What Is Biotin & Why Do You Need It?

We dive into the trendy nutrient plus the health benefits it can provide.

Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese Sheet-Pan Eggs
Photo: Casey Barber

Every so often, specific health claims will be made about a lesser-known vitamin or mineral, and it will start to trend. Examples of this include the collagen craze in the name of skin health, or when keratin had its moment in the limelight for its hair-health benefits. Another nutrient that's piquing people's curiosity is biotin, specifically for its role in hair, nail and skin health. Here we'll explain what biotin is, what it does and the best ways to meet your needs.

Pictured Recipe: Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese Sheet-Pan Eggs

What is biotin?

Biotin is actually another name for a type of vitamin. It is one of the many B vitamins, and is also referred to as vitamin B7. It's a water-soluble vitamin that's made of five specific types of enzymes that are crucial for breaking down fats, carbs and protein in the body. These enzymes also help regulate the signals sent between cells and the activity of genes. Most dietary biotin is bound to the protein in foods, but it can also be found in its free form in the body (most biotin is stored in the liver).

Why do we need biotin?

So, now that we know what it is, what is biotin good for? Along with vitamin A, biotin helps stimulate the production of keratin, which is a mixture of proteins that improves the strength and health of hair and nails. Not getting enough biotin can lead to hair thinning, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, brittle nails and even some neurological problems like depression or persistent fatigue. These symptoms tend to appear gradually.

What are the health benefits of biotin?

Since biotin is used for maintaining strong and healthy nails, skin and hair, you'd think that adding more would make your hair, nails and skin even stronger and healthier, right? Not necessarily. There is only a small amount of evidence on the effects of biotin supplementation, but research confirms that it may provide some benefits.

Hair and nail benefits

Much of the research around biotin's effect on hair and nail health was done back in the 1990s. One small older study did conclude that biotin supplementation increased nail plate thickness by 25%. A more recent 2017 study reviewed 18 reported cases of biotin use for hair and nail health. All cases showed clinical improvement in hair and nail health after receiving supplemental biotin. However, the study authors clarified that biotin deficiency and other underlying conditions like brittle nail syndrome or uncombable hair may have skewed the results. They wrote in the study abstract, "Though its use as a hair and nail growth supplement is prevalent, research demonstrating the efficacy of biotin is limited."

Many claims related to biotin supplementation stem from outdated research, so more research at a larger scale needs to be done to substantiate these findings. Plus, most supplements are totally unregulated, so meeting your needs through food may be a better way to go.

Food sources of biotin

It is recommended that adults over age 19 consume 30 micrograms of biotin each day (those recommendations increase to 35 micrograms for people who are lactating). While biotin supplements are popular, there are several foods that make it easy and delicious to meet your needs. There are animal- and plant-based foods that are rich in biotin, including:

  • Egg (33% Daily Value)
  • Salmon, 3 ounces (17% DV)
  • Pork chop, 3 ounces (13% DV)
  • Ground beef, 3 ounces (13% DV)
  • Sunflower seeds, ¼ cup (9% DV)
  • Sweet potato, ½ cup (8% DV)
  • Almonds, ¼ cup (5% DV)

The bottom line

Biotin is a critical vitamin for energy metabolism and maintaining healthy hair, nails and skin. However, more research needs to be done on whether additional supplementation results in added benefits. Luckily, there are many foods that can help you meet your needs—and recipes like Sheet-Pan Salmon with Sweet Potatoes & Broccoli and Spinach & Mushroom Quiche make it a delicious endeavor.

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