“It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” We’ve heard this saying a million times, and in most cases it’s true. Take biotin, for example.
Lately, it seems as if hundreds of beauty brands have introduced biotin-infused products to the market. All of which claim to help restore hair loss, plump skin, and strengthen nails. However, experts say there’s not enough science to back these up.
To better understand what biotin is, how it works, and why it’s in so many products nowadays, we tapped two experts to share their knowledge.
What Is Biotin?
Biotin is a vitamin B complex also known as vitamin B7. Unlike other nutrients that are naturally produced in our bodies, biotin is absorbed through the food and liquids we ingest. Most people maintain healthy levels of biotin, which work stimulate hair follicles, nourish the skin, and help its oil glands function properly thanks to its fatty acid complex.
When someone has a biotin deficiency they may experience skin rashes, brittle nails, and both thinning hair and hair loss. “However, biotin deficiency is incredibly rare and severe biotin deficiency in healthy people eating a balanced diet has never been reported,” says Maryanne Makredes Senna, MD, an Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School and the Director at the Lahey Hair Loss Center of Excellence and Research Unit in Massachusetts. “Further, individuals with biotin deficiency experience much more than hair thinning; they have conjunctivitis, significant rash around the eyes, nose, perineum, and even seizures.”
Do Biotin Skincare Products Actually Benefit the Skin?
It’s popularly believed that biotin’s fatty acid complex can improve the skin barrier, and therefore work as a healing ingredient. However, that’s not the case.
“Unfortunately, we’ve researched it and there are no benefits to topical biotin,” says Desirée Stordahl, the Director of Applied Research and Education at Paula’s Choice. She goes on to explain that there’s less than a 2% increase in skin health after using a topical biotin on the skin, which isn’t much at all. “It’s been studied enough that if there were real results to be seen, there would be studies to show — but I haven’t seen any,” she adds.
Stordahl further explains that while a biotin-infused product may work, it’s likely not because of the biotin itself, but rather because of the melange of skincare ingredients that work synergistically to improve the skin’s appearance.
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Do Biotin Hair Products Benefit the Hair?
We hate to be the bearer of more bad news, but despite products claiming to reverse thinning hair and hair loss with biotin-infused products, there’s no evidence to support that it works. “Biotin does not help hair grow — full stop. Whether it is oral or topical, it just does not do anything,” says Dr. Senna.
She explains that a common reason people experience hair loss is when they go through telogen effluvium, a step in the hair growth cycle that causes hair to fall out due to high levels of stress or illness. Hair loss will typically start three to four months after the initial incident, and she says they can lose between 30 to 50% of their hair. Since the hair loss happens months after trauma or illness, Dr. Senna says many people don’t connect the dots and, in desperation, turn to taking biotin supplements or other products, and when the hair eventually grows back they believe it’s thanks to that treatment, when in reality the hair would’ve regrown without any treatment at all.
Dr. Senna further explains that the belief that biotin supplements work stems from the fact that biotin deficiency can lead to hair thinning with progression to loss of all body hair — but we’ve already established that biotin deficiency is incredibly rare.
Furthermore, she explains that taking biotin supplements can actually have a scary medical side effect as they can interfere with blood test results. Dr. Senna explains that labs that can be impacted by biotin supplementation include thyroid function tests, vitamin D, cardiac troponin blood test, and some hormone tests such as cortisol, parathyroid hormone, and luteinizing hormone.
Instead of turning to biotin to reverse damage, she suggests consulting with a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in hair loss. “For people with hair thinning, there are a number of treatments that are safe and effective. These help the hair follicles stay in the growth phase longer,” says Dr. Senna. “Still, other patients like those with alopecia areata or scarring hair loss conditions like lichen planopilaris, frontal fibrosing alopecia, or central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia need to treat the inflammation causing their hair loss in order for hair to regrow.”
So wherever you fall on the hair loss or skin dryness spectrum, you can put the biotin down.
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