WHY DO HAIR, SKIN, AND NAILS MATTER?
In today’s visual world, a lot of judgments are made based on how things are presented. While looks are not always the best indicator of truth, in the case of skin, hair, and nails, visual beauty is often directly correlated with good health. Changes in skin, hair, or nail composition is often an early indicator of disease or an underlying vitamin deficiency (1).
We don’t often give much thought to our skin, other than the occasional wish that it was clearer, not so splotchy, or wrinkly. The skin, however, is one of the largest organs in the body in surface area and weight. Its main functions are to protect, regulate, and sense the things around us (2). Without our skin, we would not be able to regulate our body temperature and our bodies would constantly be too hot or cold for organ survival. Our veins, muscles, and organs, would be exposed and most likely damaged from even the simplest of our day to day activities. Our skin is a vital component for our survival, and as such, we need to keep it as healthy as possible.
Our hair is the only organ in our bodies that consistently undergoes lifelong cycles of rapid regrowth (3). It is constantly repairing itself and, under normal conditions, lost strands of hair are continually replaced with new ones. We have many different types of hair on our bodies and the location of each hair correlates with its function. The soft fine hairs that cover our bodies serve as sensors for our brain. These hairs are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, as well as touch, so they can alert the brain of any dangers (4).
Healthy looking hair can be a good indicator of good health. Malnutrition, congenital heart disease, neuromuscular disease, chronic illnesses, malignancy, alcoholism, and advanced age can cause hair to weaken, change color, or fall out. When the body is under high amounts of stress, either from disease or anxiety, it redirects nutrients and energy away from lower priority systems to the vital organs. This often means that the hair, skin, and nails are last to be taken care of, which is why they are the first indicators of disease or nutrient deficiencies. While not all hair issues are caused by malnutrition or disease, they can be invaluable in helping to correctly diagnose certain problems.
Our hair is also made up of a structural protein called keratin, this is the same type of protein that makes up the nails and the outer layer of skin. Keratin also protects our skin cells from damage or stress (5). Certain vitamins, minerals and amino-acids, like vitamin C, biotin, vitamin B7 and sulfur, are crucial to the metabolic pathways involved in keratin protein metabolism (1). Thus, a balanced diet containing these substances is necessary for healthy hair. Individuals who have an imbalanced diet and low levels of keratin often suffer from brittle, weak, and slow growing hair.
The purpose of our fingernails is to protect the fingertips and the surrounding soft tissues from injuries. They also serve to enhance precise delicate movements of the fingers (6). Problems with our fingernails are often the first indication that something is wrong with our bodies. Very pale nails can be a sign of serious illness, such as anemia, congestive heart failure, liver disease, and malnutrition. One of the most common causes of yellow nails is a fungal infection. As the infection worsens, the nail bed may retract, and the nail itself may thicken and crumble. In rare cases, yellow nails can indicate a more serious condition such as severe thyroid disease, lung disease, diabetes or psoriasis (7).
HAIR, SKIN, AND NAIL CONDITIONS
There are over a hundred different types of health conditions that affect our hair, skin, and nails. Most of these are due to vitamin deficiencies and diseases, while others have a strong genetic component. Some conditions are the result of an allergy to a pharmaceutical drug and disappear after the cause has been identified and eliminated (8). A few common hair, skin and nails conditions are:
- Skin cancer
- Brittle hair
- Thinning hair
- Dry and flaky skin
- Red splotchy skin
- Cold Sores
- Dry, cracked, and brittle nails
For more information on hair, skin, or nail conditions: 1. Talk to your doctor
SOME MEDICAL TREATMENTS OF HAIR, SKIN, AND NAIL CONDITIONS
Minoxidil (Rogaine): Minoxidil is an over-the-counter liquid or foam that is rubbed into the scalp twice a day to grow hair and to prevent further hair loss. It may be used by men and women. With this treatment, some people experience hair regrowth, a slower rate of hair loss or both. The effect peaks at 16 weeks but continued application of the medication is needed to retain benefits. Possible side effects include scalp irritation, unwanted hair growth on the adjacent skin of the face and hands, and rapid heart rate (tachycardia) (9).
Finasteride (Propecia): This prescription drug is available only to men. It’s taken daily in pill form. Many men taking finasteride experience a slowing of hair loss, and some may show some new hair growth. Like minoxidil, this drug also has to be taken consistently to retain its benefits. Rare side effects of finasteride include diminished sex drive and sexual function and an increased risk of prostate cancer. Women who are or may be pregnant need to avoid touching crushed or broken tablets (9).
