair grow quicker and stronger, as well as prevent hair loss. Other sources of Omega 3’s include; sardines, herring, mackerel, flax, walnuts and cod liver oil. All of these foods have been shown to reduce inflammation, lubricate the hair follicles and add elasticity to the hair. Read THIS BLOG to find out why I love cod liver oil and why I take it daily. These are the brands I love, use and recommend.
6. Biotin Rich Foods
Biotin is part of the vitamin B complex group and is essential for hair growth, energy production and is necessary by your body to be able to properly metabolise fats. Symptoms of biotin deficiency include; hair loss, nail brittleness, dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), muscle pain, depression, and fatigue. 40-50% of your daily biotin is actually produced by healthy intestinal flora or bacteria (another reason to nourish .and nurture your gut bugs!). Those with long standing gluten sensitivity are more prone to biotin deficiency for this reason. Many women in particular can also become deficient in biotin during pregnancy because the rapidly dividing cells of the developing fetus require biotin for synthesis. Biotin is commonly found in liver, kidney, almonds and eggs. Make sure you eat the yolks, because eating too many egg whites can actually block the absorption of biotin.
Zinc is an essential mineral. It plays a role in several hundred chemical reactions in the body. One of those roles is in the production of collagen protein. Collagen is the backbone molecule for hair. Zinc also prevents excess hair shedding, it accelerates hair follicle recovery and improves poor scalp conditions. Zinc is also necessary for digestive enzyme production. Lack of enzymes contributes to further nutritional deficiency and malabsorption. In my experience, zinc is the third most common deficiency in those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Get your zinc levels tested, and in the meantime try eating zinc rich foods such as oysters, shellfish, meat and seeds.
Low levels are related to low red blood cell counts, which can result in hair loss. Low Iron is also associated with a lack of oxygen and nutrients being transported to the hair follicles, which inhibits growth and strength of the hair.
9. Vitamin C
Low levels of vitamin C can cause hair loss, easy bruising, lowered antioxidant function, anemia, and increased risk for infections. The body needs Vitamin C to produce collagen, which is necessary for healthy hair and skin. Vitamin C also helps with iron absorption, which promotes hair growth (plus it is an immune booster!). Since the body can’t manufacture Vitamin C, it is one vitamin that must be obtained from our diet or from quality supplements. Foods like citrus, camu camu, fermented veggies, broccoli and leafy greens all contain Vitamin C.
10. Vitamin D
Vitamin D stimulates hair follicles to grow, and so when the body doesn’t have enough, the hair may be affected. A vitamin D deficiency is also linked to alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that causes patchy hair loss. Direct sun exposure is the best way to absorb Vitamin D, plus you can detox your body with the sun. Aim for 15 minutes of sunshine per day so you can absorb 10 000 units of natural Vitamin D.
11. Vitamin B5
Which is found in mushrooms, avocado, eggs, sunflower seeds, sweet potato and fish plays an important role in blood flow and hair growth while preventing hair loss and thinning. Vitamin B5 also supports the adrenal glands which helps to stimulate hair growth.
12. Vitamin E
Can maintain pH and oil levels as well as improve blood circulation, all of which promotes growth while preventing follicles from clogging and becoming damaged. Some of the best dietary sources include; avocado, extra virgin olive oil, almonds and walnuts. Sunflower seeds are also the holy grail of Vitamin E!
ADAPTOGENS & HERBS
Adaptogenic herbs are a group of plants that help to fight fatigue, boost immunity, and rejuvenate + rebalance the body & mind. They work by helping the body adapt to stress and have the ability to help support, sustain, and heal our nervous systems, which can become overworked due to chronic stress. Stress can be very damaging to hair growth and health, leading to dull, brittle and slow growing hair. Adaptogens are also beneficial in restoring a sense of femininity due to their role in helping to rebalance the hormones.
Both chronic stress and hormonal imbalances are main causes of hair loss in women, so adding an adaptogenic herb such as ashwagandha into the diet will promote strong, healthy hair, while reducing hair loss and damage. Specifically, ashwagandha helps to manage cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is raised during times of stress. Consistently raised cortisol levels can affect the function and regulation of hair follicles, leading to damage, greying and hair loss. Reducing/stabilising cortisol levels with an adaptogenic herb and other lifestyle practices will reduce the risk of hair loss and damage. I use this brand and add it to my morning Bulletproof coffee or smoothie.
Is another adaptogenic herb that helps fight stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, balances blood sugars, boosts energy and helps to enhance hair growth. We all know that stress has a catabolic effect on our bodies, causing the body to use nutrients only for the most necessary functions to survive. As hair growth is not the highest priority, nutrients will be diverted to more necessary functions resulting in weak hair, hair shedding or even loss. I use this brand (please note, it doesn’t smell the best haha, but it’s easy to disguise in Bulletproof coffee or smoothies).
15. He Shou Wu
When I began to research this topic, He Shou Wu kept popping up. I found lots of theories for how he shou wu directly benefits hair health and growth. TCM believe it’s a ‘blood builder’ and that it can strengthen red blood cells and improve blood flow to the hair follicles. Another theory believes that because of its rich antioxidant content, it aids in reducing free radicals which leads to the hair follicles regenerate more efficiently, leading to faster, thicker and more lush hair growth. I use this brand, simply add to matcha, coffee or smoothies.
16. Peppermint oil
Did you know that the ‘methanol’ in peppermint oil helps to promote circulation? When it’s applied to the scalp it can increase scalp stimulation and growth factor which is necessary for hair follicle regeneration. But please note - do not use essential oils directly on the skin, it’s best to always mix them into a carrier oil or shampoo or hair mask (see below).
