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If you're on a hair-growth kick, chances are you've heard of biotin, a vitamin that's widely used in over-the-counter products and supplements to promote fast hair and nail growth. What you might not be aware of is the lack of scientific proof as to how well biotin actually works. There have been case reports supporting the growth claims, but as of yet, there have been no high-quality studies performed by reputable organizations. Lack of proof aside, you'll find plenty of women willing to try it out to grow their hair quickly.
As with any supplement, there are good and bad points, so what are the pros and cons of taking biotin in a quest for longer hair? We spoke to dermatologists Christina Weng and Juliya Fisher as well as trichologist William Gaunitz, to get the details on the pros and cons of the water-soluble vitamin.
What Is Biotin?
"Biotin is an essential vitamin in the B vitamin family and also known as B7. It is important in supporting the normal function and growth of skin, hair, and nails," says Christina Weng, MD, dermatologist and founder of Mymiel Skincare. You can find vitamin B7 in avocado, eggs, nuts, and salmon. For those on a plant-based diet, sunflowers seeds, broccoli, and sweet potatoes offer up B7, but William Gaunitz, WTS, certified trichologist and founder of the Gaunitz Trichology Method, points out those options have substantially less biotin per ounce than animal-based foods.
Does Biotin Boost Hair Growth?
"The jury is still out on the benefits of biotin supplementation for hair loss," says Weng. "We know that biotin deficiency can cause changes in hair, skin, and nails, but true biotin deficiency is rare with the average diet. There [are] many different causes of hair loss, and for certain types of hair loss (such as those due to autoimmune conditions), biotin is most likely not going to do much. But for hair loss from age-related thinning or stress, taking a biotin supplement probably won't hurt, and some have noted anecdotal benefits."
What Are the Possible Side Effects?
If you've ever added a biotin gummy or traditional supplement to your diet, you may have experienced an upset stomach. We're here to tell you that you're not alone in that experience. In extreme cases, your body's reaction to a biotin supplement may mean an allergic reaction. However, in many cases, taking the supplement after a meal could help curb the nausea. The potential side effects don't stop there. Some report an influx of breakouts and the supplement can even affect blood tests. "It's important to know when taking a biotin supplement that it can affect certain blood test results," says Weng. As a good rule of thumb, she encourages anyone taking biotin to always tell their doctors if they are ordering laboratory tests.
How Long Does It Take to See Results?
"The literature on the timeline for hair growth after biotin supplementation specifically is still inconclusive," says Weng. "It takes several months to see any potential effects after starting a new regimen for hair growth. That timeline also varies depending on the initial cause of the hair loss. Patients with hair loss caused by biotin deficiency, (which is rare), would more likely see results from biotin supplementation sooner."
How to Identify a Biotin Deficiency?
Biotin deficiency is a lot rarer than you may think, and Gaunitz says, there are usually a few variables that lead to the absence of biotin in the body. "People who are at risk are suffering from chronic alcoholism, are vegan, or have the genetic inability to efficiently process biotin," he says. "Technically throughout the entire world only 2 percent of the human population is actually deficient." Weng says other nutritional deficiencies such as iron deficiency can also cause hair loss, so she recommends ruling out other treatable medical causes of hair loss with a physician first.
If you find that you are biotin deficient, Gaunitz says, "Consuming approximately 2500 mcg per day; you will see a reduction in shedding progressively beginning within two weeks and total reduction in shedding and improved hair growth within three months."
What Are Some Other Ways to Make My Hair Grow?
First, you want to find out the why of your hair loss. "When patients present with hair loss, it is important to determine the cause of thinning," says Juliya Fisher, MD, board-certified dermatologist of cosmetic and surgical dermatology at JUVA Skin and Laser Center. "One of the most common causes is androgenetic alopecia, and [this] affects many women as they age." Fisher explores many options for patients that experience hair loss. "I typically review all of the treatment options, including topical minoxidil, oral medications (if appropriate), and platelet-rich plasma injections, which have been shown in studies to promote hair growth." When patients are looking to add a supplement, Fisher recommends Viviscal Professional or Nutrafol, adding that both options have some evidence to support their use.
However, she says that data regarding the benefits of diet for hair growth is lacking, but still recommends a balanced diet. Try adding more vitamin B and iron-rich food to your diet, but always take time to check in with a doctor to make sure any supplement or diet adjustments are right for you. If you do opt to try out over-the-counter biotin supplements, do some research, and of course, talk with a pro. There are many highly-rated gummies and capsules on the market that may be a good fit for you.
If you're the forgetful type, try setting an alarm to keep yourself on track. The Pill Reminder Medication Alarm app comes highly-rated and can help you remember to take other medications as well.
The Final Takeaway
If you think your body is suffering from biotin deficiency, check in with your healthcare provider for advice on how to adjust your diet and add supplements to your daily routine. Since biotin is found naturally in foods like nuts, legumes, and eggs, you may want to add more of these foods to your diet, of course, after consulting with your doctor.