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Woman with long blonde hair with her back to the camera

Hair care: the ingredients to look for

From caffeine to vitamin C, there are lots of great ingredients that can help improve your hair, whether you're looking for more moisture, vitality or volume. Here's what to look for in your hair products.

Caffeine

Rich in antioxidants and believed to increase blood flow, caffeine has a long history in haircare. A 2011 study showed that a leave-on combination of ingredients including panthenol, caffeine and niacinamide (vitamin B3) helped to improve the thickness and strength of existing hair, and reduced breakability.1

Keratin

As we get older, our hair is increasingly vulnerable to damage from stressors like heat styling and UV damage, so improving your hair's strength is particularly important.

Keratin is a protein that occurs naturally in skin and nails as well as hair, and is well known to play an important role in protecting hair from damage and improving strength. A 2013 study published in BMC Biotechnology showed that keratin peptides increased hair hydration and increased brightness and softness.2

Natural oils

There are a number of plant oils that have benefits for hair – from more traditional botanical oils, including argan, baobab and jojoba, to help restore softness, smoothness and shine, to peppermint and lavender. A 2016 study showed that lavender oil has what researchers call 'a marked hair growth-promoting effect.'3

Panthenol (pro-vitamin B5)

A stalwart in haircare, pro-vitamin B5 is a popular ingredient thanks to its ability to improve hair's shine, softness and strength.

According to one study, panthenol is capable of binding to the hair's surface, thus protecting the fibre.4

It's commonly added to shampoos, conditioners and hair-styling products such as hair oils. When looking at the ingredients list, it might also appear as 'panthenyl ethyl ether', which is a derivative of panthenol that offers enhanced absorption into the hair.

Phytoestrogens

Plant oestrogens in hair care are an effective way to help support hair during and after the menopause. By mimicking the role of the body's oestrogen (which, in our younger years, plays an important role in hair's shine, hydration and volume), plant oestrogens from red clover and soybeans can help to restore hair's health.

Vitamin C

We hear a lot about vitamin C for our skin, but it's great for hair, too. As well as acting as a mild clarifying agent (helping to remove any build-up of products or grease), it also acts as an antioxidant to protect against the tell-tale signs of damage, including breakage and split ends.

Vitamin C has a number of forms, but you might see it on product labels as 'citric acid' or 'ascorbyl phosphate.'

Spread of foods with benefits for hair health

What to eat for healthy hair

Eating the right foods can help support hair health from the inside. Nutritionist Fiona Hunter has some advice.

"One in four women in the UK have low iron levels, and this is one of the most common causes of hair loss, thinning and slow growth," says Hunter. "Low-protein diets are also linked with hair loss and brittle hair. Protein provides the building blocks from which hair is made, helps make your hair strong and keeps it in the growing phase of its cycle."

As well as protein, Hunter says, "key nutrients for healthy hair also include essential fatty acids, vitamins A, D and E, iron, zinc and selenium, as well as two important B vitamins: biotin and niacin."

This means that the following foods should all be a regular part of your diet.

  • Wheat germ, wholegrain cereals and shellfish, which are rich in zinc. Zinc deficiency is thought to weaken the hair follicles and increase the risk of hair loss.
  • Salmon and mackerel, two examples of oily fish, which provide essential fatty acids to help keep the scalp healthy. Oily fish also provide vitamin D.
  • Probiotic yoghurt to help boost levels of friendly bacteria in the gut. These bacteria can make the B vitamin biotin, which helps to improve hair strength and texture.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables to provide vitamin C, which helps neutralise free radicals that can damage the hair.
  • Lean red meat, which provides iron in a form that is more easily absorbed by the body. Alternative vegetarian sources of iron include beans and pulses, fortified breakfast cereals, kale and watercress.
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