Secrets to Healthy Hair, Skin, and Nails

Frustrated with lackluster hair, dry skin, and brittle nails? You are not alone. There is a multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry built on your hopes and dreams of shiny hair, strong nails, and supple, hydrated skin. But do the potions and tonics you apply to your tresses leave them dull and lifeless? Are your nails prone to splitting and cracking? Are your knees ashy an hour after applying lotion? There’s a reason why.
The products you use every day might be doing more harm than good. Cosmetic products are often loaded with harmful chemicals and toxins that detract from your health and appearance. Fortunately, the secret to beautiful hair, skin, and nails is simpler than you might think. Like so many other aspects of your health, your diet and lifestyle are major determinants of your appearance. Keep reading to find out how to improve and maintain strength and shine for a lifetime.

Watch What You Eat

Don’t underestimate the role a healthy diet plays in how you look. Vitamin C is crucial to maintaining your skin’s collagen and elasticity. Nutrition is vital to maintaining healthy-looking hair, skin, and nails. In fact, some of the first symptoms of nutritional deficiencies like B-12 are thinning, dry hair and thin, brittle nails. Too little zinc, biotin, or iodine might affect the appearance and integrity of your hair and nails. Make sure you eat a diverse range of healthy, colorful foods every day to get these essential nutrients.
If you consume alcohol often, keep in mind that alcohol also prematurely ages the skin and leads to wrinkles, hives, spider veins, cherry angiomas, psoriasis, and skin discoloration.

Sweat It Out

Diet is far from the only influence on your appearance. Exercise is another way to help you maintain a radiant complexion. In addition to helping keep your telomeres long, researchers have found that regular exercise encourages younger looking skin. You can also benefit from detoxing your skin by hitting the dry sauna or taking in a hot yoga class. Just make sure to rinse off afterward.

Reassess Your Beauty Routine

Your styling habits are a major influence on your appearance, and that includes the cosmetics you use. You might already know this if you’ve mistakenly over-processed your nails, leaving them brittle and prone to cracking and breaking. Your styling habits are a major influence on your appearance, and that includes the cosmetics you use. Harsh chemicals and procedures dry, damage, and otherwise compromise the appearance and integrity of hair, skin, and nails. To keep your outermost layers hydrated, supple, and vibrant, you need to treat your body right. If you’re looking to improve a certain area, natural products can help you address gaps in your routine. Make sure you choose natural, organic, non-toxic products.
Harmful compounds and additives in beauty products can compromise your long-term health. The preservatives and plasticizers in your nail polish may affect your DNA and hormones. Avoid anything labeled “fragrance,” this term is unregulated and could mean almost any chemical. Look out for carcinogenic preservatives like formaldehyde, BHA, BHT, and coal tar in your beauty products as well as synthetic endocrine disruptors like parabens, perfluorinated chemicals, and triclosan.
Consider how your cosmetics contribute to your appearance, not just immediately but over time. Are your cleansers nourishing or are they stripping the natural oils from your skin and hair? The heat and chemical processing you put your hair and nails through takes a toll on their strength. Over time they become brittle, dry and prone to breakage. Even worse, some hair dyes are known carcinogens.

Don’t Skimp on the Beauty Sleep

Prioritize sleep. Your overloaded schedule probably eats into the only “spare” time you have: your beauty sleep. And those dark under-eye circles are the least of your worries. You can see the proof looking back at you in the mirror after a rough night’s sleep. Missing out on a few hours of sleep sets off a cascade of hormonal changes that negatively affect how your cells function and how you feel throughout the day.
Give yourself a realistic bedtime. Put your tablet down, charge your phone, close your laptop, and turn off the television a couple of hours before your bedtime to get your mind ready for sleep.

Protect Your Skin From Environmental Damage

Overexposure to the sun, smoke, airborne toxins, and the chlorine in water can lead to a loss of luster and elasticity that ages your appearance. Freezing cold weather tends to be dry, leading to cracked, even bleeding, hands, lips, and cuticles.
Smoking is one of the surest ways to age your skin. Exposure to tobacco smoke decreases your production of collagen and damages your skin’s elasticity.

