For those of you who aren't reading Mindy Kaling's (aka Kelly from The Office), newly re-launched blog, The Concerns of Mindy Kaling, why aren't you? It's ridiculously funny, plus she talks about food and jewelry and hair, three of our favorite things.
Anyway, this week she mentioned that her hair stylist, Jen Atkin, brought her a bottle of Trader Joe's prenatal vitamins and that since she's been taking them, it's made her "hair grow faster, thicker" and kept her "skin glow-y and smooth." To a woman who hasn't had kids or doesn't want kids anytime soon (and also those who are absolutely, positively done with child-bearing), the word "prenatal" can be an absolutely horrifying one. But...thick, shiny hair? Lots of us are willing to stick poisonous formaldehyde on our heads, so why not take some pre-baby vitamins?
The first thing to understand is that prenatal vitamins are a bit different from regular multi-vitamins: Prenatals generally contain more iron, more folic acid, more calcium and less vitamin A. Anemia (sometimes caused by low iron levels) can cause hair loss, so this may be why some people think prenatals help.
We decided that this one needed a doctor's opinion, so we went to our favorite dermatologist, Dr. Elizabeth Hale, who's board certified and practices at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York. (Hair and skin both fall under the expertise of derms.) She told us, "A prenatal vitamin is fairly comparable to a regular vitamin, but the extra iron may help women who are slightly anemic. Anemia is a common cause of hair loss in women, and it is especially common in women who don't eat red meat, or women who get heavy periods. Taking a biotin supplement is a good idea to promote healthy hair and nail growth."
The Mayo Clinic warns that unless you're trying to get pregnant or are pregnant or nursing, you shouldn't take prenatal vitamins, because too much iron in your system can be dangerous. Gah. The bottom line here is that before you start popping any pills you should consult your health care provider first (before you consult a celeb or um, a fashion blog--just saying). The only way to conclusively prove anemia is by having a blood test.
Biotin, which is in those hair and nail vitamin formulas, is sometimes included in prenatal vitamins and sometimes isn't. (We called Trader Joe's: Their formulation does contain biotin.) You could also skip supplements altogether and just eat biotin-heavy foods like liver, cauliflower, salmon, carrots, bananas, soy flour, cereals, and yeast (yum, that combo would make a delicious smoothie.)
So the answer to our question above? Prenatal vitamins may or may not help your hair issues, and may or may not harm you. Now go eat some liver.