Biotin supplements for hair are everywhere. Consumers have been promised that biotin is the key to strong nails and healthy strands. But that’s truly only the case if you’re biotin deficient—which is very rare. Plus, ingesting too much biotin can cause acne, rashes, and can even mess with important lab test results.
“Cases of biotin deficiency as a contributing factor to hair loss and nail problems are actually very low,” says Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Boca-Raton Florida. Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Northern California, adds that “most Westerners consume plenty of biotin in their diet. Biotin-rich foods include organ meats, eggs, fish, sweet potatoes, and almonds.”
Biotin supplements can cause lab abnormalities that interfere with results, so taking them when you don’t need to isn’t a good idea. For example, they can make the test for troponin, a blood protein that is high after a heart attack, appear low, leading to a misdiagnosis. “Additionally, it can cause lab abnormalities with thyroid tests, pregnancy tests, hormone levels, and blood tests for cancer, HIV, and liver disease,” says Dr. Campbell. “If you are taking biotin and plan to have labs, definitely stop at least a week before your blood tests.”
The only time biotin supplementation is recommended is when you are deficient, which can be determined through blood work. Dr. Campbell says getting tested for a biotin deficiency is really only necessary if “you are experiencing symptoms like rashes and neurologic issues in addition to hair loss and brittle nails.” But again, it’s super rare.
“It is not recommended to supplement biotin unless you are breastfeeding or pregnant. Pregnancy and smoking increase the metabolism (consumption by the body) of biotin, but supplementation in smokers isn’t recommended,” says Dr. Campbell, “There are rare cases of biotin deficiency that are genetic/inherited or acquired. You are born with the genetic cause or can develop a deficiency if you consume raw egg whites over a long period of time or suffer from alcoholism.”
If you’re experiencing hair loss and don’t know why, both the derms recommend seeing a board-certified dermatologist to figure out the type of hair loss you are experiencing.
“If it is determined by a doctor that you have a type of hair loss possibly associated with a vitamin deficiency or something that could be picked up on a lab and treated with supplement or medication, then it’s worth obtaining blood work,” says Dr. Campbell. “Usually, iron, zinc, and vitamin D are checked and supplemented if they are too low, and vitamin A can be checked if there is a concern for it being too high. Thyroid abnormalities can also be associated with hair loss and treated with oral medications like synthroid so this is often checked when appropriate.”
If you’re experiencing brittle and dull hair rather than hair loss you can incorporate supplements that help to strengthen and condition the hair that you do have. Dr. Fromowitz is a fan of Nurafol and Viviscal.
Viviscal includes a blend of marine protein, biotin, zinc, vitamin C, horsetail extract, and iron, to nourish hair from within and promote growth.