Without the right dietary and hair care modifications, hair can become more brittle and thinner when on a plant-based diet. Here’s how to keep it in good health
When a client who'd previously had strong, dense hair came into his salon with her hair breaking off in patches, hair stylist Edward James wondered what had caused such a marked change in its condition and asked her whether her diet had changed. She told him that, like the 582,000 people who’d signed up to Veganuary this year, she’d changed to a vegan diet six weeks before.
While this was one of the most extreme side-effects that Edward had ever seen, the toll veganism can take on overall hair health is something that he's seeing more and more of these days. In his experience, if the right dietary and hair care modifications haven’t been made, it can make hair more brittle and thinner and weaker within around two months of adopting a plant-based diet, possibly leading to hair fall.
If you've changed to a vegan diet, here’s what you need to know.
1. Combine different types of plant-based protein
As hair is made of protein, keeping levels topped up when going vegan is essential to keep it in good health. Animal sources are particularly valuable in this regard as they’re by and large the easiest way to get your fill of complete proteins (i.e. ones that contain all the essential amino acids).
There are plenty of plant-based options though to help you get your fill - eating a wide range of them can help. “People are often surprised to learn how easy it is to get enough protein from plant foods,” says Heather Russell, dietitian at The Vegan Society . “Examples include beans, lentils, chickpeas, soya products, peanut butter, cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds.”
Nutritional therapist Daniel O'Shaughnessy also highlights quinoa, seitan and coconut as valuable sources too, in addition to plant-based protein shakes. They’re usually blends of different types which when combined, can make complete proteins. Daniel breaks it down for us: “Hemp is not a complete protein and rice lacks lysine [a type of amino acid] to make it a complete protein. Pea protein has most of the amino acids needed but is low in tyrosine and methionine. Combining rice and pea or hemp and pea makes a complete protein - most companies do this already for you, such as Sunwarrior or Neat.” While soy is a complete protein, he often doesn’t recommend it to clients due to GMO concerns and potential connected health risks.
2. Take an iron supplement
In addition to fatigue, shortness of breath and brittle nails, hair fall is also a symptom of iron deficiency. Iron (ferritin) plays a vital role in prolonging the length of time hair spends in its anagen (growth) phase. The best sources of iron are red meats so to ensure supplies don’t dry up, upping your intake of iron-rich vegetables is key. “Sources of iron include beetroot, spinach, okra, broccoli, watercress, prunes, soybeans and almonds,” says Daniel.
“However, just consuming plant-based sources of iron won’t do as they aren’t as well absorbed as animal sources,” he cautions. “I would suggest taking a vegan supplement with iron and to get regular iron checks with the GP. I like to use a Food State iron supplement such as Cytoplan Wholefood Iron , £13.50 [one which is combined with appropriate food bases and phytonutrients to allow for better absorption] which is easy on the digestive system.”
3. Up your intake of calcium-rich veg
Calcium is another important nutrient for healthy hair most notably because it can aid iron absorption. It’s readily available in a range of non-animal produce. “There’s a myth that you need to get calcium from dairy products,” says Daniel, who highlights dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, broccoli and pinto beans as key sources.
1. Protect coloured hair with Olaplex
If dietary modifications haven’t been made and hair is weakened, take protective steps to prevent hair colour from damaging it further. “If colouring your hair, use a hair-bond booster such as the Olaplex system , which is 100 per cent animal cruelty-free and vegan-friendly,” advises Edward James. “It will create new chains of disulphide bonds (what the hair is made from) while the colouring process takes place, which will protect the hair. During the colouring process, it will be these bonds that break down and not your own hair bonds, resulting in healthier and stronger hair long-term.”
Olaplex at-home treatments , from £26, can be used for top-ups in between appointments. “They're is vegan aligned and works wonders on finer hair in particular,” says Edward.
2. Use pre-shampoo and weekly intensive treatments
“Use a treatment that will increase the elasticity of the hair and offer protection when washing it - particularly before you shampoo as it will protect the cuticle,” Edward advises. His top product picks are Philip Kingsley's Hair Elasticizer , £16.20, and Oribe’s Gold Lust Pre-Shampoo Intensive Treatment , £67.50, to moisturise and repair and minimise damage through friction and pulling.
For further nourishment, Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Restructuring Treatment , £31, is also a favourite of his for chemically-treated and brittle hair. “It contains quinoa to strengthen the hair and is fantastic for adding protein to the hair which will help to prevent breakage,” he says. He also rates almond oil or coconut oil - four to six drops on mid-lengths and ends will prevent it from becoming more brittle. “It is best applied on damp hair as the hair cuticle is softer and will absorb the oil better,” he advises. “If you do this consistently, it really helps to prevent fracture breakage.”
3. Use heat protection
A heat protection spray is something everyone can benefit from - vegan or not. However, if the hair is weakened due to nutritional deficiencies, it’s even more important. “Use a protective spray on wet hair and when hair is at its weakest,” Edward advises. “ Aveda’s Damage Control Spray , £21, is perfect for this and is also vegan aligned too.”