Our skin, hair and nails are constantly growing and renewing themselves. Many nutrients are needed for this to happen. Here we’ll look at the way the skin, hair and nails grow and repair in order to understand the nutritional requirements of each and how to ensure the optimal health of these structures.
The skin has 3 main layers; the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous layers.
The epidermis is the top, visible layer of skin which serves as a protective barrier. The thickest layer of epidermis is on the palms of our hands and soles of our feet where maximum protection is needed. The top layer of the epidermis is made up of thin, dead cells composed of the protein keratin. These cells are continually being replaced.
The dermis is located below the epidermis and is where most of the skin’s functions take place. It is composed of connective tissue made up of collagen and elastic fibres. Within these layers are nerve endings, sweat glands and sebaceous glands as well as hair follicles and blood and lymph vessels.
The subcutaneous layer is below the dermis and contains fat and connective tissue.
Signs and Symptoms of Skin Damage
The skin can be damaged through physical trauma as in wounds, rashes and infections. Inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can be inherited and may become chronic. Many people suffer from acne at some point in their lives.
Signs of ageing often occur on the skin. Environmental factors including smoking and excessive exposure to sunlight and sun-beds are likely to lead to accelerated ageing.
Hair is largely made of the protein keratin. Hair formation, growth and shedding follows a growth cycle with three phases:
The anagen phase, the growth phase, in which hair grows approximately 1cm a month. It can last from 3-5 years. About 85%–90% of the hairs on one's head are in this phase at any given time.
The catagen phase, or the transitional phase, which allows the follicle to renew itself. This phase lasts about two weeks. About 1% of the hair is in this phase at any given time
The telogen phase, also known as the resting or shedding phase.10-15% of the hairs on one's head are in this phase at any given time. Eventually the hair base breaks free leading to normal hair loss known as shedding.
Signs and Symptoms of Hair Damage
Hair can be damaged through exposure to sunlight, pollutants, chemicals, over brushing, drying, curling and straightening. Excessive hair loss can occur due to poor diet, physical trauma to the hair, emotional trauma, surgery, chemotherapy, crash diets, thyroid problems and post childbirth; in most cases hair will re-grow. Hormone related hair loss can impact both men and women, with male pattern baldness tending to be genetic. Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. Grey hair is usually associated with ageing. Anaemia, thyroid conditions, vitamin B12 deficiency, and vitiligo may all lead to premature greying.
The nail plate is made of keratin. Nail growth relies upon the matrix underneath the nail called the mantle which supplies the nail with blood and nutrients. Nails grow approximately 2 to 3 mm per month, with complete replacement achieved in 6 to 9 months. Toenails grow more slowly than fingernails. Chronic poor circulation may affect the quality of the nails.
Signs and Symptoms of Nail Damage
Fungal nail infections cause a white or yellow discolouration and crumbling nails. White spots on the nails are known as leukonychia and may be a sign of minor injury at the base of the nail or may indicate deficiencies in zinc or calcium.
Iron deficiency and anaemia can cause the nail to appear pale and it may even become concave. Horizontal marks may indicate a previous illness or infection. Pitted nails are often associated with psoriasis. Vertical marks on the nails may occur with ageing and may indicate an overgrowth of keratin or physical trauma particularly where hands are frequently exposed to water and household chemicals.
Nourishing the Skin, Hair and Nails from Within
For healthy skin, hair and nails be sure to eat a good quality, nutrient rich diet, take regular exercise and get adequate sleep. Virtually every nutritional deficiency can affect the health of the skin, hair and nails but there are certain nutrients that are particularly protective. Tom Oliver’s Skin, Hair & Nail Complex contains:
Vitamin A – a fat-soluble vitamin necessary for the growth of healthy skin and hair and for the repair of body tissues. Vitamin A deficiency is linked to increased susceptibility to skin infections and inflammatory skin diseases.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) - important for the maintenance and repair of all body tissues. It is involved in sebum production in the skin and may be beneficial for those with acne.
Vitamin B6 – improves hair condition and reduces hair loss in some types of alopecia.
Vitamin B12 – deficiency may result in hyperpigmentation, hair and nail changes, vitiligo, atopic dermatitis, and acne.
Vitamin D – has anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties, and is involved in the regulation of keratinocyte differentiation and proliferation.
Vitamin E – an important antioxidant involved in healing and repair of body tissues. Vitamin E supplementation may be used to prevent and treat atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and sun damage.
Biotin – contributes to the maintenance of normal skin, hair and nails. Maybe beneficial for brittle nail syndrome, and seborrhoeic dermatitis.
Calcium – the process of differentiation and proliferation of keratinocytes is regulated by calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is also one of components of the nails.
Copper – involved in the formation of connective tissue, a modulator of inflammation and plays a role in the pigmentation of the hair, skin, and eyes.
Iron – an essential nutrient for oxygen metabolism and mitochondrial function, iron is also involved in the normal growth and maturation of the skin and in the health of hair and nails. Iron deficiency maybe associated with some types of dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis.
Zinc – needed for the growth and maintenance of skin, hair and nails as well as protecting cells from oxidative stress.
Horsetail – a key source of silica which is concentrated in skin, hair and nails.
L-lysine – supplementation with L-lysine and iron may reduce hair loss. Lysine may also help to counteract cold sores.
Complementary supplements that may improve the health of the hair, skin and nails include:
Vitamin C – contributes to collagen formation and is needed for the normal function of blood vessels and skin. Also an important antioxidant that aids healing.
MSM – methyl sulphonyl methane is an organic form of sulphur. Sulphur is vital for the formation of keratin, collagen and elastin.
Omega 3 oils – have anti-inflammatory effects on skin diseases. Supplementation with omega 3 may protect against UV light and support the treatment of acne. Omega 3 fats may also protect against hair loss and improve hair density.
Protein – the amino acids found in protein are the building blocks for the proteins found in the skin, hair and nails including collagen and keratin. Tom Oliver’s range includes whey protein and vegan protein powders.