Growing hair longer is a popular new year's resolution every time January rolls around.
A little help in reaching your hair growth goals is always a good thing.
So here are 7 vitamins and minerals that have actually been proven - in the lab, by scientists - to grow your hair longer.
Plus: A bonus tip if you really want those extra inches by the end of the year!
Can hair vitamins really grow your hair?
If you have a deficiency in certain micronutrients, then they can, according to Dr Trüeb, a dermatologist based at the Center for Dermatology and Hair Diseases, Zürich, Switzerland. With our modern, processed food diets, plus the tendency to skip a meal here and there, it's easy to miss out on a nutrient or two.
That nutrient or two can turn out to have a major impact on your hair growth.
Our scalps hold approximately 100,000 hair follicles. If your scalp is in good health, 90% are in the anagen or active growth phase, and need essential elements such as minerals and vitamins to build healthy hair.
Vitamins and minerals can help with hair growth. Image by Maatla Kebs.
While many of us have been religiously popping the biotin, these 7 essential vitamins and minerals tend to fly under the radar when it comes to hair growth. That's too bad because they all can enhance your hair growing effort.
If you're thinking about using a supplement to catch up on your vitamins, consult a doctor first to be sure taking a supplement is right for you.
In most cases, you can get adequate quantities of micronutrients by eating a varied diet, rich in plant-based, minimally processed foods. It's generally best to get your vitamins and minerals this way because they tend to be easier for your body to absorb from their natural food sources.
Either way, here are the key vitamins and minerals to look out for:
Vitamin C - The Hair Growth Support Act
The links between iron deficiency and hair growth have been shown in several studies. But even where some people have an adequate intake of iron, they can still be deficient in iron, if gaps in their diet mean they can't absorb it well enough.
That's where Vitamin C comes in. Vitamin C is crucial to the absorption of iron.
Blueberries are a good source of Vitamin C which is crucial for hair growth. Image by Mae Mu.
Be sure to get adequate levels of this micronutrient, whether you take supplements or eat your citrus fruits, blueberries and spinach. Not only will you be supporting your hair growth, it's great for your immune system too, especially at this time of year.
Once the test results are in, if your iron levels are indeed low, your doctor will either put you on a supplement or encourage you to boost your iron stores through diet.
In cases of severe hair loss through telogen effluvium (diffuse hair shedding), some hair scientists recommend iron supplements to reverse the condition.
Blood iron levels need to be maintained within a very specific range in order to stop excessive shedding - and too much iron can have a number of side effects, including severe cramping.
Iron supplementation can boost hair growth but can cause side effects. Image by Wan Mohammad.
That's why you should never try to figure out iron supplementation by yourself: always do it under the advice and supervision of your doctor. Check out our article on how to use iron for hair growth for more info.
Zinc for hair growth?
There is debate among scientists over the benefits of taking zinc supplements for hair growth, but zinc's role in hair growth is clear. Alopecia is well-known symptom of zinc deficiency and cases of hair regrowth following zinc supplementation are very common.
The scientists behind one study, which looked at the zinc levels of 312 patients with different forms of hair loss, recommended zinc supplements if blood levels dip below 70 ng/dL.
So how likely is it that you're zinc deficient?
Since we get most of our dietary zinc from animal sources, vegetarians are particularly at risk of zinc deficiency - which in turn puts them at some risk of hair loss and other health conditions associated with suboptimal zinc levels.
Diets that are high in grains often mean a high intake of phytate, an anti-nutrient which blocks the absorption of several key micronutrients, including zinc.
Pregnancy also causes a high excretion of zinc, which is why it's typically included in prenatal supplements. Conditions like cystic fibrosis, various infections, severe burns and alcoholism are also associated with low zinc levels. In these cases, your doctor might advise supplementation.
High zinc excretion in pregnancy can affect hair growth. Image by Dahlak Tarekegn.
Common symptoms of low zinc levels, include extremely dry and brittle hair and patchy hair loss - that includes bald spots. All of these can be reversed with correct supplementation and diet.
Calcium: Not Just For Bones It's Good For Hair Growth, Too
While we're used to thinking of calcium in terms of strong bones and teeth, we often forget it's a major component of our hair, too. As a matter of fact, the calcium content in hair is 200 times the amount in our blood, and calcium plays a key role in hair production at the root level.
Any disturbance of the delicate balance of micronutrients involved in the hair follicle can trigger hair loss so it's not surprising that a calcium-deficient diet has been shown to trigger transient alopecia.
For women's hair loss, calcium levels become a particular concern as the menopause approaches; around the age of 49, calcium levels in women's hair take a noticeable dip.
Iron levels start to decrease in your late 40s, which can affect hair growth. Image by Eye For Ebony.
