Getting to the root of the problem
When you think about it, hair has to put up with a lot. It gets dyed, heat styled, washed with harsh shampoos and slathered in chemical-filled products that variously promise to de-frizz, add volume or define curls. That’s before you even take into account damage from the sun, air conditioning, heating and pollution.
Nails are made of the same substance, a protein called keratin, and they suffer a similar torrent of abuse from detergents, hard water, polishes and moisture-stripping acetone. Small wonder, then, that hair can lose its shine, becoming coarse and porous, while nails become brittle and prone to breakage.
So what can be done to rescue our beleaguered talons and tresses from this daily onslaught? Afterall, there’s no point in having flawless, radiant skin if your hair and nails are letting you down. The obvious answer is to apply topical products such as intensive conditioners and hand creams to restore nourishment, but these only do half the job. They usually get washed off after a relatively short period of time, so they don’t have a chance to make a real and lasting difference. Also, as hair and nails are not made of living tissue, there’s a limit to how much you can do to restore their health. Topical products tend to focus on camouflaging flaws such as split ends or brittle nails rather than preventing damage in the first place.
The secret to promoting glossy locks and strong, healthy nails is to start from inside the body. Consuming a diet high in antioxidants can help, because they help to neutralize the free radicals causing the damage. You can find them in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, as well as dark green leafy vegetables and certain teas. However, intensive farming methods mean that nutrient levels have dropped, so it is encouraged to take them in supplement form, this is becoming increasingly important to make sure your levels are topped up.
In particular, antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E have been found to have protective effects on hair and nails by ‘mopping up’ free radicals and forming a protective molecular shield against the elements, as well as being great for skin. By preventing the destruction of melanin, these free radical scavengers can improve color retention by maintaining the health and integrity of hair, as well as helping to protect against heat damage. Copper has also been shown to help hair maintain its natural pigment.
Lorraine Perretta, Head of Nutrition for Advanced Nutrition Programme beauty supplements, explains that variety is key, and it’s important to look beyond the more well-known antioxidants for maximum results.
“In addition to the traditional Vitamins A, C, E, Advanced Nutrition Programme are starting to include more plant nutrients in their products, to the extent that they even launched Skin Antioxidant, a supplement containing 7 plant-based antioxidants which all play a different role in improving appearance”, she says. “Their researchers are also becoming increasingly interested in astaxanthin, the ‘king of the carotenoids’. It’s known as the pink antioxidant because it gives salmon its distinctive colour. It’s 6000 times more powerful than vitamin C and is finding its way into skin supplements. We continue to scan the most up to date research to ensure that our products contain all the key ingredients to support healthy skin, hair and nails and salons who stock Advanced Nutrition Programme skincare supplements give us great feedback about the benefits their clients experience.”
The theory that antioxidants are important for healthy hair and nails is backed up by the scientific community. In one example, the University of Maryland Medical Center reported that vitamin C deficiency may cause dry and splitting hair, which would hinder healthy hair growth. For people with nutritional deficiencies, the University specifically recommends a multivitamin that contains the antioxidants vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium. It also specifically recommends 500 mg to 1,000 mg of vitamin C to be taken twice a day.
While antioxidants do a good job of protecting hair and nails, Biotin is often credited with helping to strengthen them.
The European Food Safety Authority agrees that it ‘helps maintain hair and skin health’,and there have been a number of studies which appear to back this up.
*Floersheim GL. Treatment of brittle fingernails with biotin.Z Hautkr. 1989;64:41–8
**Hochman LG, Scher RK et al. Brittle nails: Response to daily biotin supplementation. Cutis. 1993 Apr;51(4):303-5.