Biotin for Hair Loss: Debunking the Myths
30 November 2023 / 8 minutes read /
If you’ve ever shopped for vitamins or supplements to improve the quality of your hair (or even regrow it), you’ve probably noticed that many of these products have one ingredient in common: biotin.
Biotin is present in all sorts of forms. It is available in the form of over-the-counter pills and tablets. It is essentially used in all hair growth products like shampoos and conditioners. Biotin has gotten a reputation as the vitamin of choice for healthy hair, skin, and nails. Popular supplements like Nutrafol and Viviscal both contain biotin for hair growth.
But what does the research say? Does this vitamin really contain all the hair growth benefits it is advertised for? The short answer to this is “probably not.”
Here is what you need to know about this vitamin and what benefits it actually contains for the human body.
Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin also called vitamin B7 or vitamin H. It is an important co-factor that plays a vital role in various metabolic processes taking place in our body. Biotin helps metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and turn them into energy. It also helps skin cells produce more keratin, which strengthens our skin, nails, and hair (Fritsche, 1991).
It is an essential nutrient, which is a fancy way of saying that our bodies cannot produce it on their own and we need to get it from an outside source. The National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Office of Dietary Supplements recommends a daily dose of 30 mcg for adults. Lactating mothers are recommended to take 35 mcg of daily biotin.
To fulfil this daily allowance need, you do not need to take biotin supplementation. You can easily get this amount from food. Foods that contain high biotin content include:
Besides food, gut bacteria also produce biotin in our intestines.
If you have low levels of biotin in your body and you aren’t getting enough from your diet, a healthcare provider might recommend taking it in supplement form. Biotin is sold as over-the-counter pills and gummies.
Whether or not the biotin is can be a cure for your hair thinning problem, depends on the cause of your hair loss. Biotin deficiency can result in decreased keratin production, leading to hair loss, brittle nails, and scaly rashes. Taking biotin supplementation, in this case, can prove beneficial in terms of hair growth.
Research has proven that biotin deficiency can cause hair loss. And people who suffer from hair loss problems due to biotin deficiency can benefit from taking biotin supplementations (Patel, 2017: Famenini, 2014).
A small study compared the effects of biotin supplements with placebo in women suffering from hair thinning problems. Thirty women were given the supplement containing biotin and other nutrients like vitamin C and Zinc, while the other 30 women were given a placebo. The experimental group showed improved hair growth and reduced hair shedding after 90 days compared to the control group. However, as the supplements also contained other nutrients, the results could not be attributed to biotin only (Ablon, 2015).
But what about people who do not have biotin deficiency and still suffer from hair loss? Research has shown that biotin deficiency is not the only reason for hair loss.
According to a systematic review conducted in 2019, biotin is ineffective in treating male pattern baldness, androgenetic alopecia, or temporary hair loss caused by stress or trauma. Over 100 vitamin and hair loss studies were included in this review (Almohanna, 2019).
While taking biotin supplements probably won’t hurt (except maybe your wallet), adding them to your regimen probably won’t give you a thick, lustrous mane as popularly claimed.
The answer to this question is again somewhat similar to the last one. Biotin can help prevent hair loss if the hair loss is caused by biotin deficiency and the evidence supporting this claim is relatively stronger.
According to one research, about 38% of women complaining of hair loss have a biotin deficiency. Of these women, 11% had some risk factors for biotin deficiency. Before prescribing any treatment, it is imperative to determine the cause of hair loss first. In the case of the biotin deficiency risk factors, it is logical to rather treat the risk factors than to start biotin supplementation (Ralph, 2016).
It is also important to look at a complete picture of hair loss to devise an appropriate treatment plan. For example, according to one research, 22 biotin-deficient people were prescribed biotin supplementation after going through gastric sleeve surgery. Three months of the study showed significant improvement in 5 participants, mild improvement in 14 participants, and no improvement in the remaining 3 participants (Ozan, 2021).
Popping a few gummy even when you are not biotin-deficient won't hurt you. Biotin in itself is not toxic. As it is a water-soluble vitamin, it does not stay in the body. The excess amount that you take will probably be excreted out through urine. Other mild side effects of taking excessive biotin supplements can include mild nausea or upset stomach, but these side effects are rare (Bistas, 2021).
Biotin may be safe in most cases, but one problem that arises with the excessive amount of biotin in supplements is their interference with various diagnostic tests.
Due to the lack of regulations regarding the supplements, the manufacturers are producing biotin supplements with an enormous amount of biotin that passes way beyond the recommended daily intake of 30 mcg. The common formulation you found for healthier hair, nails, and skin can contain up to 10,000 mcg of biotin, which is hundreds of times more than the recommended amount. These high amounts can, in turn, alter the results of blood tests, including hormone levels and heart tests.
