Healthy, shiny hair, clear skin and long, strong nails are a few of the signs that you’re in excellent health. Can supplements help us achieve this? Dietitian Katrina Pace investigates their efficacy.
There’s no standard formula for hair, skin and nail complex supplements, which contain a combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs. Some common ingredients seem to be horsetail, silica, zinc, collagen, and vitamins C and E.
This herb is thought to help hair growth. Horsetail can contain up to 25 per cent silica (about 5g per kilogram of dried horsetail).
Although the research on horsetail is light, it has been used in traditional medicine as a way to treat hair loss and brittle fingernails.
Silica is naturally found in rocks, the earth and water. Low levels of silica in the body are thought to cause problems with bones and joints because of a reduction in collagen strength and how silica helps the body store calcium. Although used as a traditional remedy for years, there seems to be no research evidence that silica supplements will benefit your hair, nails or skin.
Zinc can help protect the skin against sun damage. It also has antimicrobial effects, which means that zinc can help treat bacterial skin conditions such as bacterial acne. A symptom of zinc deficiency is hair loss, so adding zinc to a hair, skin and nails supplement may help ensure suboptimal levels are corrected.
Hair follicles and nails are fast growing and have a quick turnover, meaning they need plenty of zinc for cell growth.
Collagen is also found in skin, giving it elasticity and preventing it drying out – see ‘A guide to collagen supplements’.
Vitamins C and E
These vitamins are both powerful antioxidants, helping prevent damage to the skin from free radicals in pollution and sunlight. Vitamin C is also needed for healthy collagen in our skin.
Do these supplements really make a difference to our hair, skin and nails?
In theory if we have low body stores or low dietary intake of any of the vitamins and minerals that affect hair, skin and nail condition then adding a supplement could help. But so could improving our diet to include more fruit, vegetables and protein.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of evidence that consistently shows taking these supplements has any effect on hair, skin and nail condition. Individual formulations of supplements are tested on small numbers of people and no formulation is the same.
Want healthy looking hair, skin and nails without taking a supplement?
Make sure you eat a varied diet including nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables with enough protein, iron and omega-3 containing foods.
See also ‘Eight steps to healthy skin, hair and nails’ for more information.
What to watch out for
As with many supplements that contain a variety of herbal compounds, before taking them it’s essential to check with your pharmacist or doctor to make sure they won’t affect any medication you’re taking.
Article sources and references
- Haneke E & Baran R. 2010. Micronutrients for Hair and Nails. In: Krutmann J & Humbert P (eds) Nutrition for Healthy Skin. Springer: Berlin, Heidelberghttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/227056402_Micronutrients_for_Hair_and_Nails
- Labun P et al. 2013. Calculating the Silicon in Horsetail (Equisetum arvense L.) during the Vegetation Season. Food and Nutrition Sciences 4: 510https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272652370_Calculating_the_Silicon_in_Horsetail_Equisetum_arvense_L_during_the_Vegetation_Season
- MacDonald RS. 2000. The role of zinc in growth and cell proliferation. Journal of Nutrition 130:S1500-8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10801966
- Martin KR. 2007. The chemistry of silica and its potential health benefits. Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 11:94https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435951
- Nachbar F & Korting HC. 1995. The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin. Journal of Molecular Medicine 73:7-17https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7633944
- Park K. 2015. Role of micronutrients in skin health and function. Biomolecules & Therapeutics 23:207https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4428712/