Ask any beauty enthusiast and they’ll tell you that they have easily stumbled across several trendy new hair vitamin brands on social media. Countless beauty influencers (and stars) such as James Charles, Vanessa Hudgens, and the Kardashian-Jenner clan, for example, haven’t been entirely shy about their love of hair gummies.
And while the swan song of longer and stronger locks may be calling your name, it’s safe to say that hair gummies easily fall into the controversial category of celebrity-endorsed products.
Biotin supplementation, for example, was found to have some effect on hair and nail growth health, according to a 2017 review published in Skin Appendage Disorders. However, the review only reported 18 cases of biotin use for hair and nail changes, and in all of those, participants receiving biotin supplements had a deficiency or some sort of condition—meaning it’s important to remember that research on the topic is still limited. The review authors also came to the conclusion that there’s not enough evidence to suggest that otherwise healthy people should take a biotin supplement.
Should you be wanting to know all the pros and cons associated with hair gummies before you actually buy them, we talked to experts to shed some light on all the truths and myths associated with these products.
From ingredients to look for to any potential health concerns you should know about, read on to get the full explainer on all things hair gummies.
The packaging really isn’t that important
We all know that many hair gummies come in a pretty-packaged bottle, as tons of beauty brands have released bottles fit for all those #shelfies on Instagram. However, Samantha Coogan, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, FAND, the director of the Didactic Program in Nutrition & Dietetics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said via email that ingredients are far more important than packaging.
To start, she explained that most gummy forms of hair vitamins have biotin and silicon (which enhances the absorption of biotin) as the main ingredients.
But in case you need the explainer as to what biotin does for your hair, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, biotin is an essential nutrient found in foods and vitamin supplements. Biotin, according to the NIH, is a B vitamin that’s important for histone modifications, gene regulation, and cell signaling.
And while the NIH did note that a few very small studies may suggest that biotin could promote healthy hair and nails, more research is needed. It’s also worth noting that individuals prescribed biotin supplements usually have a severe biotin deficiency. The NIH added that deficiencies can be marked by brittle nails, dry hair, and skin rashes.
With that said, the NIH warned consumers that any benefits attached to gummies may actually just be claims when it comes to any perceived benefits for healthy individuals.
Biotin aside, Coogan added that other vitamins can be added to the product in order to hopefully boost the health of brittle hair and nails. These include vitamins C, A, E, B12, and thiamin. Should you be curious to know what thiamin is, the NIH defines it as a water-soluble B vitamin, known as vitamin B1. This vitamin, according to the NHS, plays a key role in supporting the growth, development, and function of cells.
Additionally, Coogan added that this ingredient is considered safe for human consumption, as it carries daily requirements known as the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) standards. “The DRI for thiamin is 1.1-1.2mg/day, and for biotin is 30mcg/day,” she explained. “It is important to be sure to look at the units carefully, as biotin has a much smaller requirement in micrograms versus thiamin, which is listed in milligrams.”
Daily requirements are important, she explained, as they can prevent micronutrient deficiencies. For example, she explained that vitamin A deficiency can cause associated night blindness. Micronutrients, she added, act as precursors and coenzymes for metabolic processing in the body, including the metabolism of macronutrients (i.e. carbs, fat, and protein). Without micronutrients, Coogan warned, you can sacrifice the metabolic rate and functioning of the macronutrients and other crucial body processes related to cellular metabolism.
It’s probably more than just biotin
Coogan said it’s equally important to look for filler ingredients that can be included in hair gummy products. These include ingredients such as rice flour, and products that use terms such as ‘proprietary blend’, which often do nothing for your body, she added.
“Rice flour is nothing more than a filler that has no health benefits to it,” she explained. “Similarly, ‘proprietary blend’ is a very loose term that doesn’t define exactly what’s in the product, and is a way for manufacturers to cover themselves legally, without truly divulging what that proprietary blend consists of.”
The ‘other ingredients section’ on your hair gummy bottle can also be revealing, as some gummy brands include things like titanium dioxide and FD&C Red40 in their product ingredients. FD&C Red 40, according to the Environmental Working Group, is a synthetic dye produced from petroleum, and is approved by the FDA to be used in food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic products. Similarly, the EWG noted that titanium dioxide is an inorganic compound that can be used in things like makeup and sunscreen.
When taking a closer look on how these ingredients are utilized in hair gummies, registered dietitian Summer Yule, RD, explained via email that both titanium dioxide and FD&C Red 40 are typically used as color additives that are permitted to be used in food, according to the FDA. Titanium dioxide may also be used in paper food packaging, she added.
Though Yule said that both ingredients are approved by the FDA, titanium dioxide does have its share of potential risks, as a 2017 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology noted that the ingredient caused inflammation in the small intestine of mice. Similarly, a 2010 paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives noted that FD&C Red40 contains a low level of benzidine, a human and animal carcinogen.
They’re not FDA-Approved
Authenticity is another problem surrounding hair gummies, as Coogan explained that the FDA isn’t authorized to review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness. Instead, manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for making sure their products are safe before they go to market, according to the FDA website.
