8 Food to Try for Healthy Hair, Skin, and Nails – Healthline


When we think about improving the health of our hair, skin, and nails, our first thought may be to hit the beauty counter. Products promise to strengthen our nails, lengthen our hair, and keep our skin looking refreshed.
However, you may want to take a detour to the supermarket. What you put in your body may be just as important as what you put on it.
“Your skin and body will be a reflection of what you’re putting in your body,” says Alain Michon, the medical director at the Ottawa Skin Clinic and a board certified medical professional with the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine.
It sounds feasible—delicious, even. But is it possible to eat your way to better, healthier hair, skin, and nails? Here’s what research and three experts say.
You’ve likely heard about scientific support for the idea that certain foods can support heart health.
But what about hair, skin, and nails? The research is evolving and, at times, mixed.
A 2020 review of 24 articles that included more than 1,700 patients suggested that a Mediterranean diet rich in raw vegetables and fresh herbs as well as diets high in protein and soy may be a useful complementary therapy for non-scarring alopecia.
Research from 2016 indicated that women who ate low-glycemic diets rich in complex carbohydrates, vitamins A, B, and C, and minerals like zinc and magnesium might have less hair loss during menopause.
A small 2019 case study of two women ages 39 and 41 suggested that limiting the intake of mercury-rich tuna could reverse hair loss in early menopause.
A 2019 review indicated micronutrient deficiencies such as diets lacking biotin, vitamins A and C, and zinc could affect hair health.
A 2022 review suggested that eating a plant-based diet could benefit skin barrier health and function.
On the other hand, a 2020 review on nutrition and the skin indicated there isn’t enough research to conclude whether diet could prevent signs of aging.
Nails are keratin-rich, and nutrition may impact their health.
An older 2010 review indicated that nearly any nutritional deficiency, such as calcium or iron, could affect nail growth.
A 2019 review suggested people with micronutrient deficiencies, such as biotin, vitamins A and C, and zinc, are more likely to have less healthy nails and skin.
Though research is evolving, particularly for nails and skin, nutrition can be a low-cost, low-risk way to attempt to improve hair, skin, and nail growth.
Here’s what some dieticians and dermatologists suggest putting on your plate.
Katie Tomaschko, MS, RDN, says seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids can benefit the hair and skin.
“Omega-3 fatty acids could help reduce inflammation and redness in the body and skin,” says Tomaschko, a private practitioner in Buffalo, N.Y. “They’re also a rich source of protein, the powerful antioxidant vitamin E, and biotin, a nutrient that supports keratin production.”
Fish she recommends are:
Tomaschko notes that sweet potatoes are rich in the carotenoid beta-carotene, which she says is a precursor for vitamin A.
“Vitamin A promotes keratin production and is essential for skin and nail health,” Tomaschko says.
An older 2004 study indicated that the anthocyanins in purple sweet potatoes have anti-oxidant properties that may improve skin inflammation. Antioxidants can also help protect against free radicals, which can trigger premature aging.
A 2012 study suggested that people with vitamin A deficiency may note detrimental effects on their hair and skin.
Tomaschko says some seeds, particularly sunflower seeds, are good sources of:
Paula Doebrich, MPH, RDN of Happea Nutrition says nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, also boast the antioxidant vitamin E, which helps combat oxidative damage.
She also says vitamin E also boasts anti-inflammatory properties that may help absorb energy from UV light and protect against skin damage and visible aging signs, like fine lines and sun spots.
Tomaschko says avocados are rich in healthy fats and nutrients that promote skin and nail health, including:
One cup of mashed or pureed avocado contains 23 milligrams of vitamin C, 16.1 micrograms of vitamin A, and about 5 milligrams of vitamin E.
A 2017 review suggested that eating fruits and vegetables was linked to skin health and noted that vitamin C intake is usually associated with consuming produce.
The review also included studies indicating vitamin C could help with collagen production and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
However, the review stopped short of definitively saying this nutrient could combat aging.
Protein is an essential part of a hair-healthy diet, Doebrich says.
“Our hair is made of a protein called keratin, so a diet insufficient in protein may make hair brittle,” Doebrich says.
One extra-large egg boasts nearly about seven grams of protein.
