Nutritional Impact on Hair & Scalp

Written by Michael Anthonavage

The average human scalp has approximately 100,000 hairs emanating out of hair follicles and is one of the fastest growing tissues in the body. Besides having a decorative role in society, hair has a variety of biological functions including protection from UV radiation and insects. It acts as a sensory tool and conduit for excretion of sebaceous oils. Hair is also important for insulation and warmth in terms of thermoregulation and has been shown to harbor stem cell populations and immune cells which are important for the regenerative capacity of the skin and innate immunity respectively.

The hair follicle itself is an amazingly complex skin appendage that involves many scientific disciplines including biology and nutrition. Healthy hair is certainly an indicator of one’s general well-being particularly during reproductive ages, but hair loss, graying or unwanted hair growth does affect the quality of life of the individual being affected by altering self-esteem and confidence, both having emotional and sociological consequences.

Hair integrity, growth and function rely as do all biological systems on the interplay between homeostasis and stress which has a significant correlation to the quality and quantity of nutrition being delivered to both the scalp and hair follicle. Healthy hair is easy to recognize and is generally, full bodied, shinny, lustrous and free of flakes and damage. Unhealthy hair can result from external forces (UV exposure and over processing) and intrinsic forces (inadequate nutrition and/or disease processes).

Hair follicles undergo a continuous cycle to maintain the presences of hair outside of the body which consist of Anagen (growth), Catagen (quiescent) and Telogen which results in shedding. Normally in human scalp up to 90% of the hair follicles are in the anagen phase while, 10 to 14% are in telogen and 1 to 2% in catagen. As a result, the metabolic needs of 90% of your scalp hair, which is in the growth phase anagen, require more nutrients to support than the hair follicle in the later stages of the hair cycle.

Each hair follicle is supplied with its own source of blood from the capillaries in the dermis. This blood supply is the primary source of nutrients to the hair bulb located at the base of the hair follicle where growth is believed to be initiated and sustained. Additionally, virtually all terminal hairs on the body and scalp have a sebaceous glands associated with their micro-anatomy. These glands are involved in the production of sebum which is funneled through the follicular canal to the surface of the skin which also coat the hair shaft for the delivery and excretion of lipid soluble products from the blood. Overall, healthy hair is not just about the hair itself but includes follicle, sebaceous gland, and the overall health of the skin.

The nutritional requirements of hair have been documented throughout history starting with the early explorers documenting in their diaries the outbreaks of scurvy and rickets aboard their ships leading to terrible skin conditions and loss of hair. Today, hair itself is being utilized to diagnosis metabolic issues that stem from diet, systemic therapies, and environmental exposures. Examples of dietary supplements that affect hair growth and quality are vitamins both hydrophilic (biotin, riboflavin, thiamine, ascorbic acid, and pyridoxine) and lipophilic (tocopherols and cholecalciferol, and omega fatty acids) along with amino acids (lysine and proline), trace minerals (iron, zinc, and copper) and plant extracts (nettles, red clover, and horsetail). In general, nutritional deficiencies are low in developed countries, however, imbalances, and incomplete diets caused by chronic stress, disease, aging, and chemical substances may influence health and thereby affect the condition of hair. Correcting and optimizing the diet may not only prevent hair problems but may also correct any potentially underlining condition. Studies investigating the effects of oral supplementation with relatively high doses of vitamins, trace minerals, and fatty acids have indicated the possibility that dietary factors can modulate both scalp and hair health.

While nutritional factors affect the hair directly, they also affect the scalp and its functions. In the management of subjects with hair problems, one should include any issues with excessive scaling (dry skin) as these conditions influence follicle health which in turn affect the appearance and growth properties of the hair itself.

Assessing the benefits of nutritional supplements is possible through a variety of analytical techniques depending on the projected outcome. Eurofins | CRL has the capabilities to examine hair growth, reduced shedding and improvements in hair diameter by taking measurements using global hair counts, image analysis of individual hairs and length analysis. Eurofins | CRL can also evaluate qualitative aesthetics of hair such as shine, frizz, color and moisture through instrumental measurements as well as subjectively through expert and self-assessment surveys.

About the Writer
Michael Anthonavage has 26 years of experience in personal care product development and a career spanning background in skin biology, education, and medical technology. Michael has extensive knowledge in product development in personal care product design and specializes in R&D to marketing translation. He is also an engaging public speaker and product technology advocate with an ability to marry complex ideas and concepts to various consumer needs. Michael is currently the VP of Operations & Technology at Eurofins CRL, Inc. as well as an educator in herbal studies, clinical lab interpretation, product development strategies, physiology, and skin biology. Michael’s previous positions have focused on product development for multi-national corporations in Consumer Products and has held R&D leadership positions at several industry ingredient suppliers where he has championed innovative ingredient portfolios. He has a variety of publications and patents to his name and continues to be an influential speaker and educator in the personal care, bioinstrumentation, and skin testing arena.

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