Natural Self Care

If you want to take better care of yourself, start exploring natural ways to keep your routine. I know beauty products are expensive. You don’t have to throw out your entire makeup bag today-start small. Swap in new, natural products whenever you run low on your normal cosmetics. Work your way through your hair, skin, and nail care products and rituals.
Consider dry brushing before your next shower. Dry brushing will help loosen dead skin and push your lymph fluid back into circulation. When you bathe, limit your exposure to excessively hot water in the shower. The next time you bathe, ask yourself if you’re washing your hair and skin out of habit, or if you genuinely need to wash, rinse, and repeat. You might just need a thorough rinse rather than a good scrubbing. For healthy nails, try to limit your showers to 15 minutes to keep your nails strong. Excessively long showers temporarily oversaturate nails and make them more prone to bending and tearing. Immediately after bathing, make sure you moisturize with organic products to seal in moisture. Don’t forget your hands, feet, and elbows.

Organic Beauty

Proper nutrition should be your first thought when you want to grow healthy hair, skin, and nails. B-complex vitamins are not only essential for overall health, but they’re also vital for nail and hair strength.
For truly remarkable hair, skin, and nails you should take an inside-out approach to beauty. Eat foods rich in beauty-boosting vitamins and take supplements to fill in the gaps. My favorite plant-based approach is taking our biotin supplement.

biotin for hair

Want Healthier Hair, Skin, And Nails?

Want more ways to get healthier hair, better skin, and stronger nails? Try these healthy, plant-based foods that are rich in biotin.

Biotin is a water-soluble, B-complex vitamin. It’s found in all living cells and is essential for cellular metabolism. Biotin is also known as vitamin H, coenzyme R, and vitamin B7. Confusingly, it is also sometimes called vitamin B8, but this is unofficial and relatively uncommon (B8 more often refers to inositol). Biotin is used by all living creatures—plants, animals, and even single-celled organisms.

In animals, biotin is essential for metabolizing proteins and converting sugar into usable energy. It’s necessary for hormone production and helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Biotin promotes healthy hair, skin, and nails. Mammals, including humans, cannot synthesize biotin and must obtain it from dietary sources.

Biotin deficiency is rare but dangerous. The vitamin is crucial for normal fetal development and a deficiency during pregnancy can result in birth defects. Symptoms of biotin deficiency include brittle nails, hair loss, muscle pain, nausea, fatigue, anemia, and dry skin.

Not All Sources of Biotin Are Equal

There are two forms of biotin found in living cells: free and protein-bound. The latter is just what it sounds like—biotin bound to protein. It’s mostly found in bacteria and animal cells. Free biotin, which is not bound to a protein, is more common in plants.

The human body can use both forms of biotin, but free biotin is more immediately bioavailable. With protein-bound biotin, your body must break the bond to convert biotin into a form it can use. Free-biotin doesn’t require this step—it’s easily absorbed and utilized in the body. Due to their high free biotin content, plant-based foods are generally better dietary sources of the vitamin than animal-based foods.

Protein-Bound Biotin Sources

Many foods contain some biotin, but the concentration in most is negligible from a nutritional standpoint. Other foods have very high biotin content. Organ meats, like kidneys and liver, are the most concentrated dietary source. Milk, dairy products, and seafood are other rich, animal-derived sources. Although egg yolks have a high concentration of biotin, they also contain a chemical that interferes with biotin absorption. A diet high in egg whites can actually lead to biotin deficiency.

If you must consume animal products, at least opt for organic whenever possible. This can mitigate, though not eliminate, some of the many health risks associated with the consumption of meat and dairy.

Plant-Based Biotin Foods

Although many types of animal-sourced food contain biotin, it’s protein-bound biotin. Plants contain free biotin, which is more bioavailable. This means that getting enough biotin from a vegan diet is achievable. Considering the multitude of other health benefits associated with a plant-based diet, it’s also the healthiest choice.

As we’ve only recently begun to understand the importance of biotin, nutritional experts are still refining accurate methods for measuring biotin concentration in food. As such, estimates of biotin content vary greatly for some foods and are completely lacking for many others. After exhaustive research, we’ve compiled this list of the best biotin foods.

1. Nuts

Although biotin concentration varies by the type of nut, nuts, in general, are one of the best dietary sources of free biotin. One hundred grams of pecans contains about 28 micrograms (mcg) of biotin; the same amount of peanuts or walnuts contains almost 37 mcg. Nuts are also a great source of energy, omega fatty acids, and other heart-healthy nutrients.

