There are plenty of natural vitamins and supplements to combat hair loss. But which will truly make a difference?

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With hair loss and hair thinning (whether menopause, stress, diet or underlying ailment-related) rampant, it’s no wonder the market is awash with capsules, pills, gummies and powdered supplements full of potent vitamins and other nutrients, all promising a natural and hassle-free route to restoring growth and volume. 

We know a balanced diet is essential to support optimal hair growth and prevent hair shedding, so it makes sense that topping it up with the most crucial nutrients in the shape of supplements should lead to less hair loss - right? “There is a definite place for some supplements as part of a hair loss treatment regimen,” agrees hair transplant surgeon Dr Bessam Farjo of the Farjo Hair Institute. “As long as you appreciate it is more of a support role.” To find out what that means precisely, and home in on the nutrients and vitamins that have an actual impact on hair loss, keep reading.

Do supplements for hair loss really work?

Trichologists, dermatologists and hair doctors are unanimous: the right diet, not supplementation, is your baseline treatment when it comes to supporting or restoring healthy hair growth. “A vitamin and mineral-rich diet that's good for you generally is good for your hair,” says Dr Farjo. Trichologist Anabel Kingsley explains that food gives us the nutrients we need in a bio-available way, while it remains a point of contention that supplements can do the same. Also, she says “If your diet is not great, your body is going to send the nutrients within your supplements to essential tissues – not your strands.” She tips protein (meat, eggs, dairy, soy) to provide hair’s building blocks, complex carbs (wholegrains, potatoes with skin on) for the energy to grow hair, and iron (red meat, beetroot, dried apricots) to prevent fallout as some of your most important ‘hair foods’.

Experts also agree that supplements only make sense if your hair loss is caused by a nutritional deficiency, and to determine what that, is you need a blood test. That said, there are some very common deficiencies. “For women who’ve entered menopause, these are vitamin B12, D, and zinc,” says Kingsley. “Lack of dietary protein is also a common cause of brittle hair and hair loss, as is too little ferritin (stored iron), which women who menstruate are often deficient in,” she says.

But without a medically determined need for them or as a standalone ‘growth booster’, nutritional supplements “are an area of the market where unfortunately you see a lot of overpromising and even mis-selling,” says Farjo.” Some can be a very good option if the hair loss is at a very early stage, or the objective is to improve the quality of the existing hairs. But when tackling serious hair loss, they can only be relied on as part of a long-term multi-pronged treatment plan.” This might encompass hormone treatment, medicinal scalp drops, or even scalp PRP, micrografting or hair transplants.

Which are the best vitamins and nutrients for hair growth?

These are the nutrients most commonly prescribed by experts, whom we’ve asked to explain how they can work for you.

  • Iron: Iron boosts circulation and helps move oxygen to your scalp cells more efficiently, which is thought to be the reason why a lack of it can lead to hair loss. “Supplementing it in the case of a deficiency [which is quite common] has been shown to help with hair growth so I do recommend this,” says consultant dermatologist and hair loss specialist Dr Mia Jing Gao. She cautions supplementing for hair loss is complex and best done under specialist supervision, starting with bringing your ferritin levels back up to an optimal level of about 70 with the help of blood tests and doctor-recommended tablets (see below).
  • Vitamin D: “Vitamin D can promote keratinisation and production of keratin, which is hair’s main structural protein,” says Jing Gao. Without enough vitamin D in the body, the cells that produce keratin the hair follicles can’t properly facilitate hair growth. Because most people don’t get enough vitamin D through diet or sun exposure, “it’s a supplement I recommend,” says Jing Gao.
  • Vitamin B12: B vitamins help to create new red blood cells, which transport oxygen and nutrients essential for growing hair to the scalp and follicles. Deficiencies in B6, B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and B12 are associated with hair loss, but of these, the only vitamin people are commonly deficient in is B12. “This is especially true for those following a vegan diet and of older adults and menopausal women,” says Kingsley, who also says that absorption of B12 from foods can decrease over time. It seems the vitamin is easier to absorb from supplements, so popping this as a pill might not be a bad idea.
  • Zinc: “This trace element gets involved in many biological processes, including breaking down and utilising proteins which is essential for hair growth,” says Kingsley. Zinc deficiencies are common, so supplementation is often recommended.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C deficiency is quite rare, but because the vitamin helps iron absorption, experts such as Dr Jing Gao recommend supplementing it alongside iron in patients with iron deficiency-related hair loss. Overall, keep your levels up with plenty of fruit and veg because, says Jing Gao, “vitamin C is vital for maintaining the structure of the hair follicle. We know very low vitamin C (which leads to scurvy!) causes hair loss and twisted and fragile 'corkscrew' hairs.” Vitamin C also contributes to the synthesis of collagen, whose amino acids can be used to build keratin.

Which nutrients for hair growth may be overrated?

