Prenatal vitamins are specifically formulated to support healthy pregnancies. But their nutrient-packed formulas means that prenatals have also gained a bit of a reputation over the years as a not-so-secret “beauty pill” for dewy skin, stronger nails, and thick, flowy hair.

But does it work? And more importantly, is it safe to take prenatal vitamins when you aren’t expecting? Here’s what the science has to say about taking prenatal vitamins if you aren’t currently pregnant.

Taking prenatal vitamins when you’re not pregnant

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What is in prenatal vitamins that is not in regular multivitamins?

Growing a baby is a big deal. Good nutrition is always important, but when you’re pregnant, you need even more essential vitamins and minerals to ensure that both you and your baby have all the nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy and normal development.

This is where prenatal vitamins come into play, and why they are such an important part of so many pregnancies. They’re specifically made to ensure that expecting parents get the nutrients that they and their babies need in adequate amounts. As such, they’re going to include some vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that aren’t always in your average multivitamin. Some pregnancy-specific ingredients that you might find in a prenatal vitamin that likely aren’t in a standard multivitamin include:

  • Biotin

  • Choline

  • Iodine

  • Folic acid

  • DHA

But even more pertinently, prenatal vitamins are going to have higher dosages of certain nutrients when compared to an everyday multivitamin, since they’re formulated for both the expecting parent and their developing baby. For example, it’s recommended that you get 5 micrograms/day of Vitamin D if you’re not pregnant, but your need skyrockets to 15 micrograms if you are pregnant. So even if your multivitamin has all those same nutrients that a prenatal vitamin does, it’s likely going to be much less concentrated since people who are pregnant need so many dietary resources to grow a happy, healthy baby.

Is it safe to take prenatal vitamins if you are not pregnant?

On the one hand, many of the nutrients that are packed into a prenatal vitamin are essential for your health, even if you aren’t currently expecting (or trying to be). Many doctors even recommend taking certain vitamins found in prenatals if there’s a chance that you could conceive since the first couple of weeks is a crucial time for development. For example, health experts often recommend that people who can become pregnant take folic acid daily, even if they aren’t actively trying for a baby at the moment, since an adequate amount of folic acid can prevent birth defects even at the earliest stages of pregnancy.

However, more is not always better when it comes to nutrition — there is such a thing as too much nutrition when it comes to certain vitamins and minerals. As healthy as a prenatal vitamin might sound, it’s definitely possible to have too much of certain nutrients like iron, Vitamin A, folic acid, and Vitamin E — in other words, many of the nutrients that are present in high amounts in a prenatal vitamin. If you’re pregnant, those nutrients go towards the baby’s development for the nine or so months that you are taking your prenatals. But if you are not pregnant, and are using a prenatal vitamin as a stand-in for a regular multivitamin, the high amounts of those nutrients like iron found in prenatal vitamins may be more than you really need or want in your body.

So if you know that you are actively trying to avoid pregnancy and are unsure how much of these nutrients you’re already getting in your current diet, it might actually be more pertinent to stick to a regular multivitamin until you can get a nutrient test or talk to a doctor and get a better picture of your exact nutrient needs.

Benefits of prenatal vitamins for skin

The coveted “pregnancy glow” that comes with pregnancy has oftentimes been attributed to the increased intake of nutrients in prenatal vitamins. However, it might not be chalked up to those vitamins alone — someone who is pregnant is also going through a ton of hormonal changes that are more likely to be giving them that flushed, dewy skin.

But with that said, there are a ton of nutrients found in prenatal vitamins that have been shown to be beneficial for your skin. For example, prenatal vitamins tend to come with their fair share of antioxidant vitamins like Vitamins C and E, which can minimize damage from free radicals that can damage your skin cells. But while these vitamins are usually present in prenatal supplements, they can also often be found in regular multivitamins, and at more moderate doses than you may need during pregnancy.

Most particularly, many of the rumors that point towards prenatals as the secret to gorgeous skin are based around their inclusion of the B vitamins biotin and folic acid.

But here’s the kicker: there isn’t enough evidence to support the idea that ramping up your intake of these vitamins with a prenatal supplement is beneficial for your skin or nails, especially if you aren’t already dealing with deficient levels of them. While biotin deficiencies can lead to dry, scaly, red skin, research hasn’t really found that there are any significant skin-boosting effects if you aren’t actively dealing with a biotin deficiency (which, incidentally, is pretty rare).

Meanwhile, there is good evidence that folic acid, in conjunction with creatine, can help firm up your skin by counteracting the degradation of collagen from sun damage. But you don’t have to take a prenatal vitamin to do this, especially since it’s also full of those other nutrients that aren’t necessarily in dosages formulated for your needs if you are not pregnant.

Benefits of prenatal vitamins for hair

The same “beauty ingredients” in prenatals that are hailed for their supposed skin-boosting benefits, biotin and folic acid, are also behind the reasoning that prenatals are a good idea for hair growth. But this argument also comes with the same flaws: while biotin deficiencies are linked to hair loss, scientists aren’t convinced that healthy individuals stand to reap any hair benefit from upping their biotin intake. Folic acid can help promote healthy hair growth and may even play a role in stopping hair from prematurely graying — but again, there isn’t enough evidence that taking a prenatal vitamin is the best way to increase your intake.

Another potential ingredient in prenatals that can contribute to strong, flowy locks is the mineral iron. Iron is included in most prenatals since it can help prevent anemia and ensure the baby is getting enough oxygen through their parent’s bloodflow. But taking high doses of iron if you’re otherwise healthy and aren’t pregnant or dealing with an iron deficiency can come with serious side effects like upset stomachs, nausea, vomiting, fainting, and constipation.

Getting to the root of the problem with nutrient testing

Because there are both benefits and risks involved in taking a prenatal vitamin if you aren’t pregnant, it pays to know exactly how your nutrition looks before popping a pill meant for pregnant people.

Ultimately, whether or not you should take a prenatal vitamin --- or any vitamin --- comes down to your current nutrient levels. Taking a multivitamin of any kind can either help or hurt you, and you aren’t likely to know which nutrients you need most if you aren’t already aware of what your current nutrient status looks like.

So the first steps you should take before taking any supplement is to determine your current levels of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. You can get a nutrition-specific blood test either through Base’s Diet Testing or via your doctor. If you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency that’s getting in the way of your skin or hair health, this will help you and your medical professionals come up with a more tailored plan to meet your beauty needs.

So, should I be taking prenatal vitamins if I’m not pregnant? Is it safe?

Prenatal vitamins aren’t exactly the magic pill shortcut to glowy skin and healthy hair that they’re sometimes hyped up to be — and in fact, taking them consistently for any purpose other than supporting a pregnancy can, unfortunately, result in an “overdose” of certain nutrients. Before swapping your regular multivitamin for a prenatal, check in with your nutrition levels and talk to your doctor first.


WANT TO OPTIMIZE YOUR NUTRIENT LEVELS?

Take our quiz to build a bespoke testing plan that will help you optimize your nutrient levels for better health.


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