It seems like every day, some new beauty influencer or celebrity is on social media talking about the “amazing” supplements they take for stronger, thicker, shinier, and every-other-adjective hair and nails. And after being inundated with a billion of these images, day after day, you’ve probably been tempted to join the crowd and pick up a few bottles of vitamins, too. We know we have.
But before we raided the shelves of GNC, we talked to an expert—you know, the kind with an actual medical degree who saves lives and stuff—about whether or not popping a few pills can really give you the gorgeous hair and nails of your dreams like social media promises. And yes, she had a lot to say. Read on to find out the five things you should absolutely know before stocking up on those mystical, magical vitamins.
First, learn your supplements.
If you’re going to gulp down some pills that your sister’s hairstylist’s cousin told you to try, you should make sure you know what you’re taking. “Vitamin A, omega 3s, and all of the B-complex vitamins play a role in how our skin and nails look,” says Holly Phillips, MD. “B-complex vitamins, like biotin and folic acid—two of the most popular vitamins people take when they’re trying to grow their hair—help your body process energy and transport carbon dioxide to the blood cells, which aids in your metabolism and cell turnover,” she says, stressing and re-stressing that these vitamins don’t necessarily cause stronger, thicker, or prettier hair and nails, but they might help.
The other popular pill of choice? Omega-3 fatty acids. “Everything that is keratin-based, which is the basic protein found in your hair, skin, and nails, can benefit from omega-3s,” says Phillips. “600 milligrams a day is the recommended daily dose, which you can easily get from fish, flaxseed, certain nuts, and even some dairy products.” And, finally, you’ve got your vitamin A, which Phillips says “can help reduce nail brittleness, especially if you have a deficiency.” But, she notes, “it’s easier to get the safe, recommended dose of vitamins A and B through a daily multivitamin, rather than taking supplements that might be too high for your system.”
Then, ignore (most of) what you hear.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard pregnant ladies swear that their folic acid vitamins gave them thick, shiny hair. Yeah, us too. In fact, it was one of the things we most looked forward to about pregnancy—other than, you know, the baby. But, says Phillips, the two aren’t necessarily related. “Hair growth during pregnancy is likely caused by a flood of changing hormones, rather than the introduction of a folic acid supplement, which your body already has,” says Phillips, adding that folic acid isn’t a mystical pregnancy pill, but a form of vitamin B that helps promote cell turnover, and is found in a ton of foods. “Most American breads, cereals, grains, and even some milk products are fortified with folic acid,” she says. “It’s also found naturally found in spinach, avocado, and beans, so, provided that you’re not pregnant, you’re probably eating more than enough folic acid already.”
Make sure you know how vitamins work.
Just like your body doesn’t know to target, say, your thighs when you’re trying to lose weight, your body also doesn’t know that those supplements you’re taking are supposed to help with your nails or hair. “There aren’t special vitamins that enter your system and are magically diverted to your hair or nails,” says Phillips. “They might help the overall functioning of your body, which, in turn, can contribute to healthier skin and nails, but the same can pretty much be said of a proper diet.”
But be patient—and don’t expect miracles.
Sorry, but vitamins don’t work immediately. In fact, unless you have a deficiency, they might not work for you at all. “We simply don’t have studies on the effects of taking vitamins and supplements to boost your hair and nail growth,” says Phillips. “But if we did, I can tell you that it wouldn’t be a magical, immediate cure. Even if your levels were low, or you had the rare deficiency that would benefit from taking supplements, it would still take several weeks to a couple of months to see results.”
We know: bummer. But it also makes sense, because clearly nothing you ingest today is going to help the dead hair that’s already hangin’ out in a ponytail on top of your head. “Any supplement that you’re going to take right now would only help the next layer of layer or nails that you’re growing next,” says Phillips. “So you wouldn’t even really notice results for another four or five months—and that’s if you’re totally consistent with taking them daily.”
Then repeat after us: More isn’t better.
In fact, it’s rarely better. “The biggest problem with taking supplements is the risk of over-doing it and harming yourself by taking double or triple the recommended dose,” says Phillips. “Although most vitamins are safe to take at the recommended dose, things get risky when people don’t factor in the vitamins they’re already getting from their food.” Plus, is the risk really worth the possible payoff? “The fact is, we just don’t have supporting evidence that these supplements will give you better hair and nails,” she says. “We know that vitamin deficiencies can cause hair loss and brittle nails, but taking additional vitamins when you’re already at sufficient levels? There’s no proof that it will help you look better.”
So, that being said, take supplements at your own risk. Or, better yet, just go to your doctor and discuss everything with her. Because as awesome your sister’s hairstylist’s cousin probably is, do you really want to be taking health advice from her?