The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning against this potentially dangerous phenomenon. Biotin supplements can delay the diagnosis of a person who had a heart attack by masking the presence of an element called troponin. This can lead to delayed diagnosis and care of the patient (FDA, 2012).
High doses of biotin may also affect thyroid tests, or COVID-19 tests, resulting in non-standardized treatment and complications.
Biotin deficiency can be caused by smoking, medications (like drugs that prevent seizures), underlying medical conditions, pregnancy, or genetics. But most of us get more than enough biotin from the foods we eat, so having a biotin deficiency is rare.
Biotin supplementation is only needed in people who have a biotin deficiency. Certain risk factors that can make you biotin-deficient include: (NIH)
People born with this rare genetic disorder are biotin deficient even when they take enough biotin through food. Their bodies fail to release the biotin.
Chronic alcohol use results in reduced biotin absorption by the body. Habitual drinkers have 15% lower plasma biotin concentrations than others.
About one-third of pregnant women become borderline biotin-deficient even when they are consuming recommended daily biotin amount.
Several reasons can cause hair loss apart from biotin deficiency. The treatment options for these types of hair loss vary. Here is how various types of hair loss treatment works.
Androgenic alopecia, also known as male or female pattern baldness, is the most common cause of hair loss in both genders but is more prevalent in men and is caused by high levels of male sex hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in men. High levels of DHT can negatively affect the hair follicles causing them to shrink gradually; this result in hair thinning and eventually complete hair loss.
Androgenic alopecia can be treated by an oral medication called Finasteride which is available as the "Propecia” in the market. Research has shown it to be effective in 83% of people. Another benefit of this medication is that it is usually well-tolerated and contains minimal side effects (Shapiro, 2003).
Androgenic alopecia can also be treated by using DHT-blocking shampoo. These shampoos are easily available and contain an anti-fungal element called “ketoconazole." Although using DHT blocker shampoo can curb hair loss to some extent, using it along with Finasteride has been proven more effective according to some studies (Khandpur, 2014).
Minoxidil is another effective treatment for androgenic alopecia in men. It is a topical treatment available with the brand name "Rogaine," You can get it as an over-the-counter liquid or foam that you can directly apply to your scalp. It is proven to improve blood flow to the scalp and help enhance follicle health and promote hair growth. Minoxidil caused hair growth in 40% of people in a clinical trial (Goren, 2014).
Although less common, pattern baldness can occur in women as well. Certain factors like hormones and aging can trigger female pattern hair loss.
Minoxidil, commonly available as Rogaine in the market, is proven effective in treating FPHL. Minoxidil can stop hair shedding in women, but it is advised to follow the proper guidelines to avoid certain side effects, especially when using the solution. A stronger minoxidil solution (5% rather than 2%) can cause abnormal facial hair growth in females (Carmina, 2019).
Another usual cause of hair loss in women is nutrient deficiency, especially iron. It is common in females due to their menstruation. Taking iron supplementation can combat hair loss problems in women who are iron deficient (Rushton, 2002). Please note that it is vital to consult your healthcare provider before starting iron therapy as an excess of iron can be harmful.
Stress, trauma, and a few medications can all be a cause of sudden hair loss. This particular type of hair loss is called telogen effluvium and is one of the common forms of alopecia. The good thing about this type of hair loss is that about 95% of the cases resolve on their own without any treatment (Asghar, 2020). You should visit your healthcare provider to see if your medications are causing your alopecia.
Hair loss can also be caused by physical damage to the hair. This particular type of hair thinning is called traction alopecia and is usually caused when the hair is pulled forcefully. Traction alopecia can be avoided by giving up tight hairstyles, limiting the use of hair care products containing harmful chemicals, and using less heat and relaxers.
If your hair shedding is caused by biotin deficiency, taking biotin supplements and eating biotin-rich foods can be helpful options. Usually, it takes a few months to see improvements. Talking to your healthcare provider to determine if you are biotin-deficient or not is critical before starting the biotin supplementation.
Biotin does play a role in hair, nail, and skin health. It is an essential vitamin that helps produce keratin, an important building block of our hair and nails. But not all hair loss problems are related to biotin deficiency.
Biotin can be beneficial in hair growth to some extent if the reason for the hair shedding is low biotin levels. Whether or not you should take biotin supplementations for your hair growth depends on the root cause of your hair problems.
It is vital that you consult your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis before starting any treatment.