Biotin for brittle nails: Help or hype? 

 Vitamin B7, biotin. Icon, chemical formula, molecular structure on white background. 3D rendering

Biotin for brittle nails: Help or hype? 

Walk into any pharmacy, grocery store, or giant retail store, head to the section selling supplements and there will be plenty of supplement makers marketing pills for split and brittle nails.  Many of us – up to 20% - at one time or another have had nails that may be weaker than we like and most of us are familiar with vitamin/mineral supplements promising to cure that.

One of the more common vitamins marketed as a solution to the problem is biotin, a B vitamin.  Biotin’s main function in the body is to act as a coenzyme unleashing the energy found in carbohydrates, protein, and fat.  It is naturally found in a wide variety of foods including eggs, avocados, nuts, meat, fish, and many vegetables.  It is recommended that each day adults consume about 30 micrograms of biotin as established by the Institute of Medicine, which is easily acquired as many different foods contain it. 

Why do nails become brittle?

Nails that are splitting, brittle, soft or thin have a special term called onychoschizia.  This condition is more common in women and older individuals having several reasons as to why it occurs:

·      Repeated wetting and drying of nails

·      Low humidity or dry heat

·      Rarely but it could be caused by an internal disease (Raynaud’s Syndrome), a vitamin deficiency (iron deficiency) or a thyroid disease.

Why biotin for brittle nails?

Biotin has been touted as a wonder cure for brittle nails for some time. Our body does require ths vitamin for good health and since we are unable to make it on our own, we do have to rely on getting it from food or supplements.

One role biotin plays in the body helping hair and nails is that it is involved in the infrastructure of keratin.  Keratin is a protein in hair, skin, and nails.  A deficiency of biotin can cause symptoms such as thinning hair, skin rashes, and brittle nails. But, deficiencies of biotin are very rare, mainly because it’s found in so many foods and we don’t require that much of it daily.

The evidence indicating biotin’s ability to improve hair, skin, and nails in people who do not have a biotin deficiency is not that strong. Anyone with normal biotin levels will likely see little to no improvement in hair or nail growth or strength.

What do scientific studies say?

The reason why biotin became well-known as an elixir for fixing brittle nails is because of two studies from the 1990s.  One study was based off the fact that hoof changes in horses and swine were normalized with the administration of biotin.  This small study evaluated 32 participants placed into three groups – group A was the control group of subjects with normal nails, group B had people with brittle  nails who were studied both before and after biotin treatment, and groups C also had brittle nails but did not have biotin coincide with the initial and terminal clipping of their nails.   Results showed that group B’s nails thickness did increase by 25% while group C also saw a small increase of 7%.

Another small study from the 1990s showed that the participants who took a biotin supplement did show a 25% increase in nail plate thickness. 

Even though these studies did show a statistically significant increase in nail thickness after taking a supplement of biotin, both nail studies used doses of 2,500 to 3,000 micrograms or 100 times the recommended daily dose of biotin we require each day. 

At this high of a dosage, this supplementation of biotin really becomes more like a drug than just a supplement to the diet.  Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin which means any excess usually will be excreted from the body in the urine.  This means it hard to overdose on a biotin supplement. But there is some evidence that very large doses of biotin can mess with lab tests for hormones. Anyone taking a biotin supplement or any vitamin/mineral supplement even if it’s over-the-counter, should always inform their doctor of this. 

Keep in mind also that the Food and Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements as food not as a pharmaceutical.  This means they are not required to be reviewed for their safety or efficacy before being sold on a store shelf. 

The best treatment for dry, brittle nails

There are many ways to treat dry, splitting, brittle nails other than taking the supplement biotin.  Here are some recommended things to try from the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology:

·      Wear gloves when performing household chores particularly if it involves getting hands wet.  Use cotton lined gloves for the best protection.

·      Apply moisturizer containing alpha hydroxyl acid to nails.  Then soak nails in a paraffin wax bath for 10 to 20 minutes afterward to help nails absorb extra moisture.

·      Limit the number of manicures

·      Avoid frequent handwashing, if possible and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers which can dry out nails.

·      Be gentle when filing nails.  Shape and file nails with a very fine file and round the tips in a gentle curve. 

·      Each day file snags or irregularities to help prevent further breakage or splitting.

·      Avoid metal instruments on the nail surface to push back cuticles.