You might not think your hair needs a multivitamin, but these minerals and nutrients keep each strand strong, shiny, and growing. The best part: there’s no need to pop a pill—you can find them in your diet. “Eating the right foods is the best and easiest way to fortify your hair with everything it needs,” says hair care specialist Robert Dorin, D.O., a Diplomat of the American Board of Hair Restoration. Dig into these foods to get your best hair ever—inside and out.
You know you need to get enough of the sunshine vitamin for healthy bones, but the nutrient also keeps hair strong. Vitamin D3, an inactive form of vitamin D that your body converts when it needs it, regulates your hair follicle cycles and may help it grow faster. Not getting enough of it could even cause hair loss, studies show, so aim for the recommended dose of 15 micrograms (mcg) a day. It’s just about the only time you’ll be excused for soaking up the sun sans sunscreen—you need 10 to 20 SPF-free minutes a day (so your walk to work and that afternoon coffee break), depending on your skin tone. Otherwise, lather up and boost your intake of the vitamin through dairy, grains, and fatty fish such as salmon.
This mineral keeps your hair alive and well by bringing oxygen to every strand through the red blood cells, which helps your body absorb nutrients. If you’re not a vegetarian, try to get your daily intake (about 18 mg) of iron from dark meats like lean beef, since studies suggest it’s digested more efficiently that way. Otherwise, look for it in plant sources like spinach, nuts, dried fruit, and beans.
B6—a.k.a. folic acid—and B12 are vital for healthy hair because they help form those messenger red blood cells that deliver air and nutrients to each strand. If this process doesn’t happen, your hair could grow super-slow, or even start shedding. You don’t need much of it (2.4 mcg of B12 will do the trick) but there’s a ton of options to choose from: leafy greens, citrus fruit, avocados, whole grains, and meats like chicken, fish, and pork, to name a few.
It helps our bodies produce collagen, a protein that “is important for strengthening hair and speeding its growth,” says nutritionist Marci Clow, a dietician at vitamin company Rainbow Light and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Get your daily 75 mg from oranges, kiwi, pineapple, strawberries, and red peppers.
These are essential fatty acids that keep your hair flexible and strong because “they balance the moisturizing oils in our skin and scalp,” says Dorin. Dig into foods like salmon, mackerel, avocado, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds daily—you’ll want to squeeze in about 1.1 grams, and try to eat fresh fish a couple of times a week.
It gives your body and brain energy, and that doesn’t exclude hair: The macro-nutrient re-grows the strands we shed during the resting phase of the hair growth cycle (that time when you seem to be plucking more out of your scalp when you shower). Plus, 97 percent of our hair is made up of protein, according to Dorin, so it’s important to replenish its building blocks. Aim for 46 grams a day from foods like lean meats, eggs, Greek yogurt, and legumes.
Consider this vitamin a powerhouse antioxidant—it helps all your cells and tissues thrive, including your hair and scalp. “Vitamin A helps produce sebum, the oil that coats and conditions our scalp,” says Dorin. “Without it, your head would constantly feel itchy and dry.” Make sure you’re getting enough (700 mcg a day) from sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, cantaloupe, and apricots—besides their vibrant hue, they all contain large doses of the vitamin.
Sure, it promotes cell reproduction, tissue growth and repair, but zinc also keeps the oil glands surrounding your hair in peak shape,” says Clow. Not getting enough could lead to hair loss, but it’s also about striking a balance—too much can cause the same problem. Stick to the recommended 8 mg per day, and find it in nuts, chocolate (score!), turkey, and chicken.