2. Sunflower Seeds

Heart-healthy, high in magnesium, and rich in antioxidants, a handful of sunflower seeds makes a great snack. They’re also an excellent source of biotin. One hundred grams of sunflower seeds contains 66 mcg of the vitamin.

3. Legumes

Legumes are another excellent source of biotin, especially green peas. Peas have 40 mcg of biotin per 100 grams when fresh and 70 mcg when dried; lentils offer 40 mcg of biotin. Even better, legumes are high in folic acid and enhance digestion.

4. Cauliflower

As a cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower is great for detoxing the liver and it’s loaded with healthy nutrients, one of which is biotin. A single serving of cauliflower offers 5% of your daily biotin requirement. Cauliflower is also high in vitamin C and many other health-promoting compounds. Not only is it great as a raw snack, but there are also many cauliflower recipes you can enjoy.

5. Bananas

Generally speaking, most types of fruit are not a very good source of biotin. Bananas are an exception. One, average-sized, peeled banana (about 100 grams) contains 1.18 mcg of biotin. Bananas are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, C, and B6.

6. Cereals

Many cereal grains are a good source of biotin. Rice bran has a particularly high concentration, 66 mcg per 100 grams. Barley and oatmeal offer 31 and 24 mcg, respectively.

7. Avocados

Avocados are more popular now than ever before and for good cause. In addition to their many positive qualities, avocados are also a decent source of biotin. One whole avocado contains 2-6 micrograms of the vitamin, so don’t be afraid to have a little more organic guacamole.

8. Other Good Sources of Biotin

There are many other good sources of biotin. Carrots, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, raspberries, and mushrooms can all contribute significantly to your daily biotin intake. Yeast also has an incredibly high biotin content, as do yeast-derived products like whole-grain bread.

Top Biotin Foods

Vegan Food Sources of Biotin
Food Biotin Content (mcg/100 grams)
Sunflower seeds 66
Rice Bran 66
Green peas, fresh 40
Green peas, dried 70
Lentils, fresh 40
Peanuts 37
Walnuts 37
Barley 31
Oatmeal 24
Pecans 28
Carrots 25
Cauliflower 17
Mushrooms 16
Avocados 4-12

How Much Biotin Do You Need?

Compared to other vitamins, much is still unknown about biotin. There is currently no official daily recommended intake of biotin and hypotheses of what it should vary drastically. The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends a daily allowance of as little as 30 micrograms. At the other end of the spectrum, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends a daily allowance ten times higher—300 micrograms for adults.

Based on my experience, I tend to believe that our biotin requirements are at the high end of that scale. As a water-soluble vitamin, biotin doesn’t accumulate in your body like a fat-soluble vitamin. That means you need to replenish your supply regularly. If you take in more than you need, your body will simply excrete the excess biotin through urine. Individual requirements vary, but I recommend using the following chart as a general frame of reference for your daily biotin intake:

Life Stage Adequate Intake (AI) for Biotin, Daily
Infants 50 mcg
Children under 4 150 mcg
Adults and Children Over 4 300 mcg

Generally speaking, adults need more biotin than children, and pregnant or breastfeeding women may need more than other adults. Many health conditions or deficiencies influence the amount of biotin you need. It’s best to consult your trusted healthcare professional for guidance with your personal biotin needs.

Incorporating Biotin into Your Diet

Biotin is present in a wide variety of food. With a little planning and reliance on the whole, real food, obtaining enough biotin through diet is achievable for most people. Biotin is also produced by the microflora in the gut, but it’s not known how much that contributes to meeting biotin requirements. Ultimately, the biotin produced by the beneficial microorganisms in the gut is added to the biotin obtained from food.

Because of its role in strengthening hair and nails, many types of shampoo and lotion boast about containing biotin. Be aware that this is just a marketing ploy. Biotin isn’t easily absorbed by hair or skin, so if there’s any biotin in these products you won’t receive its full effects. Ingestion is the most effective way to get biotin into your system.

