Will biotin supplements really give you the best skin, nails and hair of your life?
If you search for ways to combat peeling nails, breakage-prone hair or inflamed skin on Google, you can be sure to find biotin supplements as a first line of defence. It comes with glowing promises, but does it really do all that without affecting anything else in the body? We spoke to two doctors to find out.
What is biotin?
“Also called Vitamin H, biotin is a water-soluble vitamin from the Vitamin B family. It’s made by our gut bacteria, and our body needs it in micro amounts to metabolise carbohydrates and protein,” says Dr Rinky Kapoor, consultant trichologist and dermatologist, SL Raheja Hospital (Fortis Associate). While biotin plays multiple roles, its main job is to convert nutrients to energy. “Biotin supports healthy energy metabolism and also has anti-inflammatory properties,” explains Dr Abhijit Desai, founder, SkinSense Skin and Laser Clinic. “Keratin is the basic protein responsible for good skin, hair and nails, and [biotin] is known to play a role in building the keratin infrastructure too,” he adds.
Do you really need to take a biotin supplement?
The body needs biotin in very small quantities, so if you follow a healthy diet, your body will automatically produce a sufficient amount. “Biotin from a natural food diet is enough for the body. Ideally, taking it in a supplement form is recommended only when there is evidence of biotin deficiency, which is very rare. People who follow fad diets suffer from hair fall due to non-consumption or weak consumption of foods rich in biotin. In such cases, there is no harm in taking biotin in the recommended dosage under the supervision of your doctor,” says Dr Desai.
Biotin deficiency is mainly seen in patients with a chronic disease, who cannot eat regular food, or among those who have severe gut issues and enzyme deficiencies. “In such cases, we prescribe higher doses of biotin. Those with brittle nails can also benefit from a combination of vitamin and biotin supplements, but it doesn’t lead to hair growth. Studies suggest that [biotin] helps to increase the strength of the hair, and that’s how it helps with hair fall,” says Dr Kapoor. Reports supporting its ability to help strengthen brittle nails are the most defined. Biotin is able to help splitting, peeling or breaking nails due to the keratin it is able to build.
If you’re worried about the health of your super dry skin, biotin may also help to fortify it. While studies have not proven that biotin supplements alone can directly improve the appearance of the skin, the vitamin is able to produce fatty acids that nourish the skin, and help oil glands function properly.
Where can you get your fill if you want to skip supplements?
Biotin supplements are usually safe, as they are well tolerated by most people. Since it is a water-soluble vitamin, biotin doesn’t lead to toxicity in the body and is flushed out by the system. This means that there are no side effects to worry about either. However, too much can cause rashes and even cystic acne—large quantities can result in a decrease of Vitamin B5 in the intestine. If you want to choose a natural source instead, biotin is found in organ meats like liver and kidney and egg yolks. “It’s also present in nuts and seeds, and in small amounts in dals, sprouts and soya,” says Dr Kapoor. Cauliflower, salmon, carrots, bananas and legumes are rich in biotin as well.
But don’t be fooled by shampoos and creams that promise a dose of biotin. “Biotin in topical format is not of any use. Even oral supplement consumption still requires more evidence and research to understand its benefits,” concludes Dr Desai.