If you're eager to grow out your hair, chances are you've been served a supplement on Instagram or through a Google search that contains biotin, a B-vitamin found in foods like eggs, salmon, sweet potatoes, and almonds. And it is often a featured ingredient in beauty supplements to help with hair loss and brittle nails.
With searches like "how much biotin should I take for hair loss," "best biotin for hair growth," and "too much biotin side effects?" up 100 percent, 70 percent, and 90 percent, respectively, in the last seven months, plus "how much biotin should I take daily?" becoming a new breakout search on Google in 2021, it begs the question: Do we need supplemental biotin? And how can it affect your health?
Do we need biotin?
Most people don't need biotin supplementally. Though exact figures aren't available, the National Institutes of Health reports that biotin deficiency is rare in healthy adults who are eating a balanced diet. "Generally, biotin is readily available in most diets, so meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, and vegetables, like sweet potato, spinach — are all very common sources of biotin," says Dhaval Bhanusali, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.
"In different countries, there are different diets. There are a lot of things that people definitely have more nutritional deficiencies in," says Nancy Samolitis, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles. "With our diet here, even if you're a vegan, there are options. There are a lot of vitamins that people are truly deficient in and biotin is usually not one of them."
That's due largely in part to the recommended daily amount (RDA) of biotin. According to Bhanusali, it depends on the source you're getting the RDA from, but typically between 30 and 100 micrograms — not milligrams — a day is sufficient. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports, for example, that a whole, cooked egg provides 10 micrograms per serving or 33 percent of the recommended daily amount.
Does biotin actually help the hair grow?
Hair supplements promising "longer, stronger" hair often contain more than the typical RDA of biotin. But having an excess of biotin doesn't necessarily provide hair with the benefits you may be seeking. Bhanusali, Samolitis, and board-certified dermatologist Shanthi Colaco all say that biotin is water-soluble, meaning what your body doesn't use, you urinate out. Although high doses are unnecessary, it's considered harmless if you take more than the RDA.
Another consensus among the experts interviewed for this story is that there is not enough research to prove that biotin actually aids hair growth. In a case report on the subject of biotin supporting hair health published in the Pediatric Dermatology journal in 2007, it was only found to help a child with a very rare condition called Uncombable Hair Syndrome.
"In order for something to be 'proven,' you need to have controlled clinical testing done where one-half of the subjects receives biotin and the other half doesn't," explains Dennis Gross, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. To his knowledge, "there has never been a controlled clinical study for biotin. However, there is a great amount of anecdotal data from subjects who claim it really has helped their hair grow.”
Colaco says the one exception is the very few people with an actual biotin deficiency. "Studies have shown that people who fall into this category respond well to supplementation," she says. "In most other cases, there is limited evidence to show it will help you. So many dermatologists still recommend it, as there is also no evidence that it can hurt you."
Another consideration is the actual cause of the hair loss. Samolitis breaks down one condition, telogen effluvium, which causes you to lose more hair than normal, but typically it remedies itself. You may take a biotin supplement to help with regrowth or length and attribute any growth to the biotin, when it may have nothing to do with the growth.
“This [kind of hair loss] is a condition where some sort of stress on the body, whether it's emotional stress or a medical stress — like COVID-19, for example — has caused telogen effluvium,” explains Samolitis, who says it can be alarming to find lots of shedding hair on one's pillow, in the shower, or in a brush. However, it can reverse on its own. "Your hair decides, 'Hey, I'm not going to take up your energy right now. I'm going to just stop growing for a little while,' while your body is recovering from this stress. Then, when the stress goes away, the hair is like, 'Okay, we're gonna start growing again.' But now all the hairs are in the same stage where they're falling out at the same time." Eventually, the cycle returns to normal, but Samolitis says a lot of people will incorrectly credit biotin.
What side effects does biotin have?
Online beauty communities on platforms like Reddit have discussed anecdotal correlations between taking biotin supplements and breakouts. The experts interviewed for this story say there haven't been clinical studies to prove whether or not taking biotin can result in acne or breakouts. However, if you feel you're having a skin reaction that may be a result of your daily biotin supplement, you could be onto something.
"Anecdotally, I've had a few patients report that taking biotin caused an acne flare," says Colaco. "In theory, an excess of biotin could reduce the absorption of other acne-fighting vitamins in the gut, specifically vitamin B5." In these cases, she recommends supplementing with B vitamins or simply stop taking biotin, since its effect on hair growth remains unclear.
Bhanusali explains that B5 is a part of the skin barrier, which is why this could potentially lead to skin-barrier disruption. "[It's] an indirect relationship — not the strongest of science, to be honest with you, but I've definitely seen patients breaking out after starting biotin supplements. I've seen it probably 20 to 30 times if I were to guess, because sometimes patients come and say, 'Hey, I'm here for hair loss and I've had this breakout recently,' and we put two and two together and figured it out."
Another important factor to note: A 2019 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning was issued stating that taking biotin supplements, especially in higher doses, can interfere with the accuracy of lab test results, citing the example of testing for troponin, a biomarker to diagnose if you're having a heart attack. Biotin can interfere by producing low troponin results, creating a false negative.
Other options for hair loss
If you're looking to grow your hair or increase thickness, instead of heading directly for a pill or chewable supplement, it's important to determine what could be causing the lack of growth. Sometimes conditions that may seem inconsequential could indicate a bigger issue, which is why you should consult a professional.
"You could have hypothyroidism, you could have lupus, you could have iron deficiency, you could have zinc deficiency, you could have vitamin D deficiency," says Samolitis. Bhanusali recommends getting your iron levels checked and taking 5,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D3 per day, as some studies have suggested it can help patients with female pattern hair loss.
Topically, Gross suggests using the ingredient minoxidil, widely known by the brand name Rogaine. It's the only topical ingredient proven to grow hair. "It is particularly helpful in stopping the progression of hair loss, which, in my opinion, is the most common benefit," he says.
Colaco also suggests small changes, like giving your hair a break by limiting hot tools and professional chemical services like coloring, perming, and relaxing your hair, and avoiding tight hairstyles, smoking, and low-calorie diets.
"Smoking causes inflammation throughout the body, which makes so many things worse, and hair loss is no exception," says Colaco. "Eating too few calories or not getting enough nutrients like iron or protein every day can cause hair loss as well."
If you're nurturing your hair and are still experiencing hair loss, there are in-office treatments to consider — specifically laser and platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which is recommended by Gross and Bhanusali. Samolitis suggests blood tests to indicate if you have a hormonal imbalance that may require something like a DHT (dihydrotestosterone, a metabolite form of testosterone) blocker that can be applied topically. "This is why I recommend when you have hair loss that you see a dermatologist because finding the correct diagnosis is really important," says Samolitis.
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