Your Guide to Vegan Skin Care

Today it’s easier than ever to choose a lifestyle that aligns with your health goals and ethical choices. If you’re a vegetarian, you avoid meat and fish and opt instead for plant-based foods, dairy, and eggs. A vegan diet takes things a step further, eschewing all products associated with animals, including animal-derived ingredients like milk, eggs, and honey.

For homemade natural beauty recipes, which often use dairy as a base for creams and lotions, finding a non-animal option may seem tricky But we actually have quite a few plant-derived substances from which to choose, whether it’s agave, natural plant oils like olive or grape seed, or nut milk. These types of ingredients can help you maintain beautiful skin and healthy, shiny hair – without having to compromise your values. Here are a few all-natural, all- vegan recipes to get you started.

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Shea Butter Body Lotion

From the African shea tree {Vitellaria paradoxa, formerly Butyrospermum parkii}, shea butter is an ivory-colored natural fat used much like cocoa butter, with a mild, almost musty fragrance. In cosmetics, it acts as a moisturizer and emollient and also contains anti-inflammatory properties. It can treat all types of skin conditions, from scars to chapped lips, and it’s helpful in treating acne because it’s easily absorbed by the skin and leaves no sticky residue. It also provides mild UV protection from the sun {but should never serve as a replacement for your sunscreen}. You can find it in natural food stores in the skincare section.

1/2 cup distilled water

1/8 tsp borax powder

1/4 cup shea butter

1/2 cup almond oil

Bring water to a boil. Place borax powder in a clean, heat-proof bowl, and pour in the boiling water, stirring well. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl or saucepan, combine oil and shea butter and gently heat the mixture until melted, stirring to mix. Transfer this mixture into a blender or food processor and blend on low, slowly adding the hot water solution in a slow, steady stream. Then blend on high until well-mixed. You should have a milky-white lotion. Pour the mixture into a clean container to cool.

To Use Massage into skin. Yields: 6 ounces.

Plant-Based Lip Balm

Several plant oils and waxes work great as substitutes for beeswax or lanolin to soothe dry, cracked lips. The shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and castor oil in this recipe provides lips with natural shine and protection against the element.

1/2 tsp castor oil

1 tsp coconut oil

1 tsp shea butter

1/2 tsp cocoa butter

1-2 drops peppermint essential oil for flavor {optional}

In a heat-resistant bowl or small saucepan, combine all ingredients and gently heat until melted. {This may be done in the microwave, but be careful not to boil the mixture.} Stir well and pour into a small container. Let cool completely.

To Use Spread on your lips with a clean fingertip. Yield: .75 ounce.

Coconut Oil Body Polish

This scrub is perfect for skin that needs some exfoliation, but also a bit of TLC. The raw sugar exfoliates the skin while the coconut oil helps deeply condition it. After using this treatment, your skin should feel softer and smoother.

1 cup of raw sugar

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/2 tsp vitamin E oil

2-3 drops essential oil {lavender, rosemary, peppermint} optional

In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients and stir well. Spoon into a clean container.

To Use: Standing in the tub or shower, massage the mixture into your skin. {Be careful: the oil can make the tub slippery.} Rinse with warm water and pat your skin dry. Yield: 8 ounces.

Easy Dry Shampoo

Dry shampoos have become a popular alternative to regular “wet” shampoos, proving especially helpful after a workout during the day or when traveling. But spray-on dry shampoos can contain a wealth of questionable ingredients, when, in fact, all you really need is one tablespoon of either baking soda, cornstarch, or rice powder. That’s it…

To Use: Simply massage the powder directly onto your scalp and through your hair. You may want to lean over a sink as you apply the powder. Leave it on for at least 10 minutes, and then, using a clean, dry brush, vigorously brush your hair, using long strokes, to remove all of the powder.

Reading the Labels

Our skin is our largest organ, and what you use on it does affect your overall health. One advantage of making your own cosmetic products and treatments is that it puts you in control of the ingredients you use and apply to your skin. Of course, you don’t always have time to make all of your skincare products from scratch. So, knowing how to accurately read the labels of store-bought products becomes important.

To start, the term “natural” on the label is meaningless – there’s no authority that monitors this claim. Therefore, you really need to take an eagle eye to the back of the product. Ingredients are listed in order of percentage: if the first ingredient is water, that means water is the most prominent ingredient. You may see a product that boasts a desirable ingredient on the front label, only to find that it’s the last ingredient listed.

