We've all noticed that glow that many expectant moms-to-be have: Their skin glows without a speck of makeup, and overnight they seem to have grown that supermodel hair — thick, vigorous and gleaming with robust health. It's often said that a woman is at her most beautiful when she's in a family way.
And because prenatal vitamins are part of a pregnancy wellness routine, you may wonder if taking them is the secret to reaping beauty benefits like awesome hair and nail growth. But wait, before you run out and buy a bottle, here's something to think about: The Mayo Clinic says if you're not pregnant and planning to get pregnant, high levels of certain nutrients over a long period of time may actually be more harmful than helpful.
Wait — Is That "Baby Glow" Real?
For some, like Jennifer Lopez, whose motherhood merely enhanced her star-power exponentially, it is indeed an actual thing. For others, including Beyonce, pregnancy was challenging — proving that even among pampered celebs, every woman is different and every pregnancy is unique.
It's a fact that during every normal pregnancy, greater blood volume floods the blood vessels, resulting in skin that looks flushed (if you have a publicist, this is reported as "radiant"). Spikes in hormone levels may cause the sebaceous glands to excrete more oil, giving the skin more sheen.
Pregnancy includes a huge, long surge of estrogen, which keeps hair in the anagen or growth stage. The hormonal message is so intense that some women experience changes in the texture (and even the color) of their hair during pregnancy, when curls may straighten, or new hair that grows in may be curlier than expected. The scalp and hair may also feel oiler than pre-baby since the sebaceous glands are in overdrive. These temporary changes are the result of the pumped-up metabolism that accompanies pregnancy when normal hair loss is actually suppressed.
However, all good things must come to an end: After the baby's born, the hair's growth cycle does a mic drop, and all of the hair, which would have normally been shed over the course of the last nine months, may end up in your hairbrush and your shower-drain. Although this is normal, it's upsetting — and many new mothers seek out ways to boost hair health after they have given birth and have stopped breastfeeding.
Related: Postpartum Hair Loss Explained
So, You're Not Up for Motherhood at the Moment...
...but you'd love the result of all of those hormones rushing around, namely a spurt of hair growth (any texture or color acceptable).
Taking prenatal vitamins for hair growth is a common practice. We may reason that a pregnant woman takes these supplements while nurturing another life-in-progress in her body, so therefore the same array of nutrients, vitamins and minerals should be doubly effective on a woman who is not expecting or even trying to get pregnant.
Director-actor Mindy Kaling is a fan of prenatals, and her luscious tresses and radiant skin seem to be persuasive evidence that they work. Ditto for GOOP goddess Gwyneth Paltrow.
Although the math seems reasonable — no baby in the works, more nourishment for mama — the conclusion is incorrect.
What Nutrients Are in Prenatal Vitamins?
The vitamin aisle is brimming with different prenatal formulas. Most include the following:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B-12
All are good things a woman needs, so they should be great for making healthy hair grow faster, right?
This is the common rationale for taking prenatals for hair health. But not so fast. While it's true that all women (and all humans) need these nutrients, the level of need is determined primarily by age, and most Americans who are not pregnant can meet these needs easily by eating a balanced diet with the possible enhancement of a daily multivitamin.
During pregnancy, perhaps the most talked-about ingredient is folic acid. Folic acid or folate is an essential B-9 vitamin that's required for new cell production. Folic acid generates new cells, including the keratinization of hair during the active growth phase. Some sources even report that high levels of this b vitamin in the blood help to prevent premature graying of the hair.
Pregnancy does often trigger folate deficiency, so taking a prenatal vitamin as a hair care strategy would seem to make sense for the benefits of folic acid.
Biotin is the other hot button. Biotin, also known as vitamin B-7, functions to support the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fat, which is why biotin is anecdotally referred to as "hair food." Biotin deficiency is rare unless you're vegan. In terms of the function of biotin, dermatologists and trichologists generally share the opinion that biotin deficiency causes hair breakage in the strand versus hair loss at the root or below the scalp surface.
What Doctors Say About Taking Prenatal Vitamins When You're Not Pregnant
Anna Chacon, M.D., F.A.A.D., says not so much: "It has long been believed that prenatal vitamins lead to longer, healthier and thicker hair in women, even if they are not pregnant. However, many also forget that during pregnancy, your hair grows faster and thicker as more of your follicles are in the anagen or growth phase. In general, prenatal vitamins won't help significantly unless you are deficient in those specific vitamins which provide nutrition to the hair follicle. This myth arises because pregnant women who take prenatal vitamins usually have thicker, longer and faster-growing hair due to the hormonal changes in pregnancy which cause an increased blood flow to the hair and nails."
While it's tempting to try to approximate the coveted baby-glow without taking the step of an actual pregnancy, it seems that the numbers just don't add up.
Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, M.D., F.A.A.D., said, "The purpose of prenatal vitamins is to ensure that a growing fetus has all the nutrients it needs to develop well. For example, folic acid is needed for neural tube development. I do not recommend buying prenatal vitamins just to grow hair and nails. Biotin at 5,000 micrograms or 5 milligrams daily is sufficient to strengthen (not grow) hair and nails and is some benefit. But leave the prenatals to expectant moms."
Try It Yourself: GRO Biotin Gummies for Hair
Taking Prenatal Vitamins When You're Not Pregnant Could Actually Cause Problems
Too much of anything can be a problem. In the case of prenatal vitamins, a supplement that provides a high volume of a given nutrient may simply need to be excreted once the body recognizes that there is no fetus present to receive that "extra" dosage, and this may result in nasty side effects. The excretion and elimination of these excesses may be uncomfortable and even dangerous to your health. Here are some examples:
- Taking too much folic acid in the form of a supplement may mask the symptoms of a B-12 deficiency, thus delaying needed diagnosis and treatment.
- Devika Icecreamwala M.D., F.A.A. reports concern that large amounts of folic acid over time can lead to cancer cell development.
- Too much biotin may lead to rashes and digestive issues, including constipation and diarrhea.
- Too much calcium may lead to kidney stones.
- Too much iron over long periods of time can cause damage to vital organs like the heart and liver and can even lead to arthritis if the iron deposits settle in your joints.
Of prenatal vitamins outside of pregnancy, Dr. St. Surin-Lord said, "Three months after having delivered a baby, many women will experience hair loss. Childbirth is perceived as a stress to the human body. This stress causes hairs to go into the telogen (resting) phase of the hair cycle. This causes marked shedding and hair loss. There is no prenatal vitamin that can prevent this or treat it alone. Prenatal vitamins are essential to fetal development, and the micronutrients they provide definitely help with hair and nail growth in an individual who is deficient. However, there is no proof that continuing to take them after pregnancy lengthens hair."
Taking a vitamin that's not meant for your specific goals could mean getting too much of a nutrient you really don't need and not enough of what you do need. Instead, opt for a daily supplement designed for hair wellness, like GRO Biotin Gummies for Hair or GRO+ Advanced Hair Care Gummies with CBD.
What to Do Instead of Taking Prenatal Vitamins When You're Not Pregnant
Assuming that you aren't in procreation mode, the best approach is to mirror the estrogen-rich state of a blissfully pregnant woman.
1 . Discuss Concerns with Your Doctor
If you are menopausal, you can consider hormone replacement therapy. A study conducted more than two decades ago, casting HRT in a dangerous light, has more recently been reevaluated, and the health risks identified in that study have now been largely refuted. Plus, bioreplacement substitutes for earlier hormone treatments are now available.
2 . Eat Well
This is key advice for a woman who is expecting and great advice for everyone who is not. To be sure you're getting enough folic acid in your diet, make sure these items are on your grocery list:
- Leafy greens
- Sunflower Seeds
- Sweet potatoes
To be sure you're getting enough biotin, eat dark berries, goat's and cow's milk, almonds and halibut.
3. Treat Your Body Like the Temple it Is
While supplements may be helpful in cases of extreme nutritional deprivation (think: being stranded on a desert island) the best way to lay the foundation for healthy hair growth is to take the holistic approach and not take prenatals.
- Eat as though you were eating to nourish a precious life within your body, even if you aren't. If you eat a very restricted diet, including trendy fasting, know that it probably is affecting your hair.
- Take steps to reduce stress like spending time in nature.
- Quit smoking and reduce your alcohol consumption (booze reduces your body's capacity to absorb vital nutrients).
- Structure your day. Rise at the same time, eat meals at the same times, and go to bed at the same time each night, because the human body loves rhythm and repetition.
- Find hair wellness products that have the reviews and testimonials to back it up like GRO Hair Serum or GRO+ Advanced Hair Serum.
- Create calming, soothing rituals, like a midday stretch/swim/run/massage/nap, so your body knows what to expect.
Skip the Pickles and Ice Cream
Remember that it is possible to overdose on vitamins, especially high-powered prenatals. The side effects are rarely serious, but too much iron or other basically benign ingredients can definitely result in digestive distress short-term. And in the long term, binging on prenatals simply won't help your hair grow, so your money will have been wasted.
Choose a Supplement Designed With Your Hair in Mind
The bottom line: Many pregnant women do radiate a gorgeous glow, and provoke hair-envy in those of us who aren't in the mom zone. But realize that their rush of pinked cheeks and thicker, denser hair is probably the result of tsunamis of estrogen. And if she's a smart mother-to-be, she's eating and living with great intention.
Emulate this intention and dedication to whole-woman health, including hair wellness supplements like GRO Biotin Gummies for Hair or GRO+ Advanced Hair Care Gummies with CBD, both designed for your hair. Soon your hair will shine with the results — no babies required.
More From VEGAMOUR
- My Experience With Hair Loss After Birth
- 8 Yoga Poses for Healthier Hair
- What to Know About CBD for Hair Loss
- How to Determine Your Hair Porosity — And Why It Matters
Photo cred: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash