9 Foods to Eat If You Want Healthier Skin, Hair, and Nails
You've probably heard about biotin in the context of hair, skin, and nail health. And that's exactly what the nutrient benefits. "Biotin is one of the B vitamins (B7) and is what your body uses to metabolize fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids," explains Melissa Koller, an Integrative Nutrition health coach. Since biotin has metabolic functions, it helps turn the food we eat into energy so our bodies can run efficiently.
And there's another reason it's such a powerhouse. "It's also involved in gene regulation and cell signaling and can contribute to healthy hair, skin, and nails given its role in the production of the protein keratin," says Meredith Rofheart, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at Culina Health.
So yeah, you'll want to make sure you're getting enough biotin if you want your hair, skin, and nails to thrive.
Luckily, it's relatively easy to get enough biotin through your diet, although Rofheart says that certain populations, such as breastfeeding women and those with a rare genetic enzyme disorder called biotinidase deficiency, could have a hard time getting the recommended amount. "Biotin deficiencies are very rare. Most individuals eating a varied diet will have no problem meeting their biotin needs," says Claire Virga, RDN, MS, CDN, a registered dietitian with Rooted Wellness, a private practice dedicated to women's health. "However, alcoholism can increase the risk for biotin deficiency because alcohol blocks the absorption of biotin. Eating raw egg whites regularly can also increase the risk for a deficiency. Raw egg whites contain a protein called avidin, which blocks the absorption of biotin."
Virga adds that it's recommended for adults to get 30 micrograms of biotin daily, while breastfeeding women might need 35 micrograms per day. "While biotin needs do not go up during pregnancy, lower biotin levels are common among pregnant women because the body breaks down biotin faster during pregnancy," she says. "This is one of the many reasons why all pregnant women should be supplementing their diet with a high-quality prenatal supplement, in addition to eating a varied and balanced diet."
As for how you can tell if you're deficient in the vitamin, Rofheart says it's a bit hard to assess because of a few reasons: There is a lack of accurate test markers, it's not produced by the body naturally, and it's a water-soluble vitamin, so it's not stored in the body for very long.
There are some signs to watch out for, though. "While symptomatic biotin deficiency is very rare, signs of a deficiency include thinning hair and hair loss, brittle nails, conjunctivitis, and a scaly red rash around the body’s openings (mouth, nose, etc.)," Virga says. If you notice these symptoms and suspect that you're biotin-deficient, you can speak to your doctor to see if it's a deficiency or signs of something else.
And as for those biotin supplements you've probably seen pretty much everywhere—there are so many varieties available—you'll want to tread carefully. All of the experts we spoke to said that it's best to start with your diet, especially since there are plenty of foods that contain the vitamin.
Virga says it might be a waste of money to add biotin supplements to your routine if you don't really need them. "There is no research to support that there are any benefits to taking a biotin supplement among individuals getting adequate amounts of biotin in the diet," she explains. "Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin, so we do not store it within the body. Any excess that we take in from food or supplements is flushed out in our urine. Of course, if someone is experiencing a true biotin deficiency, focusing on eating biotin-rich foods while also taking a biotin supplement may help improve symptoms."
But if you do decide to go the supplement route, you'll want to be careful with how much you're consuming. Koller warns taking too many biotin supplements may cause an upset stomach or even skin issues.
If you want to jump-start your diet with biotin-rich foods, take a look at some great sources of the nutrient below.
Rofheart says eggs are a great source of biotin since the yolks are especially rich in biotin and other B vitamins. And Virga adds that egg yolks also contain vitamin D, which is an important immune-boosting nutrient that is not found in many foods.
The nutrient can also be found in animal sources like hamburger meat and pork, Rofheart says.
"Most nuts and seeds provide a healthy dose of biotin," Virga says. "Walnuts are an exceptionally good source of biotin, containing 9.5 micrograms per serving." Koller suggests adding raw nuts for crunch to your oatmeal or salad or reaching for them as a midday snack.
Koller suggests sprinkling some nutritional yeast on top of your food for a biotin boost.
Virga says sunflower seeds are another excellent source—a quarter-cup of them provides about 2.6 micrograms of biotin.
"Salmon is truly a superfood! A three-ounce serving of salmon contains 5 micrograms of biotin in addition to inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and selenium," Virga says.
"Adding more mushrooms to your diet is a great way to get in more biotin," Virga says. "I love using mushrooms in plant-based dishes, as they provide a meat-like texture and flavor and are packed with nutrition."
"Avocados are a good source of biotin, healthy fats, and vitamin E, making them a great option for anyone looking to improve skin health," Virga explains.
And Virga says sweet potatoes are one of the top vegetable sources of biotin. They're also a great source of beta carotene, which is a nutrient that supports skin health.