Beauty from the inside out

More consumers are looking for natural solutions to problems with their hair and skin. Sarah Callard explores whether beauty really does come from within.

Our hair, skin and nails are on show every day and we want them to look their best. They are also a very good indicator of how we feel inside as well as our general health and wellbeing.

More people are looking for natural ways to boost the health and appearance of hair, skin and nails from within, as well as to address problems such as hair loss and acne, which can cause stress and embarrassment to sufferers.

There is a group of key nutrients which work on all three areas: hair, skin and nails. Silica is one of these, because it forms part of all connective tissue cells. Collagen is another all-rounder nutrient, and is responsible for suppleness, strength and flexibility. It also helps to build keratin, which is the protein nails and hair are made from.

A healthy diet is, of course, vital for healthy hair, skin and nails and, as Cathy Robinson, nutritional therapist at Higher Nature explains, protein is key. “One really important aspect is to get enough protein, which is the building block for skin, hair and nails. If protein is low in the diet, many people find that nails will split or crack,” she says, adding: “Good protein sources include white meat, oily fish, nuts, seeds, eggs and tofu.”

Hair today

Shona Wilkinson, head nutritionist at the Nutri Centre, says a lot of their  customers are concerned about their hair. “Hair loss is a common concern with women and it’s important to find the cause for it – it may be lack of iron, thyroid problems or perhaps stress.”

“Once you have ascertained the cause you can consider how best to approach the problem and which supplements to take,” she explains.

Robinson agrees that hair loss is a real concern for men, and increasingly, women. One of the side effects of ageing is hair loss, and a significant number of women also experience this at some stage in their lives.

“Often people complain that their skin and hair are dull and that their hair is thinner than before,” says Robinson, who recommends that sufferers “combine a quality shampoo containing all-natural ingredients, which is gentle on the scalp with supplements to feed hair from within.”

Lots of formulations designed for hair, skin and nail health contain the herb horsetail which is a natural form of silica. These include Biocare’s Hair & Nail Complex, Viridian’s Ultimate Beauty Complex and Terra Nova’s Beauty Complex.

Other vital nutrients for healthy hair include vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, biotin, vitamins C, D and E, zinc and MSM, which is sometimes known as the ‘beauty nutrient’. Hair-Vit from Higher Nature combines all the B vitamins with other hair-healthy nutrients such as zinc and iron. And A Vogel’s Hair Complex combines zinc with millet seeds, nettle, and brewer’s yeast powder to help maintain healthy hair.

“Iron is really important, especially for hair,” says Alison Cullen, education manager at A Vogel. “B vitamins are important because they counter the effects of stress,” she adds.

“Antioxidants protect collagen from damage and help the skin maintain its elasticity and youthfulness.”

Combination formulas

There are lots of products available that are designed to improve hair, skin and nails in one, such as Nature’s Plus Hair Skin & Nails; Biocare’s Hair & Nail Complex and Solgar’s Hair, Skin and Nails Formula. These products focus on  providing a range of essential nutrients for healthy hair, skin and nails.

Nature’s Answer’s Platinum Liquid Hair, Skin & Nails provides key herbs and vitamins selected for their support including biotin, zinc and horsetail. And Terra Nova’s Beauty Complex, also from Kinetic, combines the herbs gotu kola – which is known to help the production of collagen which is vital for skin, nails and hair health – alongside the herb horsetail, a herb naturally rich in silica. Kordel’s Silica 2500 Plus is designed specifically for healthy hair and also contains the herb horsetail.

Other products including Pharma Nord’s Bio-MSM, Higher Nature’s Nails & Hair Formula and Solgar’s Hair, Skin and Nails Formula, all provide silica alongside nutrients such as zinc and MSM or sulphur. Women’s Ultra Hair Plus from Nature’s Plus combines MSM with flax extract, turmeric and ginkgo biloba to boost the thickness and strength of hair.

