Like other B vitamins, biotin is an essential nutrient that’s almost inexplicably important. It helps the body break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It is a cofactor in many enzyme-driven metabolic reactions. And, because biotin deficiency can lead to hair loss (and other effects like depression or an inflamed rash on the face), biotin has been associated with normal hair growth.
You may have noticed that the labels of many brands of shampoo and conditioner boast about added vitamins and nutrients, including biotin. It is true that biotin is essential for hair but biotin isn’t absorbed through the hair or skin in a way that will benefit the cells in the body. This means that a shampoo or conditioner with added vitamins won’t make your hair grow faster, healthier, or thicker. Vitamins must be taken orally to have an effect. Additionally, there’s not yet a clear, scientific consensus on whether or not biotin can help people with normal biotin levels grow more hair.
The Role of Biotin for Hair Growth
Biological processes are complex–all of them–and hair growth is no exception. Biotin plays a role in the infrastructure of keratin, the protein that makes up hair, skin, and nails. Visible hair is actually cells that have been keratinized, organized into strands, and pushed out of the hair follicle. As they’re pushed up and out toward the scalp, they dry, harden, and actually die because, as they get farther from the follicle, they don’t have access to blood flow and the nutrients it delivers.
Thus, it is inside the hair follicle where cells are alive and active and hair is formed; adding biotin to hair care products isn’t going to benefit those cells. Strands of hair have three layers–the medulla (the core), the cortex, and the cuticle. Healthy hair isn’t produced from the outside in, but rather the inside out. That’s why biotin added to shampoo or conditioner is little more than marketing-speak to spice up the label.
Hair, nail, and skin health are key indicators of nutritional status. Strong, shiny hair is often seen as a physical representation of health and youth; it’s no wonder it’s so desirable. Conversely, not only is thin hair viewed by some as an indication of poor nutritional status, in some cases that may actually be true. Inadequate biotin has been tied to hair loss and increased hair shedding is actually considered a symptom of biotin deficiency. Hair follicles divide more quickly than other cells and hair loss from a biotin deficiency can manifest as quickly as one week.[12, 13]
What Does the Research Say?
Thinning hair and hair loss are troubling conditions that may cause self-consciousness and affect self-esteem. The average person sheds 50-100 hairs a day and not everyone will replace those lost hairs. Though biotin deficiency is rare, evidence suggests that when inadequate biotin is to blame for hair loss, biotin supplementation may help stop the problem and strengthen the infrastructure of keratin.[4, 11]
In one exciting study, women with temporary thinning hair who were given a nutritional supplement containing biotin experienced a 52% increase in hair growth density over the course of 3-6 months of continued use.
Other Ways to Encourage Healthy Looking Hair
There are other steps you can take to promote shiny, healthy-looking hair.
How Much Biotin Should You Take?
At this time, there is no scientific consensus for daily biotin requirements. Estimates range from 30 micrograms up to 300 micrograms for adults. Biotin is water soluble and excess amounts are excreted from the body.
It’s also important to note that even if you’re getting enough biotin in your diet, your body might not be absorbing enough biotin because certain health conditions and foods can impede absorption of the micronutrient. Additionally, biotin doesn’t operate in a vacuum all by itself. It’s one of many important nutrients that work together to not only maintain healthy hair, but good health in general.
If you think you’re not getting enough biotin, talk to your trusted healthcare professional about your diet and nutritional intake. Together, you can figure out where the gaps are and address them appropriately.
Do you have any other tips for strong, healthy hair? Tell us about them in the comments below!