Hair Loss Surgery: Hair loss often occurs on the top of the head. In the case of surgery, a surgeon removes tiny plugs of skin, each containing a few hairs, from the back or sides of the scalp. These plugs are then implanted into the bald sections of the scalp. These procedures are expensive and are often painful. Possible risks include infection and scarring (9).
Accutane: Accutane is a powerful and potent drug used to treat acne. Side effects include: chapped lips, dry skin, itching, nosebleeds, irritation of the eyelids and eyes, joint and muscle pain, temporary hair thinning, rash, intestinal symptoms, urinary symptoms, headache, increased sensitivity to the sun, decreased night vision, depression, suicidal thoughts, and severe birth defects (10).
NATURAL WAYS TO SUPPORT HAIR, SKIN, AND NAIL HEALTH
Biotin: Biotin is part of the vitamin B complex, and is necessary for the metabolism of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. A deficiency in biotin can cause brittle hair, skin rashes, and hair loss. Biotin occurs naturally in cereal-grain products, liver, egg yolk, soy flour, and yeast (1).
Collagen: Collagen is the main structural protein found in skin and other connective tissues. This is what helps give our skin its elasticity and strength. As we get older the production of collagen slows down, which results in wrinkles, saggy skin, and joint pain. Smoking, sun exposure, and diets that are high in sugar can deplete collagen levels within our body (11). In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study researchers investigated the effect of collagen in women aged 35-55 years. The study found that 2.5-5 grams of collagen hydrolysate taken once daily for eight weeks resulted in improved skin elasticity and skin moisture, a decrease in skin water loss (dryness) and skin roughness, all with little to no side effects (12).
MSM: MSM is an organic sulfur compound from lignin that is used to restore healthy tissues within our bodies. In the case of hair, skin, and nails MSM is believed to reduce inflammation and help with skin discoloration, skin allergies, wrinkle prevention, scar formation, dark spots, sun damage, and wound healing. MSM can improve skin’s tone, reduce redness and ease sensitivity (13).
Turmeric: Turmeric is the spice in curry that gives it its yellow color. Studies have shown that turmeric may help fight infections (i.e. bacterial acne) and some cancers, reduce inflammation, and treat digestive problems. Turmeric helps increase blood circulation and thus helps to keep our hair, skin, and nails healthy by bringing oxygen and nutrients to our cells (14).
- Nutrition and hair health. The Trichological Society. http://www.hairscientists.org/hair-and-scalp-conditions/nutrition-and-hair-health. Accessed February 27, 2018.
- Structure and function of the skin. CliniMed. http://www.clinimed.co.uk/Wound-Care/Education/Wound-Essentials/Structure-and-Function-of-the-Skin.aspx. Accessed February 27, 2018.
- Krause K, Foitzik K. Biology of the hair follicle: the basics. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2006;25(1):2-10.
- McAdams M. What is the function of human hair? LiveStrong.com. 2017. https://www.livestrong.com/article/76153-function-human-hair/. Accessed February 27, 2018.
- Hair structure and hair life cycle. Follicle.com. https://web.archive.org/web/20110303132725/http://www.follicle.com/hair-structure-life-cycle.html. Accessed February 27, 2018.
- Nail (anatomy). Wikipedia 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nail_(anatomy). Accessed February 27, 2018.
- Pictures of what your nails say about your health: ridges, spots, lines, bumps, and more. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/ss/slideshow-nails-and-health. Accessed February 27, 2018.
- Skin, hair, and nail disorders. Complete Home Medical Guide. Dorling Kindersley Limited. 2010. https://www.aviva.co.uk/health-insurance/home-of-health/medical-centre/medical-encyclopedia/entry/skin-hair-and-nail-disorders/. Accessed February 27, 2018.
- Hair loss. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hair-loss/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20372932. Accessed February 28, 2018.
- Accutane. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. http://www.aocd.org/page/Accutane. Accessed February 28, 2018.
- Munoz K. What is collagen? 7 ways collagen can boost your health. 2017. https://draxe.com/what-is-collagen/. Accessed February 28, 2018.
- Proksch E, Segger D, Degwert J, Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(1):47-55. doi:10.1159/000351376.
- Babcock J. MSM supplement improves joints, allergies and gut health. 2018. https://draxe.com/msm-supplement/. Accessed February 28, 2018.
- Turmeric. University of Maryland Alternative Medicine Guide. Retrieved February 28, 2018.