Wouldn't it be nice if a little capsule was all you needed for healthy skin, hair, and nails? If you follow any influencers on social media, you might've come across an ad or two for supplements that promise to solve all your beauty woes—and you might even be tempted to try them. One that likely sounds familiar is biotin (aka vitamin B7). Touted as the secret to a clear complexion (not to mention longer, stronger nails and hair), biotin does have a role in the metabolism of glucose, fats, and proteins, but does that necessarily mean you need to be supplementing it? Before blindly ordering a bottle of biotin tablets online, find out what the experts have to say about its efficacy and whether it's worth trying out. Ahead, NY-based board-certified dermatologists Marisa Garshick, MD, of Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, and Debra Jaliman, MD, address the rumors about the benefits of biotin for the skin. Keep reading to find out whether there's scientific proof to back up the claims or if the magic beauty pill is just a pipe dream.
Type of ingredient: B complex vitamin
Main benefits: Contributes to overall skin health
Who should use it: According to Jaliman, anyone deficient in biotin can take the supplement.
How often can you use it: Garshick says the general dose of a biotin supplement used is 2.5 to 3 mg (2500 to 3000 mcg) a day, but it hasn't been extensively studied, so it is still unknown what the best optimal dosing is. However, Jaliman says a supplement is safe for daily use for most but advises people to follow the directions on the specific product they purchase. Because it depends on the micrograms, Jaliman suggests checking the label to decide how often it should be taken.
Works well with: Jaliman recommends combining biotin with protein supplements. "Protein helps the body to produce keratin, which is vital to the hair structure and also skin and nails," Jaliman explains. She also recommends taking collagen in conjunction with a biotin supplement. "Collagen is found in the layer of the skin that gives the skin its fullness and plumpness," she adds.
Don't use with: Garshick says some antibiotics and anti-seizure medications can affect the absorption of biotin, so it is always best to discuss with your doctor prior to starting a biotin supplement (or any supplement, in general).
What Is Biotin?
According to Garshick, biotin, also known as vitamin B7 or vitamin H (fun fact: the "H" stands for Haar and Haut, the German words for hair and skin), is a water-soluble B vitamin, which means the body does not store it. Because it can be found in various foods such as fish, eggs, meat, dairy products, nuts, and seeds, and it is also produced in our bodies from intestinal bacteria, Garshick says a true deficiency in biotin is rare, although some people (particularly pregnant women) might be deficient.
So what role does biotin play in the body, and why is it so important? According to Garshick, biotin helps to process glucose (sugars), fats, and proteins and convert them into energy for the body, which is important for many different functions. Garshick says a deficiency in biotin can have visible effects, such as thinning hair or brittle nails, and some studies have even shown it to cause skin rashes. The thought is that by supplementing the biotin, you can improve these things. "The caveat is that most people are not truly deficient in biotin," Garshick explains. "But anecdotally, people have found it to be helpful even without being truly deficient."
Benefits of Biotin for Skin
Biotin does actually have a role in healthy skin. As Jaliman explains it, because enzymes rely on biotin to function, the vitamin is important for energy production and helps the formation of fatty acids that nourish the skin. But if you are not deficient in the vitamin, would taking a biotin supplement have positive effects on your hair, nails, and—most importantly, for the focus of this article—your complexion? Despite all the convincing testimonials, it may be too soon to say. Although there is some evidence to support biotin supplementation for skin health (albeit, a small amount of case reports, according to the National Institutes of Health), more research is needed to support these claims in healthy individuals.
Side Effects of Biotin
Not only is more research needed to support the benefits of biotin, but also to support the idea that an excess of biotin could cause issues in someone who is acne-prone. Jaliman says a spike in breakouts as a result of taking biotin could be related to an imbalance of vitamins. Garshick further breaks it down: When you take a biotin supplement, the amount of biotin in the gut exceeds the amount of other B vitamins, specifically vitamin B5. This leads to a relative decrease in vitamin B5, which may normally help to prevent breakouts. "Although this doesn't happen to everyone, if you notice an increase in breakouts after starting biotin, it is worth considering this is as a trigger," Garshick says.
If you're getting lab work done, Garshick also suggests stopping the supplements beforehand and points to a statement the FDA released in 2017 that warns biotin may interfere with certain laboratory tests, including thyroid and troponin levels (a marker used to detect heart attacks). "Always remember to indicate all medications, including supplements, when visiting your doctor," Garshick says.
Other potential side effects include lowering blood sugar, which can be important for those with diabetes, or upset stomach, Garshick adds.
How to Use It
Jaliman says the majority of people get enough biotin through the foods they eat. Generally speaking, the only people who should absolutely be taking biotin supplements are those who are deficient, which is rare. However, Garshick says if people are looking to try something, they can consider it, even though there is a lack of clinical evidence, and if they are noticing an improvement, it is fine to continue with it.
Before beginning a supplement, it's best to check with a board-certified dermatologist to determine the treatment plan to achieve the best results. "You should always check with your physician and discuss any supplements or vitamins you are adding to your regimen," Jaliman says.
Other Forms of Biotin
Biotin is available in the form of a supplement but is often added to the formulations of shampoos, conditioners, and creams for its moisturizing and smoothing properties. "There are shampoos with biotin," Jaliman explains. "They penetrate the scalp and help with the health of your hair." If you're looking for the appearance of stronger, thicker hair, Garshick says many find topical biotin to be helpful. According to Jaliman, biotin is considered safe for both oral and topical use; however, when it is taken orally, it will have more of an effect on the skin. "Something taken internally will be absorbed by the bloodstream and will produce better results," Jaliman explains.