Thanks to overstyling, pollution, hormones, stress and genetics (to name just a few factors), not all of us are blessed with the long, strong, ultra glossy hair we see in shampoo adverts. The pressure to have great lengths means that many of us are constantly on the lookout for ways to speed up and improve hair growth – and one of the biggest trends for achieving that is hair supplements.
From influencer-approved gummies to pills and capsules, the interest in hair supplements is slowly but surely growing in the UK, with predictions that consumers will spend a considerable amount on oral beauty supplements in the coming years. If you scour the ingredients lists of the most popular hair supplements on the market, you'll notice that they almost always feature one special, top-line ingredient: biotin. Popularly known as vitamin B7, biotin is found in meat, fish, eggs, sweet potato and almonds. Lately, though, professionals have begun to refute claims that biotin is the wonder healthy hair element the beauty industry has cracked it up to be. In fact, studies suggest it isn't that beneficial for hair growth at all.
Consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto says that biotin supplements for both hair and nails are commonly touted to promote growth and strength, and while brittle nails are the better studied of the two, the hair data is actually quite scarce. "[The results] mainly come from patients with inherited or acquired biotin deficiency," Dr Mahto wrote on Instagram recently. She continued: "This is not directly relevant to the general, healthy population where no such deficiency exists." Dr Mahto reveals that taking more biotin than required (some supplements can include over 650 times the recommended daily allowance, as regulation varies) is not necessarily better for hair growth.
Stuffing in more biotin if you don't need it will not result in healthier hair growth. It cannot do that.
Trichologist Sally-Ann Tarver from The Cotswold Trichology Centre believes that we have been led to think of biotin as a cure-all ingredient, which can magically stop things like hair loss, but the reality is the opposite. "Unfortunately biotin cannot do this, and many people are misinformed or misadvised, as it is always mentioned in any media article about hair. It has become the modern version of an old wives' tale," she told R29.
Interestingly, the experts argue that biotin deficiency is one of the rarest in the western world. "Biotin supplementation will only benefit those who actually have a deficiency," says Sally-Ann. "Simply stuffing in more biotin if you don’t need it will not result in healthier hair growth." Taking copious amounts of biotin will, however, cause problems, according to both Dr Mahto and Sally-Ann. "Incorrect results in blood tests is a possibility, so when you go to consult a trichologist armed with your test results, they may miss something vital because the results are skewed," says Sally Ann. Dr Mahto added that excess biotin can also lead to potential hormonal issues, as well as misdiagnosis of a heart attack, which has major clinical implications.
So what's the best way to ensure strong, healthy hair growth? Sally-Ann mentions it's a good idea to get to the root of your hair gripe. If you're experiencing hair loss or thinning specifically, seeking professional advice is a must. "There are so many causes, so it is important to find out why your hair might be thinning before trying to rectify the issue with random supplements," says Sally-Ann. "There is no magic one-fits-all pill or recommendation. Rather than playing vitamin supplement roulette, see a trichologist (or GP, who is likely to refer you) for a diagnosis and treatment recommendation."
Sally-Ann says that a popular all-rounder treatment for hair loss conditions is laser phototherapy, although it is costly both in clinic and via at-home devices, such as the Theradome laser helmet, which many trichologists recommend to patients. Visiting your GP to rule out any hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or thyroid issues is also a good idea.
If hair loss or thinning isn't an issue but you want hair that looks shinier and feels healthier, stylists recommend rethinking how you style your hair. "It can be easy to fall into the overstyling trap," says Joseph Koniak, artistic director at London-based Millimetre Salon Group. "An increased use of styling appliances coupled with cold weather conditions means that your hair health is more susceptible to damage. Limit the use of heated styling tools such as hairdryers, curling wands and straighteners to a minimum where possible. Keep hair clean and don’t overdo it on the product. Your hair (and scalp) will thank you for it."
R29 recommends L'Oréal Professionnel SteamPod Steam Straightening Tool 3.0, £229.95. While pricier than other hair stylers, it straightens and waves at record speed and keeps snagging and hair shedding to a minimum. Also try Redken Extreme Shampoo, £15, and Conditioner, £16.50, or Kérastase Genesis Bain Hydra-Fortifiant Nourishing & Fortifying Shampoo, £23.90, all of which cleanse, moisturise and strengthen strands prone to damage.
Ian Carmichael, hairstylist at Trevor Sorbie, also hits home the importance of scalp care for better quality hair. "To encourage healthy hair growth, it pays to keep the scalp clean. Massage your scalp gently (try not to cause friction) while shampooing to increase blood circulation. Products that include caffeine are also great for stimulating and strengthening the hair. Once massaged, rinse with cool water for extra stimulation."
Try The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Serum For Hair Density, £15.75, which boasts caffeine to stimulate, castor oil to moisturise the scalp and lactic acid to exfoliate, as well as Grow Gorgeous Intense Thickening Shampoo, £16, or Hello Jo Stay Strong Volumising Caffeinated Shampoo, £12.50. It might also be beneficial to invest in a gentler brush or comb, especially when dealing with wet hair, which is more prone to damage. Michael Van Clarke Large Handled Safety Comb, £19.50, glides through hair without snagging or snapping. Hairstylists also extol the virtues of the Aquis Hair Towel Lisse Luxe, £30, for absorbing moisture much more gently than a regular hair or bath towel thanks to the smart microfibres.