17. Rosemary Oil
Is definitely one of the first essential oils many people reach for to help promote hair growth and reduce hair loss as it stimulates new hair growth and can be used to treat androgenetic alopecia. Add a few drops of rosemary oil into your shampoo and conditioner on a daily basis. Do not use essential oils directly on the skin. Always mix them in a carrier oil or shampoo or hair mask (see below).
18. Nettle for Gorgeous Hair
If there is one herb that is truly medicinal when it comes to protecting and nourishing the hair, it’s nettle. Nettle is one of the oldest remedies used for hair loss, dandruff and hair regrowth, as well as numerous other health benefits. You can buy nettle in tea form or as a supplement.
19. Aloe Vera
Boosts hair growth, prevents dandruff, adds shine and helps to stop hair loss. It also soothes the scalp and conditions hair. You can source natural hair care products that contain aloe vera or make a hair mask with aloe vera and apply this a few times per week. You can even put some of the flesh into your smoothies.
20. My Favourite DIY Hair Masks
Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse - when diluted with water, can balance the pH of the hair and leave it shiny, smooth, and healthy. Using an apple cider vinegar hair rinse a couple times a month or once a week is a great way to restore balance after days of damage from styling and using products. This is also really great to do if you suffer from dandruff.
Gelatin Hair Mask - The proteins in gelatin readily bind to hair to repair damage and really help this hair mask to strengthen hair. Twelve of the top thirteen amino acids that comprise our hair shafts are also found in gelatin. You could also add in a few drops of peppermint or rosemary essential oil in (see above for why).
Probiotic Hair Mask - This one is my favourite to do. For the hair mask, simply mix THIS COCONUT YOGHURT into your hair and run through your hair, root to tip. You could also add in a few drops of peppermint or rosemary essential oil in (see above for why). Leave on as long as desired, then wash with shampoo. This is particularly great to do if you suffer from dandruff, sensitive scalp or dry and brittle hair.
Coffee Ground Hair Mask - keep those grounds after you brew your morning coffee! Coffee is full of antioxidants and polyphenols that can help return shine and life to your locks. Stir the grounds from 1-2 cups of coffee in with a little coconut oil or oil of choice and 2-3 drops of peppermint or rosemary oil. Add enough water to make a thin paste and apply to wet hair. Let sit for 5-10 minutes (you may feel a little tingle–that’s the peppermint), and rinse with warm water, then a shot of cold at the end to lock in shine.
Remember that these treatments may take a few weeks or even months to yield noticeable results. I know some people even do egg, avocado or even honey hair masks. Be creative with the remedies and mix them up as much as you like.
21. Wash Your Hair LESS
Shampoo (even the natural kind) strips hair of sebum, the oil your hair needs to be its healthiest self. When you wash away the naturally produced sebum, your scalp does damage control by creating more of it, which means your hair will be even oiler than you already thought it was and now you're trapped in a vicious cycle of washing. If you're new to this and typically wash your hair every day, try washing every other day for a week or two to get used to it. When you're ready, try for every third (or even fourth) day. Keep in mind it may take a little time for your hair to adjust to less frequent washing but in the end, it means less time in the shower, more money in your wallet and healthy, lustrous tresses.
22. Get a Shower Filter - this was a game changer for me personally
I honestly noticed a huge difference in my hair (and skin) health when I put a shower filter on. My hair was so much softer and it didn’t need washing as much. Filtering not only our drinking water but the water we bathe and shower in is so important as these filters remove pathogenic bacteria and viruses, pesticides and herbicides, nitrites, chlorine, fluoride, heavy metals and other toxins from the water that we would have been exposed to.
23. Choose a Natural Hairdresser
It can take a lot to change the colour of someone’s hair, and most salons and major companies have turned to harsh chemicals to do the heavy lifting. There are a number of particularly harmful chemicals to beware of when you’re colouring your hair:
p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) - this is an incredibly commonly used chemical, found in about two-thirds of conventional hair dyes. It’s extremely dangerous — so much so that it’s banned in Germany, France, and Sweden. PPD poses serious health risks, including cancer, allergic reactions, rheumatoid arthritis as well as lung and kidney problems.
Resorcinol - used to permanently bond the dye to the hair, resorcinol is an incredibly common hair dye ingredient that has been shown to disrupt hormonal balance.
Ammonia - this harsh chemical has long been used to open up the hair cuticle to allow dye to be absorbed. It’s also known to cause respiratory problems and asthma, as well as eye irritation.
There are so many more, but I hope you get the picture.
This is why I highly encourage you to find an organic, eco-friendly hair salon in your area. Luckily, as the wellness movement is gaining momentum and consumers are becoming more savvy, there are more and more hair salons opting for more natural, organic approaches that reduce or completely eliminate your exposure to these harsh chemicals.
If you can’t find, or don’t have access to these more natural salons, try reducing the frequency of your visits. You may not need to be colouring your hair or touching up your roots as frequently as you think. Try to stretch out the time between appointments, and look for natural ways to help your colour last longer, like rinsing your hair with apple cider vinegar once a month and doing the beautiful hair masks listed above.
So if you’ve stuck with me until now, bravo. That was a very lengthy post, but I hope you gained something from it. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below
Disclaimer: it’s important you resolve medical issues. If you’re shedding too much hair and have nutrient deficiencies, are taking numerous medications, have an autoimmune disease, have been exposed to chemicals and so on, I recommend you work with a functional medical Dr. and/ or practitioner so you can get to the root cause of your hair loss or hair issues and begin the healing process.