As we get older, it’s common to notice hair thinning or breaking more easily, while nails become brittle or prone to splitting or peeling. Some of this is natural with aging, but unhealthy nails and hair can indicate nutrient deficiencies or underlying health issues. Here’s why you might experience unhealthy hair or nails, and what you can do about it.
Many factors affect the health of your nails and hair, so it can be hard to discern what’s causing the weakness or dryness you observe. While some causes are out of your control—like age or genetic predisposition—other causes can be addressed. If you’re noticing unhealthy strands or fingernails, it’s time to look into potential reasons.
1. Insufficient Collagen
Collagen is a building block for your hair and nails, so declining collagen levels can cause weak, peeling, or splitting nails as well as brittle hair and hair loss. Studies show a connection between lack of collagen and hair follicle regeneration, with positive results for hair loss from collagen supplementation.
2. Environmental Stressors
The free radicals that damage your skin’s structural integrity can cause the same problems for your hair and nails. Collagen helps protect your cells from free radical damage, so declining collagen can mean your body can’t fight off the harmful effects of free radical damage.
3. Emotional or Physical Stress
Stress wreaks havoc on your body in various ways. We know stress negatively impacts skin, but it can also lead to weak nails and hair loss. There’s evidence that stress can cause hair to go into the telogen phase, meaning it begins to fall out and doesn’t grow back for six to nine months. Many people also experience telogen effluvium, or excessive hair loss, after pregnancy, surgery, profound weight loss, or while recovering from a severe illness. Proper nutrient consumption can help fight these symptoms.
4. Nutrient Deficiencies
Your fingernails and hair need sufficient nutrient stores to grow well and remain healthy. When you’re deficient in certain nutrients, you’ll see your nails and hair struggle to grow and retain adequate moisture, further exacerbating brittleness or breakage.
What Nutrients Are Required for Healthy Hair and Nails?
Producing strong, healthy hair and nails requires sufficient stores of collagen and supporting nutrients in the body. Without adequate nutrients, your body can feel stressed and you could experience hair loss and breakage, and weak, brittle nails. These nutrients are essential for strong, healthy nails and hair.
- Protein – provides essential amino acids for collagen, elastin, and keratin—the building blocks of hair and nails
- Iron – helps strengthen nails and prevent hair loss
- Vitamin C – helps the body absorb iron, fight free radicals, and build collagen
- Omega Fats – help cell membranes function properly and help hair and nails retain hydration
- Zinc – essential for the creation of collagen and other structural proteins
How Nails and Hair Grow, and How Collagen Fits In
Although hair and nail growth can seem mysterious, it’s not a complicated process. Your nails grow from a small pocket under your skin called the matrix, which constantly makes new keratin cells. The new cells pack the old cells together, where they harden and push up through the skin. Once you can see your nails, those cells are no longer living, which is why cutting your nails is painless.
Your hair grows similarly, beginning from a small pocket in your skin called the follicle. It starts growing from a group of protein cells called the root. The blood vessels in your scalp feed the root, creating more keratin cells, which makes your hair grow. The hair then pushes up through the skin. Like your nails, the cells die before reaching the skin’s surface, which is why cutting your hair doesn’t hurt.
Collagen is the building block for much of your body, providing structural integrity and resiliency to your skin, bones, connective tissues, hair, and nails. Collagen is essential for keratin production, so when collagen levels decline, your nails and hair aren’t as strong. Moreover, studies show that insufficient collagen levels near hair follicle stem cells are linked to hair loss, showing how vital adequate collagen levels are to the health of your hair and nails.
Collagen Supplements Can Improve the Look of Your Nails and Hair
Declining collagen levels have a major impact on the health and durability of your hair and nails. Thankfully, collagen supplements can replenish collagen levels in your body, reinforcing the strength and health of your hair and nails. Collagen also helps your body produce keratin more efficiently and since your hair and nails are made primarily of keratin, this means healthier-feeling nails and hair. Additionally, your nail beds and hair follicles require healthy blood flow to create new cells, and because collagen supports blood circulation in your body, improved collagen levels help keep your follicles and nail beds healthy and productive.
When you’re researching collagen supplements to improve the health and strength of your hair and nails, look for a supplement that incorporates bioavailable collagen and other nutrients necessary for healthy nails and hair.