If manufacturers fail to ensure that products are safe, the FDA website adds that the organization can pull supplements off the market. However, Coogan warned that this process doesn’t take over night, especially since it takes far longer than it does for a manufacturer to get it on the shelf.
“Typically, the process to pull products from the shelves by the FDA takes far longer than it did for the manufacturer to get it on the shelf,” she said. Instead, she recommended exerting when it comes to supplements by talking to your physician first, before you actually take them.
“In dietetics, we caution consumers about supplements on a ‘use at your own risk’ level,” she said. “We also always promote consulting a physician first, especially if you’re on any medications that may be contraindicated for supplement use.”
Even if a brand does claim to use FDA-approved food ingredients, Coogan said it’s still important to exert caution, especially since manufacturers may try to include these ingredients to get around FDA-approval backlash from the public. Additionally, she noted that potential ingredient interactions could occur, making it important to take a cautionary approach to hair gummies.
“This has the potential to be misleading because consumers will latch onto one FDA-approved ingredient,” she added. “However, without knowing the true interactions between the different ingredients, it is hard to assess for safety and efficacy, or to even have the capability to state that one ingredient is more effective than another.”
Organic certifications have nothing to do with effectiveness
Even if your hair gummy of choice has a certified-organic seal slapped on the bottle, Coogan said that it doesn’t mean this product will help achieve your hair goals.
“Organic is more about the handling of foods and food products versus any health benefit,” she explained. “It typically deals with the substances used in soil, free of pesticides and residues; or for meat and poultry, the quality of the diet they are fed.”
And since everyone’s body responds differently to supplements, she added that it’s hard to say who will actually benefit from taking organic gummies, organic seal or no organic seal. “Organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthier, especially since it only really tends to drive the price up,” she added. “Instead, eating organic foods is more of a realistic approach to keep in mind.”
Hair growth—if you see it—won’t happen immediately
Hair gummies also won’t work overnight, as board-certified hair restoration physician Dr. Alan Bauman, MD explained by email that hair growth is on the slow side, with a total of ¼ to ½ inch a month.
With this in mind, it can take some time to results from hair growth supplements, as he explained that it takes up to six months to start seeing visible results, depending on the individual. You may notice shinier, healthier looking hair before that, he added, but it takes an investment of time to see actual growth.
“If a hair vitamin actually had a good effect on your hair, you should be able to measure the results at the level of the scalp in 90 to 180 days, and see results in double that amount of time,” Bauman said.
However, cosmetic chemist Susie Wang said via email that hair vitamins will only help in promoting new hair and nail growth, especially since hair is already ‘physiologically dead’ to begin with. “When hair grows out of the hair follicle and past your scalp, it’s physiologically dead,” she explained. “In short, it doesn’t have life anymore, as in nerves or blood and so on.”
Instead, Wang suggested remembering that hair gummies work to support new hair growth, which is why you should take them for a few months to see results. “The supplement doesn’t affect already existing hair growth, but only new and alive hair growth from your follicles,” she added.
There are lots of factors to consider before trying them out for yourself
Although biotin-containing hair gummies may seem like an inexpensive way to give your nails a boost, the NIH pointed out that future studies are needed to determine whether biotin supplements might improve hair health, especially for those who don’t have a deficiency, which can’t be overlooked.
Additionally, Wang reminded that not all brands will work right for your body, and may not give you the instant results you are looking for. Since our bodies only need a certain amount of vitamins to maintain bodily health, she added that you may not need to take supplements like these after all.
“If your body is already rich in vitamins, your body will just dispose of the excess and, in turn, you are just wasting the gummies you are taking,” Wang explained.
Instead, Coogan advised focusing on making sure you are eating a balanced diet full of whole foods, as she explained that consuming biotin-rich foods (eggs, cheese, almonds, etc.) can support healthy hair, skin, and nails. Coogan also recommended consuming food products that contain collagen, like bone broth, since its an important protein that may help support healthy skin and joints, according to Cleveland Clinic.
However, be advised that while a 2016 study published in Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture did note ingestible collagen’s potentially positive effects on skin moisture and elasticity, there is still very limited research pertaining to collagen’s effect on hair growth at this time. More research is needed for how collagen might help boost your hair, skin, and nails.
In short, should you still be interested in taking any type of supplement, Coogan advised consulting a physician first before doing so. That way you can ensure that your gummies (or anything else) are safe for your body before you try them. “Doctors can assess for any potential adverse side effects or drug interactions, especially if someone is on a prescription medication,” she said. “They can also assess any potential allergic reactions people may have to the supplement.”
Whole foods over supplements
Hair gummies may be a celebrity and influencer favorite, but there is limited published research at this time that suggests that the ingredients (biotin, collagen, etc.) inside these products have any positive effects on hair growth.
And though some of the more questionable ingredients inside these products are considered safe by the FDA, Yule stressed the importance of getting all your nutritional needs from eating whole foods instead.
“Supplements may be more expensive than just buying food, plus the supplements may contain additives that you don’t want,” she explained. “Often, you don’t know how much of the additive you are getting, since this information is typically not provided on nutrition labels.”
However, if you want to give hair gummies a try, that’s not necessarily bad. Just make sure to share any new supplements you may be interested in taking with your primary care physician before you actually take them.