What is biotin?
Biotin is essential for your general overall health. Your body doesn’t produce this vitamin, which means you have to get it from food. Signs of biotin deficiency include skin rashes and hair loss, leading to demand for a vast selection of biotin hair and skin supplements.
People say that biotin causes acne, but it’s not clear that it does. It’s also not clear, though, that biotin acne supplements help your skin if you have normal levels.
Biotin, also called B7 or vitamin H, is a vitamin your body uses mainly to convert proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into energy. It’s a water-soluble vitamin, so it dissolves in water as it enters your body and washes out of your body in your urine.
Biotin serves a few important functions:
Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reactions in your body. Vitamins are often cofactors for enzymes, which means they help enzymes and must be present in the body for enzymes to work. B7, or biotin, is an important cofactor for a group of enzymes that help break down and convert fatty acids, amino acids, and glucose.
Regulates gene expression
Biotin is also important for gene expression. This is the process where your body makes proteins based on the information stored in your genes. It’s a carefully regulated process that controls when and where proteins are made. Biotin changes and suppresses the activity of certain proteins that convert genes into other proteins.
Influences immune system
Newer research shows that biotin also plays a role in your immune system and affects white blood cell activity. In animal studies, a lack of biotin increased inflammatory immune cells and caused ongoing digestive inflammation, suggesting a link between metabolism, inflammation, and biotin.
What does biotin do to skin?
Most people get enough biotin from food, so deficiency is very rare, but it can happen. Some people are born with an inherited metabolic disorder called biotinidase deficiency that causes a lack of biotin. People who drink a lot of alcohol, have inflammatory bowel disease, take some medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding might also have trouble getting enough biotin.
A biotin deficiency causes a range of symptoms, from seizures, weak muscles, and delayed development in children to changes in blood acid levels and skin problems. These skin problems include thinning hair, hair loss, brittle nails, and a skin rash around the eyes, nose, and mouth.
These signs of biotin deficiency are probably why there are so many claims that biotin can treat skin problems and hair loss, but only a few studies show that biotin supplements help skin conditions. These positive outcomes are observed mostly in babies born with a biotin deficiency disorder. It’s not clear that biotin supplements help your hair, nails, and skin when you have normal biotin levels.
Does biotin treat or cause acne?
There isn’t very much research on biotin treatment for acne. You need biotin for normal health, but it’s not clear that it causes or treats acne. It’s possible that people confuse biotin with vitamin B5, which might have a more significant effect on your skin.
Biotin vs. pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
Biotin helps convert amino acids and plays an important role in making proteins, including skin proteins called keratin. One theory is that because it helps make hair and skin proteins, it must help hair growth and skin conditions, but some lab dish studies indicate that biotin has no effect on the cells that make keratin.
Instead, vitamin B5 might be more important. It’s not exactly clear how vitamin B5 affects your skin, but studies show that it has antibacterial properties and softens the skin. It also appears to affect how your skin cells grow and regulates your skin barrier. In one study, people with acne took a B5 supplement twice a day for 3 months and had fewer pimples and less inflammation compared to the control group.
Biotin might interfere with B5 absorption
Your body absorbs biotin and pantothenic acid through the same pathways. One theory suggests that biotin supplements might actually block B5 absorption, but experts don’t know how much that affects your skin.
Biotin might help comedonal acne
One study shows taking biotin might help with oil production and comedonal acne. This kind of acne is mostly characterized by whiteheads and blackheads. The paper points out that biotin treatment only helps when you have a low blood level of biotin verified by tests, though.
Another 2018 study tested skin supplements that contained biotin on men with mild-to-moderate acne. At the end of 12 weeks, acne improved for most of the men in the skin supplement group, but it’s hard to say whether it was because of biotin. The supplements had a lot of other ingredients that could be responsible for the changes.
Biotin might help side effects of acne treatment
Some acne treatments, like retinoid creams, cause minor side effects like redness, dryness, and skin flaking. This stems from skin cell turnover and is a normal process that eventually gets better. Biotin might help control irritation and skin flaking from these treatments, which could improve acne treatment.
Should you take biotin if you have acne?
Biotin supplements are likely safe for most people. You don’t store biotin, so it won’t build up and become poisonous, even in large doses. It might interact with some anti-seizure medications, antibiotics, and blood tests.
You don’t need to take high doses of biotin, though. While it’s not likely going to cause or worsen acne, taking more than the recommended amount probably won’t help your skin, either.
Instead, get enough biotin in your diet by eating foods like fish, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, broccoli, cauliflower, and dairy. You can also get the recommended amount by taking a daily multivitamin with 30 micrograms of biotin.
Overall, dermatologists don’t usually prescribe biotin to treat acne, so skin supplements might not be worth the money. Unless your lab tests show low biotin levels, you likely don’t need more than what’s in your diet or daily multivitamin.
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American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Acne Clinical Guide."
American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology: "Biotin deficiency enhances the inflammatory response of human dendritic cells."
Bioinformatics: "The CoFactor database: organic cofactors in enzyme catalysis."
Bistas, K., Tadi, P., StatPearls, "Biotin."
Dermatology and Therapy: "A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of a Novel Pantothenic Acid-Based Dietary Supplement in Subjects with Mild to Moderate Facial Acne."
Giornale italiano di dermatologia e venereologia: organo ufficiale, Societa italiana di dermatologia e sifilografia: "Biotin: overview of the treatment of diseases of cutaneous appendages and of hyperseborrhea," "Novel combination for the treatment of acne differentiated based on gender: a new step towards personalized treatment."
National Cancer Institute: "Keratin."
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Biotin Fact Sheet for Health Professionals."
Oregon State University: "Biotin."
Skin Appendage Disorders: "A Review of the Use of Biotin for Hair Loss."
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