Are Prenatal Vitamins Good for Hair Growth—Even if You're Not Pregnant?

Some people claim taking prenatal vitamins when they're not pregnant improves hair growth and gives them shinier, healthier strands. But is it safe to take these nutrient-packed pills when you're not expecting? We asked experts to weigh in.

It's no secret that prenatal vitamins are packed with a slew of essential nutrients. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) lists folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, choline, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin C as important vitamins and minerals for pregnant people. You can get these by eating certain foods and taking vitamin supplements. A systemic review published in February 2020 in Nutrients noted how folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and others can help support baby's development and protect against birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord, called neural tube defects. But could prenatal vitamins also deliver longer, faster-growing hair and smoother skin?

Anecdotally, you may have heard a pregnant person describe hair growth while taking prenatal vitamins. We still need more research to clinically back this claim. A review published in 2018 in Dermatology and Therapy concluded that the role of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals in hair growth is important but not entirely clear.

So, is it safe for non-pregnant folks to take prenatal vitamins? After all, many reproductive-age people take prenatal vitamins when trying to conceive but before they're actually pregnant. The CDC actually recommends women of reproductive age take 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. But are there any long-term side effects to consider to taking prenatal vitamins, or reasons you might want to stick to a regular multivitamin instead?

We polled dermatologists, nutritionists, and a GI healthcare provider to find out what they think.

"For the first few months after having a baby—when you may not have time to eat a balanced diet and feel exhausted—taking prenatal vitamins is fine," said Health's contributing medical editor Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. "But long term, they have higher than necessary amounts of certain vitamins and minerals that can cause [negative] side effects."

Two, in particular, to be aware of are iron and folic acid, Dr. Rajapaksa said. Some people can benefit from an iron supplement, such as young people with especially heavy periods, and moms-to-be (the nutrient aids baby's brain development and helps prevent iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy). But too much of this mineral can be a bad thing.

"Taking more iron than you need all the time can lead to constipation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or worse," said Cynthia Sass, RD, MPH, Health's contributing nutrition editor.

Folic acid, too, can be dangerous in large amounts and is "one of the most significant differences you'll find in comparing a prenatal and regular multivitamin," said Stephanie Middleberg, RD, a nutritionist based in New York City. This B vitamin is important during pregnancy because it helps prevent neural tube defects and pre-term birth. You don't have to worry about overdoing it on folate–the natural form of folic acid found in foods like fruits, veggies, and nuts–through diet. But consuming too much in supplement form might mask a vitamin B12 deficiency or increase the risk of colorectal cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, a San Diego-based nutritionist, recommended prenatal vitamins to female athlete clients since athletes tend to have a greater risk of low iron levels, as well as to people who think they might get pregnant soon. But Bazilian told Health that other than folic acid, iron, and the essential fatty acid DHA, the vitamins and minerals in most prenatal vitamins are pretty standard. For that reason, "prenatals may not give an additional 'boost' above a regular quality multivitamin," Bazilian noted.

If you're after longer hair, Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City, recommended a daily biotin supplement for non-pregnant people instead. Dr. Jaliman suggested one that contains 2.5 milligrams (2,500 micrograms) of the B vitamin, such as Nature Made High Potency Biotin Softgels. Another option is collagen peptides, which Middleberg often recommends for healthier skin, hair, and nails. Our pick: Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides, which you can easily mix into smoothies or juice.

The bottom line? While some people may notice faster-growing hair from taking prenatal vitamins, it's not necessarily a good idea to take high levels of vitamins you don't need. Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any new supplements to make sure they're right for you, and look for reputable brands with not too many extra filler ingredients, Bazilian said. Most importantly, don't forget to drink enough water, get plenty of sleep, manage your stress, and fill your plate with lots of fresh produce, healthy fats, lean proteins, and fiber—all are key to a healthy body inside and out.

"It may not be as easy as popping a pill, but a healthy lifestyle will benefit you in numerous ways without posing unnecessary risks," said Sass.

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