Some ingredients such as “sodium chloride” may sound scary {at least to those who’ve long forgotten their chemistry lessons}, but are, in fact, completely natural {sodium chloride is table salt}. Manufacturers often use scientific or Latin names for basic ingredients, but a quick search online can reveal the common name and whether it’s an ingredient you want to put on your skin.

Vegans may not realize that some of their favorite products actually contain ingredients they wish to avoid. Here’s a quick list of animal-derived substances.

  • Aspic: an industry alternative to gelatin; made from clarified meat or fish
  • Casein: a protein derived from milk
  • Cod liver oil: found in lubricating creams and lotions
  • Collagen: taken from the bones and connective tissues of animals; used in cosmetics to help skin retain water and keep it supple
  • Elastin: similar use as collagen; derived from the neck ligaments and aorta of cows
  • Gelatin/Gelatine: for smooth skin and to add gloss to hair; obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones from cows and pigs
  • Keratin: used for hair and as an anti-aging skin care ingredient; obtained from sheep wool or from the skin, hooves, and horns of animals
  • Lactose: a sugar derived from milk
  • Propolis: used for its antiviral and antimicrobial properties to treat breakouts and protect skin; created by bees in the construction of their hives
  • Royal Jelly: an anti-aging ingredient; comes from secretions of the throat gland of the honeybee
  • Shellac: found in hair lacquer; obtained from the bodies of the female scale insect, Tachardia lacca
  • Vitamin D3: found in creams, lotions, and other cosmetics; made from fish-liver oil
  • Whey: a byproduct of cheese making
  • Cochineal dye or carminic acid: adds red color; comes from the cochineal insect
  • Ambergris: adds scent and/or color; derived from whales

Garden Fresh Vegan Cologne

This fragrance uses fresh vegetable and herb leaves to create a light, summer-garden scent. Try it as an after-bath or after-shave splash – or anytime you need an aromatic boost.

4 Tbls fresh tomato leaves, chopped

1 Tbls fresh lemon zest

1 tsp fresh basil leaves

1 tsp fresh mint leaves

1 cup witch hazel

Place all of the fresh leaves and lemon zest inside a clean jar or bottle. Pour the witch hazel over; shake gently. Cover the bottle top and let it sit in a cool, dark spot for two weeks. Strain the liquid and discard any solids. Pour the liquid through a fine strainer or coffee filter into a clean bottle.

To Use: Apply as you would any cologne product. It’s especially refreshing on a hot summer day if kept in the refrigerator. Yield: 8 ounces.

Avocado Facial Mask

Fresh avocados are a classic facial mask ingredient full of natural fats and protein to help stimulate your skin’s own natural production of oil, helping to smooth out rough, dry skin. All skin types can benefit from an avocado facial. Make sure to save the pit; you can grind it up and use it in body scrub recipes, and if you live somewhere warm, you can plant it to have your own little avocado tree.

1/2 fresh avocado, mashed

1 Tbls fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir well until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.

To Use: Spread the mask on a clean face and neck and let sit for 15 minutes. {Take this moment to relax!} Rinse with warm water and gently pat your skin dry. Yield: 3 ounces, enough for one treatment.

Vegan Substitutions

Need to find a substitute for an ingredient in one of your beauty recipes? Several plant substances serve as effective replacements for some common ingredients derived from animals.

  • Beeswax: Heavy plant waxes, such as candelilla and carnauba, and oils like coconut can stand in for beeswax, which is used to thicken creams, lotions, and lip balms and help protect your skin. Cocoa and shea butters also work well.
  • Dairy: Today, you can find a wide variety of plant and nut milks to replace animal dairy called for in beauty recipes.
  • Egg white: This part of the egg provides astringent and cleansing qualities for oily skin types, but cucumber, chamomile tea, and aloe vera gel will work similarly.
  • Egg yolks: Full of lecithin, egg yolks help with dry skin conditions, but you can replace them with soy lecithin or use a rich oil such as coconut and olive instead.
  • Honey: In place of honey to cleanse and moisturize your skin look to molasses, maple syrup, or agave syrup.
  • Lanolin: Found in sheep’s wool, lanolin can be replaced with rich plant oils such as soy, almond, and avocado.