You may be surprised to hear what our experts have to say about some very popular nutrients and supplements hair growth…

  • Biotin (vitamin B7): There is no doubt that biotin is very important for healthy hair growth, as it helps metabolise proteins to make the keratin hair is mostly made up of, and also helps create oxygenating red blood cells. But, says Jing Gao, “biotin deficiency is extremely rare in modern society and supplementing it is not likely to be helpful in most healthy people.” Nonetheless, Kingsley feels it may make some sense for those on a very low-protein diet, such as many vegans.
  • Collagen: “The theory behind collagen supplements is that they contain amino acids which can help towards building keratin and hair growth. Collagen is also found in small amounts in hair shaft, and it is important for the hair follicle as well,” says Jing Gao. “But unfortunately, there is no convincing evidence that collagen supplements actually do benefit hair.” Dr Farjo is even more damning: “there are very few reliable studies that show if you ingest collagen supplements, it'll make a significant difference to one's own protein production and so benefits the hair,” he says. “When we ingest proteins in this form, they are simply disposed by the body as a waste product.”
  • Keratin: “Although hair is mainly made of keratin, ingesting it does not translate into improved hair growth as it probably won’t survive our digestive system,” says Jing Gao. “Our body naturally makes keratin and the keratins in different parts of our body (e.g., hair, nails, skin) are all very different in structure and function. It is not as simple as eating it to replace lost stores. No good studies have shown that keratin supplements work,” she says.

The best supplements for hair loss that doctors recommend

These are the pills and gummies that show specialist-backed promise for supporting hair growth

Best hair growth supplement for iron-deficient women: Lambert's Florisene for Women, £20.95 for a three-month supply

Highly absorbable iron and amino acids alongside vitamins C, B12 and biotin, this has all the main nutrients for hair growth and comes recommended by Dr Jing Gao and Dr Farjo for those deficient in iron.

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Best hair-thickening supplement: Philip Kingsley Density Amino Acid Protein Booster Supplement, £30 for a 3-month supply

Provides amino acids (the constituents of all proteins), collagen-boosting vitamin C and biotin and selenium for healthy hair maintenance. Also has copper, said to keep hair colour alive.

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Best-value powerhouse hair growth-support: Kansha Good Hair Nutrient Complex, £29.99 for a one-month supply 

Has every doctor-recommended vitamin and mineral you can think of, including vitamins D and B12, in high doses and in well-researched bio-available form to limit hair shedding and leave it thicker and shinier.

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Best collagen-based hair growth supplement: Nourkrin Woman Hair Nutrition, £37.49 for a one-month supply

Despite this being based on marine collagen and biotin, this is routinely recommended by hair specialists such as Dr Farjo as a supplement that will support and normalise the hair growth cycle.

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Best stress-relieving hair supplement: Hush & Hush Deeply Rooted, £63 for a one-month supply

This ‘clinically proven hair growth supplement’ delivers amino acids, B vitamins (including B12 and biotin), vitamins D, E and A and a whole host of anti-oxidants and adaptogen plant extracts like ashwagandha to protect your system from hair-thinning stress and pollutants. It is similar in its makeup to Nutrafol Women, £138.99, which comes recommended by Dr Farjo but is an expensive US import.

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Best celeb-backed hair supplement: Ionicell for Women, £20 for a two-month supply

A blend of fulvic acid and minerals in a highly bio-available ‘ionic’ form, this delivers 65 essentials minerals and trace elements including zinc and iron that together provide cellular energy, improve nutrient absorption and stimulate collagen to nourish the scalp. Pharmacist Shabir Daya and GTG favourite Trinny Woodall swear by this supplement to support hair growth.

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Best hair growth gummies: Hum Nutrition Hair Sweet Hair, £27.25 for a one-month supply

Formulated to support hair growth with doctor-recommended B12 and zinc, these vegan gummies also have circulation-boosting biotin, folate and Chinese herb fo-ti plus PABA, which is thought to ward off greys.

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Best covering-all-bases hair supplement: The Nue Co. Growth Phase, £55 for a one-month supply

Has the B and C vitamins that experts rate alongside chicken egg membrane to top up protein levels, but also aims to balance hormones (hormonal upheaval is a cause of hair loss) and reduce stress levels with adaptogens such as reishi mushroom.

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Best for ethnic hair and skin: SOW Women’s Daily Multi Complex, £45 for a one-month supply

A hair and skin supplement specifically for women of Afro-Caribbean, Asian and Arab heritage? Yep, says founder Simi Launay, because skin of colour is less able to synthesise vitamin D, “so we provide the appropriate inclusion of the vitamin for these communities.” She’s also included moisture-retaining hyaluronic acid owing to the fact that darker skins in particular lose more water, and plenty of red blood cell-boosting nutrients (vitamin C, B vitamins, iron) “because darker skin has lower blood vessel reactivity that lighter skin so needs more support for delivering nutrients to the scalp.” Add zinc and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane, a nutrient thought to strengthen keratin), and you have a supplement that ticks all the boxes.

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