Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/21/2022
Hair loss is a major problem for men, and when your looks are on the line, it’s perfectly understandable to suddenly care about medical science, proteins and biological processes, and to weigh the benefits of taking supplements like biotin vs keratin.
Biotin and keratin have a long history — a partnership, if you will — and both are important for your hair’s health.
But the devil is in the details. They’re part of the same “club,” the way romaine and parmesan are part of a caesar salad.
Still confused? A little hungry? Wondering whether you should down those biotin supplements by the handful or just eat carrots and other keratin-boosting foods like crazy? We can help you figure out the best plan for your needs.
As for the question of which is right for you — biotin vs keratin — well, it’s not that simple. As with many things in the worlds of biology and medicine, the answer is both, neither, and more depending on what you’re really asking with your question.
Grab a snack, and let’s start unpacking this.
Biotin and keratin are both things your body produces, but that’s about where the similarities end.
Biotin is a B vitamin, also referred to as vitamin B7 or vitamin H. It’s a water-soluble vitamin, and deficiency in biotin, while rare, can result in skin conditions, eye issues, developmental delay in children and, yes, hair loss.
Generally speaking, vitamin B in all forms is important for your hair. Vitamin B2, riboflavin, vitamin B7, biotin, folate, vitamin B6 and B12 are versions of vitamin B complex, which plays a critical role in cell signaling, cellular development, gene regulation and hair growth.
The good news is your body largely gets its supply of biotin from a balanced diet — supplements are only necessary when something’s not working right, but even then, all the biotin we need can usually come from improving a well-balanced, healthy diet.
Keratin, on the other hand, is not a vitamin, and while you do need it to live, it doesn’t function as an element of cell production so much as it is part of the cells themselves.
Keratin is a fibrous protein — one of three responsible for literally keeping your skin and hair from turning to dust, alongside elastin and collagen.
While the latter two keep your skin bouncy and full, keratin acts like armor plating. Keratin cells take the beating from sunlight and external sources of damage so the rest of your cells don’t have to. Keratin is what makes your healthy nails healthy and what’s missing from brittle nails.
Okay, so it makes your skin stronger, but what about hair? Well, buddy, you see that hair on your head, face, arms and everywhere else?
One hundred percent of what you can see is actually hardened keratin. And what’s below the surface is more or less a big keratin factory, to make the keratin you see. You run your fingers through your partner’s hair? You’re stroking keratin.
Explaining which of these is “better” for hair loss is kind of the wrong question, but let’s get into it.
Keratin is the more important part of the equation when it comes to hair loss, full stop. If you don’t have keratin, well, you’re probably dead. But if your hair doesn’t have keratin, you don’t have hair.
Biotin, on the other hand, is just a really, really important part of the hair production question.
You can, in theory, have hair without a single trace of biotin in your body. Again, probably irrelevant, because zero biotin wouldn’t be good for the whole “staying alive” thing, but it’s a difference between water and air: you can survive a while without water — without air, you won’t make it to the bottom of this page.
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There aren’t really “side effects” to keratin — while over-keratinized cells and tissues will have scar tissue properties, you can’t overdose on keratin. So, talking about the side effects is a bit silly. The side effect of having keratin is having hair and skin.
Biotin, likewise, is pretty hard to get into your system at such excessively high levels that it will cause you problems. The Office of Dietary Supplements says that supplemental doses of 10mg to 50mg don’t produce any symptoms of toxicity — and that level, for the record, is twice the amount in our biotin gummy vitamin supplement. They suggest about 30 mcg per day for an adult.
That said, biotin can potentially interfere with lab tests if you ingest high dosages, and can lead to inaccurate hormone level readings in the thyroid. In some cases, this has led to tests falsely indicating conditions like hyperthyroidism or Graves' disease in some patients.
There’s a fair amount of information out there on the effects of biotin for hair growth and health, but overall, the data on supplements for hair growth is inconclusive — we just know that too little can cause hair loss, and extra doesn’t necessarily boost hair growth.
Short of science-fictional injections of super keratin or nano-bots laced with biotin, you’re not going to see hair health improvements from using keratin or biotin as a “treatment.” There are only a few Food and Drug Administration- and expert-approved ways to boost hair growth, and two of the most commonly recommended are finasteride and minoxidil.
Finasteride is a daily oral medication that helps your body reduce its levels of the androgen hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) — it can cut them back by about 70 percent according to some studies, and since DHT has a reputation for decommissioning hair follicles and causing androgenic alopecia, you may want to consider using finasteride if you’re genetically predisposed to male pattern baldness.
Regardless of the kind of hair loss you’re experiencing, you might likewise benefit from topical minoxidil, which studies show can increase your total follicle count by 12.7 percent to 18.6 percent by increasing blood flow to the follicles in question.
So, you’ve just learned a lot about hair health and two of the main components of healthy hair growth. Congrats! It’s like you sat through a lecture in med school — a really short, top-level lecture. Chances are, though, you still have questions.
What’s next? Talking to a healthcare professional about these concerns.
Our advice? Contact a healthcare provider — whatever questions you have about hair health and hair loss are going to be much easier to answer with the support of a professional. And if your hair is in danger, they’re your best hope for protecting it.