Hair, skin, and nails. Peruse the aisles of your local drugstore and you may notice these three grouped together.
Likewise, if you’ve ever complained of a dull complexion, you may have noticed that your hair and nails were on the lackluster side too.
Have you ever wondered why this is?
Shiny hair, glowing skin, and strong nails are often seen as external symbols of health. But there’s more to it than that.
“You’ve probably heard it said that the skin is the largest organ in the body. Well, along with skin, the hair and nails are all a part of the integumentary system,” says Elizabeth Rimmer, founder and director of London Professional Aesthetics.
She says all three share a common constituent: keratinocytes.
“Keratinocytes grow from stem cells and produce and store keratin — a protein that makes our skin, hair, and nails not only tough but also water resistant,” Rimmer notes.
Now that you know how they’re linked, how can you actually improve your hair, skin and nail health? Read on to get the details.
You’ve likely heard the phrase “you are what you eat.” When it comes to your hair, skin, and nail health, there may be some truth to that statement.
In particular, researchers said poor intake or low absorption of certain vitamins and minerals may be the culprit.
These vitamins and minerals include:
“Layers of the skin are connected to a huge vascular network, and our hair follicles and roots are also fed by a blood supply we want to be nutrient rich,” explains Amir Sadri, M.D., a consultant plastic surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
These direct connections with the bloodstream mean the skin and hair are often the first place you can visibly see nutrient deficiencies.
Sadri says any factors that affect the hair will also affect the nails.
“This is because they’re both made from keratin,” he explains.
A healthy diet can improve your skin, hair and nail health. However, the importance of diet shouldn’t be overstated, as there will always be other factors at play.
These factors include genetics, general health status, and age.
However, Rimmer believes there are several ways to support hair, skin, and nail health through your diet.
a balanced diet containing lots of colors and textures is best. She also says increasing you protein and iron intake is key.
“Protein helps with new cell generation and will benefit as an all rounder,” she explains.
“Iron is another building block for the integumentary system and it’s abundant in red meat. If you are vegetarian or vegan then max out your diet with pulses (beans and lentils) to ensure you’re getting your recommended daily amount,” Rimmer suggests.
However, it’s important not to take an iron supplement without speaking with your healthcare professional first. Iron supplements can lead to constipation and, less commonly, iron poisoning.
As for foods and drinks you should aim to limit?
“Drinking too much alcohol and eating highly processed, sugary, and fatty food is not good for your skin, hair, and nails,” says Savas Altan, medical aesthetic at Vera Clinic.“Over time, alcohol consumption can cause dry, brittle, breaking hair, and cause excessive hair loss.”
Likewise, Altan says excess sugar in the diet can encourage the degradation of collagen and elastin in your skin. This can prompt a loss of firmness and elasticity long-term, causing sagging and wrinkles on the skin.
We know a good night’s sleep is certainly great for your energy levels, but does sleeping soundly benefit your hair, skin, and nails too?
“While you’re sleeping your body is busy recovering,” says Rimmer. “Collagen production increases, peaking within the first few hours of sleep.”
That said, a lack of sleep may affect your hair, skin, and nails even more.
“You could argue that the hair, skin, and nails are last in the queue to benefit from lifestyle factors,” says Rimmer. “They’ll also be the first to deteriorate with sleep deprivation.”
Sadri adds that a lack of sleep can cause a rise in stress hormone cortisol which interferes with our body’s ability to mend itself overnight.
In turn, this can cause brittle nails, skin inflammation, and impact hair growth.
You’ve probably been told to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. However, Rimmer says sleep needs can vary from individual to individual, so you may feel you need less or more.
If you’re sleeping soundly and you eat well, what else can you do to improve the condition of your hair, skin, and nails? There are many at-home and in-salon solutions you can try.
Rimmer recommends looking for products that contain ketoconazole.
“It’s an ingredient in shampoo used to treat fungal infections, but it can also be useful for those with thinning hair,” she says. It’s “commonly prescribed as a first line supplement to help with thinning hair. There have been studies to demonstrate a thickening of the hair shaft and number of hairs” with it’s use.
Sadri also recommends looking for products with the following ingredients:
They keep your scalp healthy and nourish your hair follicles, he says.
These are often found in shampoos and are used to create a lather. According to Rimmer, they can irritate the scalp and negatively impact hair growth.
“The ‘go to’ essentials for skin include a facial cleanser used morning and night for a full minute, rinsed away with tepid water, and patted dry with kitchen paper, keeping the skin oil and debris free,” says Rimmer.
What products you use will mostly depend on your skin type. However, Rimmer says every skin care routine should include SPF. She says an oil-free SPF should be applied every day regardless of the weather forecast.
Lastly, Rimmer recommends retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, that refines skin texture and improves uneven skin tone.
Oil is a popular ingredient in skin care products. However, Rimmer believes it may be best avoided if you have breakout-prone skin.
“I know there are lots of celebrities who endorse the use of oil, but for me it’s a big no,” she says. “In my opinion, it only serves to increase the likelihood of breakouts and problem pigmentation and doesn’t serve the health of your skin.”
“The constant exposure to weather and water (not to mention ingredients in soaps and alcohol rubs) leaves cuticles dry and brittle,” says Rimmer.
Her advice? Massage a drop of paraben-free nail oil into your cuticle.
“This helps to mitigate against trauma and the temptation to pick at those hard dry bits of skin,” she explains.
If you’re looking for a good all-rounder, Rimmer says a nightly collagen supplement drink can help hair, skin, and nails all in one go.
Avoid: Using polish without a break
“I would always recommend giving your nails a regular break from wearing polish, whether it’s gel or normal,” Rimmer advises. “Allowing time for your nails to be exposed will result in healthier nails.”
At the salon, Sadri advises asking your stylist for treatments that contain keratin.
“Keratin is a type of protein that helps to strengthen hair, thus preventing breakage, heat damage, and frizz,” he explains. “It makes the hair smooth and silky.”
For a firmer, more youthful complexion, Rimmer recommends microneedling.
“Using a device with tiny hair-like needles designed to puncture only the surface of the skin is a way to trick your skin into producing more collagen and elastin,” she explains. “Many treatments will incorporate a vitamin serum that will be pushed into the skin as the device works around the face.”
Rimmer believes indulging in regular, high-end manicures is the best gift you can give your hands.
“Look for salons who offer medical pedicures for the ultimate manicure that’s gentle but gets results,” she advises.
Some examples of conditions affecting hair, skin, and nail health include:
If you have any of these or another condition affecting your hair, skin, and nails, it’s a good idea to check with your medical practitioner before using any new treatments.
“These conditions are all potential indicators of underlying disease and would require a medical assessment to investigate and a treatment plan provided by a healthcare professional,” says Rimmer.
Your hair, skin, and nail health can be affected by a range of lifestyle factors, including nutritional deficiencies and poor sleep quality.
The good news? Eating a well-balanced diet and getting a restful night’s sleep can improve the health of your hair, skin, and nails.
If shiny hair, glowing skin, and strong nails are your goal, there are plenty of treatments you can try at home and in the salon too.
Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.
Last medically reviewed on September 1, 2022