In the world of beauty supplements, biotin is treated as the magic fix—like the beauty equivalent of restarting your phone. Hair feeling thin? Take biotin! Brittle nails? Try biotin! Skin looking blah? B-I-O-T-I-N. You hear about it so often that you probably don’t even think to question it.
But if you’ve long been taking biotin for hair benefits and have noticed absolutely zero difference in how long or thick it is, you might be wondering if it’s just a capsule full of lies. So, I turned to board-certified dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD, and trichologist Bridgette Hill with Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa for the facts.
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What is biotin?
You might know it as biotin, or maybe you’ve heard it called vitamin B7 or vitamin H, oooor maybe you just refer to it as the ultimate supplement for skin, hair, and nails. Call it what you want, but here’s the gist: It’s a water-soluble B vitamin found in our bodies that works by turning fats, carbs, and proteins into energy.
When your body is deficient in biotin, Dr. Bhanusali says it can lead to hair thinning and brittle nails (among many other things, according to the National Institutes of Health), but since it’s also found in a lot of foods, like meat, eggs, fish, nuts, and some dairy products, you probably get an adequate amount in your diet. In other words, the likelihood that you would be biotin deficient is pretty low.
Does biotin really work?
Alright, let’s cut to it: The simple truth is that there’s not enough scientific proof that biotin is the key to growing your hair really, really long. “While, in the past, there was belief biotin supplements were needed to grow strong and healthy hair, there is actually little evidence that it makes much of a difference,” Dr. Bhanusali says. “Most dermatologists tend to agree—while it likely doesn’t hurt, taking biotin may not make much of a difference in your hair.”
And remember how I said biotin was water soluble? What that means is any excess amount of it in your system gets flushed out through your urine, so loading up on biotin won’t give you great results, unfortunately. “Biotin can only impact hair growth if there is an existing biotin deficiency,” Hill adds. “Taking extra biotin supplements does not lead to extra nutrient-based hair growth.”
How long does it take biotin to work on hair?
Dr. Bhanusali says if you are actually deficient (he points to some evidence that women can be mildly biotin deficient during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, but you’d need a blood test to determine any deficiencies for sure), it would still be a few months before you would see results from taking biotin for hair benefits. Otherwise, if there is any improvement, the visible results would be subtle at best.
What are the side effects of biotin?
If you’re a glass-half-full kinda person, you hear the words “might not work” and cling to the word “might,” in which case, you’ll probably give biotin a try anyway. But there are a few potential side effects of taking biotin that you should know about first.
As Dr. Bhanusali explains it, biotin can alter the accuracy of certain lab tests, like thyroid studies (something they also examine as a clue for hair loss) and troponin (which is used to monitor a potential cardiac event), which means taking biotin unnecessarily and without your doctor’s permission could mask a serious health condition.
Not only that, but biotin has also been said to contribute to acne. Woof. “The proposed pathogenesis is that it prevents adequate absorption of vitamin B5, which can lead to skin barrier disruption,” Dr. Bhanusali says. “That being said, I haven’t seen any good studies proving the relationship, but it’s certainly something to consider if you notice more breakouts when starting the supplement.”
Which biotin is best for hair growth?
If you’re still willing to give biotin a try (you do you, buuut ideally not without talking to your doctor or derm first), despite the chance that it might not work, you’ve got a few options. Biotin can be used topically with a hair-growth shampoo or a thickening shampoo or, as we’ve mentioned, taken as an oral supplement, like in one of these top-rated options below.
Dr. Bhanusali generally recommends taking biotin as part of a multivitamin, versus through a topical product (which is even less likely to be effective for anything). For his patients with hair loss, he recommends supplementing another hair-strengthening ingredient, vitamin D, but there are other nutritional factors important for hair, so, as always, it’s best to check with your doctor to evaluate your specific hair sitch for the right combination of treatments. Got that? Good.
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