While biotin deficiency is rare, you may be surprised to learn that daily supplementation with biotin can support hair health and growth.
In this article, we’ll introduce biotin and the role in plays in the body. We’ll then discuss the implications it has for hair health. In addition, you’ll learn:
- The signs and causes of biotin deficiency;
- The scientific evidence surrounding biotin’s use in hair health;
- What the recommended doses are, and whether biotin or keratin supplements are best;
- The side effects you may experience as a result of supplementation, and whether it’s possible to take too much biotin; and
- A comparison of the different sources of biotin you can find on the market.
Finally, I’ll share with you some easy ways to naturally increase your biotin intake through diet.
What is Biotin?
Biotin (also known as vitamin B-7 or vitamin H), is a B-complex vitamin. It is important in the conversion of food into energy, which is required for the majority of the body’s metabolic processes.
One such process includes hair growth, which requires the presence of keratin.
But how does biotin play a part?
Biotin and Hair Health
Keratin is a protein that is found abundantly in the hair, skin, and nails (1). Biotin aids in the catabolism of amino acids, which is a breaking down of the molecules in order for new proteins to be formed (2). One such protein that’s formed as a result? Keratin.
This means that biotin plays an indirect role in the health of the hair, skin, and nails.
And while there isn’t much direct evidence to support this, there’s one reason that scientists believe biotin plays a major role in hair health.
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When an individual is diagnosed with biotin deficiency, they tend to have a common set of symptoms (3). One of these is noticeable thinning and recession of the hairline.
Is Biotin Deficiency Contributing to You Losing Hair?
If biotin aids in the production of amino acids, which themselves create keratin, it makes sense that a biotin deficiency can lead to hair breakage, thinning, and loss.
Although biotin deficiency is rare, because it can be found in many foods, there are a few signs that you should be aware of (3). Symptoms include:
- Thinning of hair, often with noticeable loss of hair color
- A red rash near the eyes, nose, or around the mouth
- Paresthesia of the extremities (a tingling or prickly feeling caused by damage to peripheral nerves)
If a person has biotin deficiency, it is most likely congenital in nature (enzyme deficiency, malabsorption problem, or the person’s mother suffered long-term malnutrition during pregnancy) (3, 4). Other things that can lead to biotin depletion are:
- Eating two or more raw egg whites daily for an extended period of time (5);
- Excessive alcohol consumption (6);
- Some anti-seizure medications;
- Anorexia (due to simply not eating enough food); and
- Long term use of antibiotics (3).
Again, a deficiency is rare, but if you exhibit one or more of the symptoms listed (especially thinning hair with loss of hair color), it might behoove you to put yourself on a biotin supplement.
It really can’t be stressed too much – if you are taking any supplement for hair issues, it may take a few months before you will see a significantly noticeable improvement in the appearance of your hair.
Being patient and diligent is key. Don’t skip taking the supplement several days a week, if you want to see results.
Is There Any Scientific Evidence That Biotin Promotes Hair Growth?
There isn’t much scientific evidence to support using biotin to regrow hair. This doesn’t mean that biotin isn’t useful in promoting hair growth; it just means no one has pursued any research to prove that it does.
One study that is available highlights the presence of biotin deficiency in women complaining of diffuse hair loss (7). It ultimately showed that the blood biotin levels in 38% of such women signified that they were deficient in the nutrient.
As a matter of fact, many supplements sold as treatments for improving the appearance of hair, skin, and nails contain high amounts of biotin.
So there is certainly observable evidence that biotin can make a difference for some individuals. The European Food Safety Authority has also given biotin a positive review.
What Are Recommended Doses?
Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin (11). There is no known level of toxicity for biotin, as the body will just eliminate any excess.
However, in order to achieve a noticeable change in hair growth, it’s best to try and keep a certain amount of it circulating in your body at all times.
Some people may be more sensitive to the effects of biotin, and may not need to supplement at higher dosages. For others, the higher the amount, the better in terms of seeing new hair growth.
The lowest Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 30 mcgs per day for men and women 19 and up (12). This increases to 35 mcgs per day for women who are breastfeeding.
But what if you want to grow your hair, or improve the quality of your skin and nails?
Then a higher dosage will be required.
It seems to be common for dosage recommendations of around 5000 mcgs daily, and some recommend as much as 10,000 mcgs daily.
If you are unsure, you can always start with a lower amount (some people start with 2500 mcgs daily).
What seems clear is that you can’t harm yourself with higher dosages of biotin, so starting with 5000 mcgs appears to be perfectly safe, and many biotin supplements come premeasured in that dosage.
Biotin vs Keratin Supplement: Which is Best?
Now that you better understand the connection between biotin and keratin, as well as how this relates back to hair health, you may be wondering which of the two is better to supplement with.
The truth is, each supplement works differently to support healthy hair production.
So, which should you choose?
If you had to pick, I’d recommend biotin.
