15 Jun 2020

It is common to have changes to your hair, nails of skin in the months after your critical illness. You might find that:

  • your hair is different, or it is falling out more than usual (this is also called alopecia)
  • your nails are different, such as ridged, brittle or flaky
  • your skin is dry or flaky.

All this can feel a worry if you don’t know that it happens after critical illness, and it can be upsetting.  Your skin, nails and hair should recover in time.

Why do I have changes in my hair, nails or skin?

This can happen after critical illness because of the physical stress your body was under, emotional distress, and the medicine that you had. Hair has the second fastest growing cells in your body but during critical illness, it was not a priority for your body to grow hair or nails and skin. The effect of this is sometimes only seen a few months after your illness.

Hair changes are also more common in some medical conditions.  Hair loss can be common in some families or happen because of taking some medicines such as beta-blockers, blood thinning tablets, chemotherapy, immuno-suppressants, and hormone therapy.  Speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you are worried. Where hair loss happens due to a critical illness, it usually grows back within 6 months or a year. Hair can often grow back straighter, curlier or thinner than before.

Changes in nails and skin can also happen because of medical conditions, but like with hair, long periods of not getting enough energy or protein during a critical illness, as well as not having enough to drink can affect their growth. If you have dry or itchy skin, it can help to use a moisturiser regularly.

Can I change my diet to help my hair, nails and skin?

Generally, your hair, skin and nails will improve as you get recover from critical illness and taking medicine or vitamins won’t be able to make that quicker. However, there are things you can do to make sure you have the right food and drink to give hair, nails and skin what they need. Tips are:

  • A healthy balanced diet is very important to help your body grow healthy hair, nails and skin. This must include enough protein to help recovery and healing.
  • B vitamins (Folate, vitamin B12, Riboflavin, Biotin, Niacin) are important for the growth of hair, nails and skin and you can get these by eating a healthy diet with different foods in it.
  • Taking Biotin (vitamin B7) vitamins could help brittle nails.
  • Having more iron rich foods or supplements, as well as good intake of vitamin C to help absorption, may help hair and nail health.
  • Drinking enough water is important for hair, nail or skin cells to grow well.


Changes in hair, nails and skin happen because of their growth was affected during critical illness but in time this should get better. A balanced diet will give your hair, nails and skin what they need to grow well.

More information:

British Dietetic Association Food Fact Sheet on: