Losing your hair can be a difficult and emotional experience. Many people opt for supplements and dubious wonder cures in an attempt to prevent or stop hair loss.
Biotin (or vitamin B7) has gained a reputation as the beauty supplement for healthy hair, strong nails, and supple skin. Yet there’s almost no evidence to suggest that biotin actually works. More worryingly, the supplement may do more harm than good.
Biotin doesn’t work
According to an analysis of multiple clinical trials, biotin is only effective in patients that have a biotin deficiency. But such a deficiency is incredibly rare. For example, 60,000 babies are born with a biotinidase deficiency and a third of pregnant women may develop a biotin deficiency. Those taking antibiotics for extended periods of time or people suffering from Crohn’s disease may also be at risk of a biotin insufficiency. A lack of biotin causes symptoms such as scaling skin, brittle hair and hair loss, fatigue, insomnia, and nausea.
Most adults, however, obtain enough biotin through their diet alone. According to the Institute of Medicine, just 30 micrograms of biotin per day is enough for healthy adults. That hasn’t stopped some people from consuming an extra 1,000 micrograms a day. And whilst there is no evidence that vitamin B7 is toxic at high doses, the clinical evidence to support supplementation for hair growth or hair health is lacking.
Biotin is not safe
What’s more worrying is that biotin could be unsafe. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety warning to the public, health care providers and laboratory staff that biotin caused incorrect lab results. This could have serious consequences for patients and result in wrong readings and undetected illnesses.
The FDA noticed that when blood samples were obtained from patients supplementing with biotin, the number of incorrect laboratory results was extremely high. It increases the chances of patients being misdiagnosed. For example, biotin may interact with lab tests measuring troponin – a protein that is often used to diagnose heart disease - and produce falsely low readings of the protein. In one such case, a patient who had taken high levels of biotin died because of a misdiagnosis.
What can you do
Let your doctor know if you are currently taking biotin supplements. Be sure to check the label on your multivitamin, prenatal supplement or hair and skin supplements as these often include biotin as an ingredient. Biotin can be easily obtained through a balanced diet. Food sources that contain the vitamin include whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
If you think you may be suffering from a biotin deficiency, you should consult a doctor. In any other case, it may be safer to steer clear of supplements that aren’t clinically proven to have a positive effect on hair loss.
- Genetics Reference. (2019). Biotinidase deficiency. Genetics Home Reference. Retrieved September 16, 2019, from <https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/biotinidase-deficiency#diagnosis>
- Zempleni, J., Hassan, Y., & Wijeratne, S. (2008). Biotin and biotinidase deficiency. Expert Review of Endocrinology & Metabolism, 3/6: 715-724. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1586/17446618.104.22.1685
- Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin and Choline. (2000). . Washington: National Academies Press.
- The FDA Warns that Biotin May Interfere with Lab Tests. (2019). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved September 16, 2019, from <https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/safety-communications/fda-warns-biotin-may-interfere-lab-tests-fda-safety-communication>
- Patel, D., Swink, S., & Castelo-Soccio, L. (2017). A Review of the Use of Biotin for Hair Loss. Skin Appendage Disorders, 3/3: 166-169. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1159/000462981