Biotin performs many functions that support hair health. These include acting as mini-transporters to deliver oxygen cells to the follicles, and aiding in the production of amino acids. These are incredibly important to overall health, but also to the hair and scalp specifically.
Remember, keratin is a protein which is formed from amino acids. As such, biotin supports the production of keratin.
But are keratin supplements helpful?
The answer to this is a bit tricky.
Keratin is actually quite difficult to convert into supplement form, so many keratin supplements don’t offer much support to the hair, skin, and nails at all.
There are some ingredients that are better at doing so than others — such as Cynatine HNS — but their results also haven’t been proven.
Due to this, I highly recommend you seek out biotin supplements over keratin.
Are There Any Side Effects from Biotin?
There have not been any documented side effects from taking biotin supplements. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult their physician before taking a biotin supplement.
In rare cases, there are individuals who may have an allergic reaction to biotin supplements. Anyone who has a known allergy to cobalt or cobalamin should not take biotin.
The primary signs of an allergic reaction to biotin are tightness in the chest and throat accompanied by throat pain (anaphylaxis). This is an emergency situation which can lead to loss of consciousness and respiratory distress.
If you suffer from hypo- or hyperglycemia, you should speak to your doctor before taking a biotin supplement, as high doses can affect your metabolism and thereby have an effect on your blood sugar levels.
Can Too Much Biotin Cause Hair Loss?
Biotin probably does not cause hair loss. It is common for dermatologists to recommend biotin to encourage hair growth and nail growth.
Having said that, when you first start taking biotin, you might experience some extra shedding because your hair will start growing at a faster rate, and the rate of hair fall might increase.
So biotin can alter your hair growth cycle. Generally, this early stage loss will stop after continuing to use biotin regularly.
Does biotin thicken existing hair follicles? There isn’t any scientific evidence that it does, but there are claims that it can. It is important to remember that what works for one person doesn’t always work for everyone.
If the cause of hair loss is related to a hormonal imbalance, or other underlying issues that need to be addressed, biotin supplementation may not lead to the hair restoration you’re seeking.
Comparisons of Different Sources of Biotin
The standard dosage that most companies that produce biotin supplements offer is 5,000 mcgs (5 mgs). That is considered an optimal dosage, and should produce results if taken as directed. Biotin can be purchased as capsules, tablets, or liquid.
Liquid supplements can get into the bloodstream more quickly, if they are taken sublingually. That is, put underneath the tongue for a minute or so and allowed to enter through the salivary glands.
This eliminates any possibility of the stomach acids destroying the potency of the product. However, in the case of biotin, stomach acids don’t seem to play a huge role in how effective the supplement will be.
The larger and more important thing to consider is the quality of the supplement, whether it be liquid, in capsule form, or tablet form. It pays to do a little research on the company that produces the biotin supplement before purchasing it.
If you want to check the rating of a company that produces supplements, in the U.S. you would look for their USP rating (which stands for U.S. Pharmacopoeia), or if you live outside the U.S., check their rating with the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices).
Also, if you want to check on the quality of a specific product before buying it, you can always call them or email them and ask what quality rating they’ve received and what organization does their quality testing.
If they can’t provide answers to those questions, you might consider moving on to another company’s products.
Please read my article about biotin shampoo here.
Ways to Get Biotin in Your Diet
You can get an ample amount of biotin through foods, though you will never be able to consume enough food on a daily basis to achieve the levels of biotin that are prescribed for restoring hair, nails and skin.
There is a fairly long list of foods that contain biotin. Some good examples are:
- Egg yolk
- Organ meats, like liver or kidney
- Nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.)
- Nut butters
- Legumes (peanuts and soybeans)
- Whole grains
- Cold water fish (herring, sardines, tuna, salmon, trout, halibut)
- Red meat
- Sunflower seeds
So to get the optimal amount from food, it should be consumed with as little processing as possible. In some instances, the food listed here should be cooked, but if possible, consuming them raw is preferable.
We know that biotin is an essential B-complex vitamin that performs more than one function. It is essential for converting food into energy in our bodies, and can affect growth of hair, nails, skin, and it can even affect blood glucose levels (14).
But we also know that biotin is plentiful in a wide variety of foods, so biotin deficiency is rare, unless there are underlying genetic problems or malnutrition.
The key point in what we have learned is that biotin seems to support and increase metabolism, thereby leading to faster growth of hair that already exists, and it seems to cause new hair growth from follicles that might have been previously damaged.
One of the keys to reversing the problem lies in your overall health, so if you have a condition that is the direct cause of hair problems, or if you take a medication that can lead to hair fall, your physician might be able to offer you advice or alternatives.
Although biotin supplementation may help if your hair loss is related to a biotin deficiency it’s unlikely to be effective for androgenetic alopecia which is the most common type of hair loss.
In thats case the first step is to get a hair loss diagnosis from a qualified professional who then may recommend an FDA approved treatment such as finasteride or minoxidil.