Do Hair and Nail Vitamins Really Work? We Asked a Nutrition Expert to Find Out
Many of the better-advertised brands come in cute gummy shapes and fun flavors while also promising healthier, more beautiful hair and nails—but are these products everything they're chalked up to be?
After hearing that they're not as effective as advertised, we reached out to Samantha Coogan, president of the Nevada Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. She gave us the actual science on vitamins, plus the reason you should be skeptical of their claims.
Sweety High: What are the ingredients most common in vitamins designed to help hair and nail growth?
Samantha Coogan: Typically biotin. Some have silicon as a binding agent to better promote its absorption. You may also see Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin B12 and thiamin.
Vitamins A and E act as antioxidants, and Vitamin C is crucial for formation of the collagen matrix, which is directly related to skin, hair and nails.
SH: Is there scientific evidence that these vitamins do what they're claimed to do?
SC: Individually, yes. When these vitamins were discovered, they were found to have properties that would improve overall hair and skin quality, along with other benefits of each. For example, the discovery of the role that Vitamin C plays in the formation of the collagen matrix came about during the time of the British sailors. They had no Vitamin C-rich citrus fruits aboard and were, therefore, deficient in vitamin C, causing tooth loss and bleeding gums, otherwise known as scurvy. By remedy, sailors started to suck on limes as a means to numb the gums slightly. In turn, absorbing that vitamin C improved overall gum quality.
Still, it is always tough to fully claim that a particular brand or product fulfills the claims it makes. These ingredients on their own have proven to show some potential health benefits. However, some ingredients can actually inhibit the absorption of others—calcium inhibits the absorption of iron, whereas vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron—so depending on the combination of ingredients, it is tough to say with 100% certainty that a particular brand or blend can live up to the claim.
SH: How tightly are these vitamins (and vitamins in general) regulated?
SC: These products are typically regulated as dietary supplements by the FDA. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 requires all manufacturers to identify all such products in that category as dietary supplements. In 2007, they established dietary supplement regulation in the form of Good Manufacturing Practices that requires manufacturers to run their products through rigorous testing for identity, purity, potency and composition.
SH: Can it be more effective to get these nutrients from diet rather than a supplement?
SC: As a dietitian, I will always promote food first. Many supplements provide nutrients in a synthetic form. For example, some include folic acid, rather than its natural form, folate, which you can obtain from dark, green leafy vegetables. You can easily get all the required nutrients every day from food if you stick to a balanced, varied diet.
Food has varying degrees of bioavailability (the amount of a nutrient available for absorption), so some foods are better sources of certain nutrients than others. For example, animal proteins have a higher bioavailability than plant-based proteins like quinoa, meaning you'll absorb more protein per serving from animal products than you will from plant-based ones. The bioavailability of supplements is tougher to understand, as there can be cross-contamination or unnecessary ingredients that provide virtually no benefit, such as rice flour or a "proprietary blend" that makes up a majority of the ingredient list (usually listed first in descending quantity order), meaning that you may absorb a small percentage of any one particular nutrient.
SH: Are there any foods that you recommend eating to naturally take in the nutrients that boost hair and nail growth?
SC: I suggest red, yellow and orange produce, bell peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, eggs, cheese, milk, organ meats, nuts, seeds and fortified cereals.
SH What else is it important to know about these kinds of vitamins?
SC: If you're thinking about adding a supplement to your regimen, always consult with a physician first to ensure that there are no adverse drug or food and nutrient interactions.
My professional disclaimer is that, as a dietitian, I never recommend or endorse supplements for liability purposes. We educate patients and clients about the potential benefits and drawbacks and let them make the decision. Essentially, it's close to saying "take at your own risk." I want to make it clear that I'm not endorsing any product, nor recommending that anyone take one in this piece.
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