“Organic sulphur is a key constituent in the extra cellular matrix, the mesh-like structure that holds all tissues in shape,” explains Dale Pinnock from Viridian. “Ensuring an adequate intake of this nutrient can help to keep the extra cellular matrix sturdy, helping skin hold its structure,” he adds.

Digestive aids

Stress, toxins and poor circulation can all affect the appearance and texture of our hair and skin. Herbs like horsetail and the Ayurvedic herb gotu kola can really boost the strength and overall health of hair, skin and nails, but often there is something else at the root of the problem: poor digestive health.

Cathy Robinson from Higher Nature says it is vital that people get enough protein in their diets because it is “the building block for skin, hair and nails.”

She adds: “Of course, protein must be digested properly in order for it to be of any use; this is one of the reasons good digestion is so vital for skin, hair and nail health. If our digestive system is not functioning well, a digestive enzyme supplement might be beneficial to help break down the protein in the diet.”

Alison Cullen agrees with the importance of getting enough protein and maintaining a healthy digestive system for clear, problem-free skin. “Herbs that get the bowel moving are excellent, as poor bowel function can cause breakouts on the skin.”

Other herbs recommended by Cullen include Golden Rod, because it helps to flush out toxins, and centaurium, a bitter herb that stimulates the digestive system.

“Many people’s problems stem from poor digestion which causes bad bowel function and leads to poor absorption of nutrients from the diet,” says Cullen.

“There are lots of products designed to improve hair, skin and nails in one supplement.”

Skin deep

Women have always been concerned about the appearance of their skin and have sought ways to boost their complexions, whether it’s tackling acne,  reducing the appearance of lines, or combating the ageing process.

Pinnock says the key nutrients for building healthy skin include the right Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs).

“These compounds help regulate inflammation by delivering the building blocks that the body uses to manufacture its natural anti-inflammatory compounds.”

“This makes them a useful tool in the management of skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis.”

He adds that EFAs can also be beneficial for keeping skin soft and supple, maintaining the health of skin cells and generally helping it function better. “This will make the skin retain moisture more effectively and make topical products have a more pronounced effect.”

Pinnock also recommends carefully selcted antioxidants such as beta carotene and astaxanthin for improving skin health, which he says help to “protect collagen from damage, helping the skin maintain its elasticity and youthfulness.”

Viridian’s Ultimate Beauty Complex combines MSM, which is also beneficial for healthy skin because it helps to maintain the integrity of connective tissue, with effective antioxidants such as vitamin C, phytonutrients, silica and horsetail.

Bright eyes

Eyes suffer from stresses and strains just like the rest of our bodies, particularly if you spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer screen, which many of us do. Contact lens wearers may also suffer from dry, sore eyes.


Key nutrients for healthy eyes include the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are naturally occurring antioxidants obtained from green vegetables and plants like algae.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are incorporated into the retina of the eye and are thought to work by ‘mopping up’ the free radicals which can cause cellular damage.

There are various products designed to help with tired, strained eyes including Vitabiotics’ Visionace: a combination of antioxidant vitamins, bilberry extract, lutein, and minerals such as selenium and zinc.

Vitabiotics also recently launched a new product, Visionace Plus, which is a dual pack combining the standard Visionace supplement along with an omega 3 capsule providing essential fatty acids. Vitabiotics says it decided to launch this product because recent research indicates that omega 3 fatty acids may play an important role in maintaining eye health as we age.

Nature’s Answer Platinum Liquid eye care from Kinetic combines lutein with bilberry and minerals including zinc and selenium.

“This formula may help to prevent eye conditions such as macular degeneration, damaged retina and poor vision because it contains lutein and zeaxanthin,” explains Thierry Damour, technical trainer at Kinetic.

“The nutrients are combined in an easily-absorbable liquid formula which is know to enhance the delivery of nutrients to the body – this is ideal for the elderly as they often have more compromised digestive systems,” he adds.