Loading up on leafy greens provides the body with plenty of nutrients that can benefit the hair, skin, and nails.
Examples of dark, leafy greens include:
Hit the oyster bar—your hair and skin will thank you.
“Oysters are an excellent source of zinc,” Doebrich says. “Zinc is needed for hair growth and tissue repair.”
One cup of oysters contains 97.5 milligrams of zinc. These fish are also loaded with protein — 14.2 grams per cup.
Drinking water isn’t the only way to up your intake. Tomaschko says some foods have high water content, including:
A 2018 review suggested more research on hydration and skin health was needed.
Tomaschko says it’s unnecessary to completely cut anything out of your diet unless you have an allergy or intolerance.
Still, certain items should be consumed in moderation.
Tomaschko suggests saying “cheers” with something other than alcohol if you want to toast to something every night.
Alcohol dehydrates you and preoccupies our bodies with filtering it out, thus preventing our bodies from doing their normal day-to-day maintenance, which includes working to sustain our skin and nail health,” Tomaschko says.
A 2018 study of more than 3,000 women ages 18 to 75 of multiple ethnic backgrounds including Caucasian, Asian, Black, and Latinx suggested that heavy drinking, defined as more than eight beverages per week. was associated with facial aging signs.
These included:
Moderate drinking was linked to undereye puffiness and midface volume loss.
Steering clear of ultra-processed foods may decrease your risk of skin issues.
“These foods can run the risk of causing inflammation in the body, which would be harmful for our skin and nail health,” Tomaschko says.
Foods to consider “once-in-a-while” treats include:
A 2021 study of more than 15,000 Chinese adults indicated that processed food intake may increase risk of atopic dermatitis.
A 2020 review noted that some studies linked food processing methods like frying and high-fat diets to skin aging.
A 2020 review pointed to studies that suggested sugary diets can increase skin aging.
Research from 2016 indicates that low-glycemic diets may help prevent hair loss during menopause.
Tomaschko recommends limiting consumption of:
Want to know more about the relationship between food and your hair, skin, and nails? Get the facts below.
Michon says there’s some evidence that supplements can prompt hair, skin, and nail growth.
Still, he advises people to be careful and consult with a provider. Don’t think of supplements as a replacement for a diet rich in healthy foods.
“It’s important to note that supplements should not be a substitute for your regular diet,” he says. “Instead, use supplements in conjunction with the whole foods that you’re consuming.”
A small, older study of 71 patients indicated biotin could help strengthen nails.
Another study from 2011 suggested omega-3 supplements may help reduce skin damage from UV ray exposure.
However, a 2020 study indicated several risks to taking supplements for beauty, including an increased risk of cancer with long-term use.
Doebrich says most people in the U.S. get enough nutrients from diet alone.
Though protein has been linked to hair and skin health, Doebrich says it’s possible to get those benefits—and others—if you follow a vegan diet.
She recommends:
The good news: No food is entirely off-limits unless you have an allergy or intolerance, Doebrich says.
On the other hand, some foods are better enjoyed occasionally, including ultra-processed and fried foods, sugary treats and beverages, and alcohol.
These foods have been linked to issues like hair loss, skin aging, skin dehydration, and atopic dermatitis.
The FDA does not approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness. Doebrich says it’s critical to speak with your healthcare professional before starting supplements.
A 2020 study suggested supplementation could trigger choking, allergic reactions, and increased risks for cancer and diabetes.
There’s been mixed evidence on whether dairy, particularly cow’s milk, can exacerbate acne, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes. Speak to a healthcare professional before cutting dairy from your diet, as it contains other nutrients.
There is evidence to suggest some vitamins, minerals, and diet types can help enhance hair, skin, and nail health. These include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C, and E, and high-protein, low-glycemic diets.
Try foods like salmon, nuts, avocados, and fruits and vegetables.
It’s best to avoid ultra-processed, sweetened foods. You don’t have to nix them all together, but limiting intake can decrease inflammation and skin dehydration, bettering hair, skin, and nail health.
Always speak to a healthcare professional before supplementing. Most nutrients can be obtained through food alone, and long-term supplementation carries risks.
Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
Last medically reviewed on September 1, 2022
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