Effect of ultraviolet radiation, smoking and nutrition on hair

Curr Probl Dermatol. 2015;47:107-20. doi: 10.1159/000369411. Epub 2015 Feb 20.


Similar to the rest of the skin, the hair is exposed to noxious environmental factors. While ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and smoking are well appreciated as major factors contributing to the extrinsic aging of the skin, their effects on the condition of hair have only lately attracted the attention of the medical community. Terrestrial solar UVR ranges from approximately 290 to 400 nm; UV-B (290-315 nm) reaches only the upper dermis, while the penetration of UV-A (315-400 nm) into the dermis increases with wavelength. The two most important chronic effects of UVR on the skin and bald scalp are photocarcinogenesis and solar elastosis; however, the effects of UVR on hair have largely been ignored. As a consequence of increased leisure time and a growing popularity of outdoor activities and holidays in the sun, the awareness of sun protection of the skin has become important and should also apply to the hair. Besides being the single-most preventable cause of significant cardiovascular and pulmonary morbidity and an important cause of death, the association of tobacco smoking with various adverse effects on the skin and hair has also been recognized. Increasing public awareness of the association between smoking and hair loss seems to offer a good opportunity for the prevention or cessation of smoking, since the appearance of hair plays an important role in the overall physical appearance and self-perception of people. Finally, the quantity and quality of hair are closely related to the nutritional state of an individual. Normal supply, uptake, and transport of proteins, calories, trace elements, and vitamins are of fundamental importance in tissues with high biosynthetic activity, such as the hair follicle. In instances of protein and calorie malnutrition as well as essential amino acid, trace element, and vitamin deficiencies, hair growth and pigmentation may be impaired. Ultimately, important commercial interest lies in the question of whether increasing the content of an already adequate diet with specific amino acids, vitamins and/or trace elements may further promote hair growth. Unless the hair is impaired due to nutritional deficiency, there is only so much that nutrients can do to increase the size of individual hairs because hair thickness is largely genetic. Nevertheless, there are external factors that influence hair health to such a degree that micronutrients could boost hair that is suffering from these problems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alopecia
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency
  • Biotinidase Deficiency
  • Hair* / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Hypopigmentation
  • Malnutrition
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition
  • Scalp Dermatoses*
  • Smoking*
  • Ultraviolet Rays*
  • Zinc / deficiency


  • Zinc

Supplementary concepts

  • Biotin deficiency