When we think about improving the health of our hair, skin, and nails, our first thought may be to hit the beauty counter. Products promise to strengthen our nails, lengthen our hair, and keep our skin looking refreshed.
However, you may want to take a detour to the supermarket. What you put in your body may be just as important as what you put on it.
“Your skin and body will be a reflection of what you’re putting in your body,” says Alain Michon, the medical director at the Ottawa Skin Clinic and a board certified medical professional with the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine.
It sounds feasible—delicious, even. But is it possible to eat your way to better, healthier hair, skin, and nails? Here’s what research and three experts say.
You’ve likely heard about scientific support for the idea that certain foods can support heart health.
But what about hair, skin, and nails? The research is evolving and, at times, mixed.
Skin and nails
A 2022 review suggested that eating a plant-based diet could benefit skin barrier health and function.
On the other hand,
Nails are keratin-rich, and nutrition may impact their health.
Though research is evolving, particularly for nails and skin, nutrition can be a low-cost, low-risk way to attempt to improve hair, skin, and nail growth.
Here’s what some dieticians and dermatologists suggest putting on your plate.
Katie Tomaschko, MS, RDN, says seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids can benefit the hair and skin.
“Omega-3 fatty acids could help reduce inflammation and redness in the body and skin,” says Tomaschko, a private practitioner in Buffalo, N.Y. “They’re also a rich source of protein, the powerful antioxidant vitamin E, and biotin, a nutrient that supports keratin production.”
Fish she recommends are:
Tomaschko notes that sweet potatoes are rich in the carotenoid beta-carotene, which she says is a precursor for vitamin A.
“Vitamin A promotes keratin production and is essential for skin and nail health,” Tomaschko says.
Nuts and seeds
Tomaschko says some seeds, particularly sunflower seeds, are good sources of:
Paula Doebrich, MPH, RDN of Happea Nutrition says nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, also boast the antioxidant vitamin E, which helps combat oxidative damage.
She also says vitamin E also boasts anti-inflammatory properties that may help absorb energy from UV light and protect against skin damage and visible aging signs, like fine lines and sun spots.
Tomaschko says avocados are rich in healthy fats and nutrients that promote skin and nail health, including:
- vitamin C
- vitamin A
- vitamin E
The review also included studies indicating vitamin C could help with collagen production and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
However, the review stopped short of definitively saying this nutrient could combat aging.
Protein is an essential part of a hair-healthy diet, Doebrich says.
“Our hair is made of a protein called keratin, so a diet insufficient in protein may make hair brittle,” Doebrich says.
One extra-large egg boasts nearly
Dark, leafy greens
Loading up on leafy greens provides the body with plenty of nutrients that can benefit the hair, skin, and nails.
Examples of dark, leafy greens include:
- swiss chard
- bok choy
- collard greens
Hit the oyster bar—your hair and skin will thank you.
“Oysters are an excellent source of zinc,” Doebrich says. “Zinc is needed for hair growth and tissue repair.”
One cup of oysters contains
Drinking water isn’t the only way to up your intake. Tomaschko says some foods have high water content, including:
Tomaschko says it’s unnecessary to completely cut anything out of your diet unless you have an allergy or intolerance.
Still, certain items should be consumed in moderation.
Tomaschko suggests saying “cheers” with something other than alcohol if you want to toast to something every night.
“Alcohol dehydrates you and preoccupies our bodies with filtering it out, thus preventing our bodies from doing their normal day-to-day maintenance, which includes working to sustain our skin and nail health,” Tomaschko says.
- under-eye puffiness
- midface volume loss
- increased blood vessel visibility
- upper facial lines
Moderate drinking was linked to undereye puffiness and midface volume loss.
Steering clear of ultra-processed foods may decrease your risk of skin issues.
“These foods can run the risk of causing inflammation in the body, which would be harmful for our skin and nail health,” Tomaschko says.
Foods to consider “once-in-a-while” treats include:
Tomaschko recommends limiting consumption of:
- sweetened iced tea
- coffee with large amounts of sugar
Want to know more about the relationship between food and your hair, skin, and nails? Get the facts below.
Can supplements help hair, skin, and nail growth?
Michon says there’s some evidence that supplements can prompt hair, skin, and nail growth.
Still, he advises people to be careful and consult with a provider. Don’t think of supplements as a replacement for a diet rich in healthy foods.
“It’s important to note that supplements should not be a substitute for your regular diet,” he says. “Instead, use supplements in conjunction with the whole foods that you’re consuming.”
Doebrich says most people in the U.S. get enough nutrients from diet alone.
What are the best vegan foods for hair, skin, and nails?
Though protein has been linked to hair and skin health, Doebrich says it’s possible to get those benefits—and others—if you follow a vegan diet.
- nuts and seeds
- fruits and vegetables
- plant-based sources of iron, such as dark leafy greens.
- soy-based foods like tofu, tempeh, and soy milk
What foods are bad for your hair, skin, and nails?
The good news: No food is entirely off-limits unless you have an allergy or intolerance, Doebrich says.
On the other hand, some foods are better enjoyed occasionally, including ultra-processed and fried foods, sugary treats and beverages, and alcohol.
These foods have been linked to issues like hair loss, skin aging, skin dehydration, and atopic dermatitis.
There’s been mixed evidence on whether dairy, particularly cow’s milk, can exacerbate acne, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes. Speak to a healthcare professional before cutting dairy from your diet, as it contains other nutrients.
There is evidence to suggest some vitamins, minerals, and diet types can help enhance hair, skin, and nail health. These include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C, and E, and high-protein, low-glycemic diets.
Try foods like salmon, nuts, avocados, and fruits and vegetables.
It’s best to avoid ultra-processed, sweetened foods. You don’t have to nix them all together, but limiting intake can decrease inflammation and skin dehydration, bettering hair, skin, and nail health.
Always speak to a healthcare professional before supplementing. Most nutrients can be obtained through food alone, and long-term supplementation carries risks.
Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.