Examining Biotin: Separating Fantasy from Reality
For as long as we at Arocha Hair Restoration have been helping people seeking ways to prevent hair loss and regrow hair, we’ve seen wave after wave of hucksters pitching dubious products. It’s upsetting, because people who are upset by their hair loss often don’t exhibit the healthy skepticism that could protect them from profiteers just trying to make a buck. Or a hundred million bucks.
In the past, we have warned about potions and lotions that make bold claims about hair regeneration without any evidence to back them up. Today we examine the vitamin supplement biotin, which is also referred to as B7.
An Essential Nutrient
Biotin seems to attract attention in waves, driven by aggressive marketing, unique packaging or both. We’ve known for generations that biotin is an essential nutrient that plays key roles in metabolism, gene regulation, and cell signaling. It helps convert the carbohydrates, fats and proteins you eat into energy. If you have a biotin deficiency, your body starts to break down, and one of the typical symptoms is hair loss.
And that is the reason biotin has been connected to claims that taking biotin supplements can help to stop hair from falling out, grow new hair and even grow hair faster. There is no objective scientific proof of such claims. If someone has a biotin deficiency, they may experience hair loss, and correcting the deficiency can correct the hair loss, but only a tiny percentage of people who are experiencing hair loss have a biotin deficiency.
If you eat a typical diet you get plenty of biotin. Biotin-rich foods include meats, fish, eggs, nuts, whole grains, bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli, among many more. If you are wondering if you’re getting enough biotin, you can ask your doctor.
Money to be Made
So, if only a tiny portion of the population can benefit from biotin supplements, why do we see and hear so much buzz about them? Because there is a lot of money to be made from taking advantage of people experiencing hair loss. People seeking a solution to their hair loss often want a quick fix and they put undue trust in celebrities.
That is especially true in the case of biotin supplements in the age of social media.
Several years ago, BeSweet Creations, a company based in Florida, had several brilliant ideas. First, they created bright blue sugary gummy bears as the form factor for their vitamin supplements. The bright blue is similar to the color of a Tiffany’s box and made a powerful visual impact. Next, they branded their biotin supplements with the name, SugarBearHair. It was memorable and made the connection between the sugary gummy bears and their supposed hair health benefits. And finally, they hired the biggest social media influencers in the world – the Kardashians – to vouch for their products on Instagram and Facebook.
Tsunami of Attention
Fueled by pictures and GIFs of Khloe, Kim, Kylie and mom Kris popping the bright blue gummies spawned a tsunami of attention and sales. Media outlets assigned journalists to try the supplements and report on their experiences, which resulted in stories gushing that their hair had grown inches in weeks and was lustrous and thick. Writer Zack Peter, in a story published by Men’s Health about a similar gummy supplement sold by Hims, admitted that there is limited evidence that biotin can help promote hair growth (in fact there is no objective scientific evidence), yet he states, “I definitely felt the difference in my hair health overall.”
This is really disturbing because Zack had indicated in the article that he was also using topical minoxidil when he did his biotin experiment. We know FDA-approved minoxidil is a legitimate hair loss prevention medication, so why would Mr. Peters suggest that it was the biotin gummies and not the minoxidil that led to what he believes were positive results?
We’ll go out on a limb and say that we believe it is infinitely more likely that what Zack observed was the effects of minoxidil and/or a placebo effect than the effects of taking the biotin supplement. There is no objective scientific evidence to suggest biotin makes hair healthier in people who don’t have a biotin deficiency.
All of this is to say that we urge the hair loss community to be skeptical of the claims of hair loss solutions – especially when pushed by celebrities who are willing to attach their names to anything for the right price.
A balanced diet is important for promoting overall health, which does contribute to good hair health. Taking a daily multivitamin, which typically includes biotin, is a good idea to make sure you get the recommended daily allowance of the broad array of substances your body needs to stay healthy.
However, there are no shortcuts when it comes to treating hair loss. There are two FDA-approved medications – minoxidil and finasteride – that reliably work. We sometimes encourage laser therapy to stimulate the scalp, which also has been scientifically proven to work. And of course, we perform hair restoration surgery to make it possible to safely and effectively restore a patient’s hairline with their own natural hair.