The risk of osteoporosis also rises at around the same time, and calcium supplements have become increasingly popular due to their role in preventing this disease - though there are currently some concerns about the effects calcium oversupplementation could have on the heart.
If you're a regular consumer of dairy or soy products then you're not likely to be low on calcium. If you don't eat these foods, look into increasing your intake of foods like kale, parsley, cabbage and hazelnuts which are all rich calcium sources, before considering supplements.
Vitamin E Stimulates Hair Growth And More
You've probably heard of the skin rejuvenating properties of tocopherol, a widely used Vitamin E component. But have you heard of tocotrienols?
New research indicates that tocotrienols, a form of Vitamin E, can increase hair growth.
Possibly the most slept-on form of Vitamin E, this stuff has been proven to stimulate your hair into anagen - the growth phase of the hair cycle. The more follicles that are activated, the thicker your hair will look, too. Promising results have been shown both from topical application and oral supplements of Vitamin E. Massaged into bald spots, it was able to stimulate regrowth of hair.
And get this: it also has been shown to kickstart the generation of new hair follicles - a process previously thought to only take place in the womb.
Support Hair Growth And Resist Hair Loss With Vitamin D
Since our bodies naturally make Vitamin D from sunlight, you might not think you need to take a supplement for this one.
However, if you live in a country with precious little sunlight, you could be low on Vitamin D - especially if you have a moderate to deep skin colour. In fact, the British National Health Service specifically recommends Vitamin D supplementation for people with darker skintones.
Whether you need a Vitamin D supplement depends on local sunlight levels. Image by Nicole Berro.
When it comes to your hair, a number of studies have found a correlation between the incidence of alopecia and low blood levels of Vitamin D. Other research on people with hair loss showed that those with higher levels of Vitamin D tended to have less severe hair loss.
While there's still some debate on supplements from a hair standpoint, clinical studies have demonstrated the work Vitamin D does at a follicular level. So if you're low on this vitamin, it looks like increasing your intake could give your hair growth a helping hand, too.
B12: Another B Vitamin For Hair Growth
Less famous than fellow B vitamin biotin in the hair growth stakes, B12 still plays an important role in the synthesis of DNA and other proteins in the body, including hair.
A link between B12 deficiency and hair loss has shown up in a few studies, including one on telogen effluvium with dysesthesia; hair shedding throughout the scalp that is accompanied by a burning or itching sensation.
Eggs are a good source of Vitamin B12, which helps hair growth. Image by Erol Ahmed.
B12 deficiency is rare among meat eaters and vegetarians who consume some egg and/or dairy products. However, it is a concern for those on vegan diets because there is no plant-based source of vitamin B12.
If you're strictly vegan then supplementation is your only option for getting this essential nutrient.
Folate Helps Hair Growth In 2 Ways
B vitamins are heavily involved in hair production and folate or folic acid is no exception. Folate is crucial to the manufacture of red blood cells and haemoglobin, which in turn transport oxygen to the tissues involved in building hair.
Because it's also involved in nucleic acid production, scientists think this vitamin may have a major role to play in the hair follicle.
What's for sure is if your folate levels are low, changes take place in both your hair and nails, impacting their growth - as well as other health issues.
So should you take a supplement?
Kale is a rich source of folate, needed for hair growth. Image by Helena Yankovska.
Folate is included in prenatal supplements because of the birth defects linked to folic acid deficiency. But it naturally occurs in several foods: kale, beets, and fish like halibut or cod all contain it. And because of the health risks associated with low folate levels, some countries fortify certain foods with this vitamin.
That said, if your diet isn't great or you consume a lot of alcohol, then even with the fortified food around, you could still miss out on getting the right amount of folate. These factors should be taken into account when deciding if you need to take the supplement route.
All 7 vitamins and minerals affect hair growth
Getting adequate levels of these 7 micronutrients is a great way to boost your hair growth this year. In most cases, you should be able to get to the right levels just by increasing your intake of food sources that contain them.
But there's one more thing you need to focus on if your plan is longer hair.
Ends care = longer hair
While a good intake of nutrients is key to healthy hair, how you treat the hair once it's grown out of your scalp matters, too. And the part that matters most is the ends.
If you want to grow your hair long, you need to concentrate on the ends. They're the oldest, most fragile part of your hair and if they break off, you could use precious inches that keep you away from your hair growth goal.
Caring for your ends hair helps you hold on to your hair growth. Image by Tubarones Photography.
The secret to good ends care starts with low manipulation - limiting the amount of styling you do to your hair and making sure your motions are as gentle as possible when you do.
You also need moisture to keep the ends from snapping and to target your products to provide surface protection and enhance internal strength.
A treatment likeatrActiva Multivitamin Treatment combines all three of these ends care essentials, helping to maximise the amount of hair growth you're able to hold onto this year. For a detailed step-by-step ends care routine, check out our guide to ends' care.