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Does Minoxidil Actually Work?

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A man with a maroon jumper outside in front of a tree with long dark hair and a long beard

Published: 18 September 2020

Minoxidil, also known as Regaine in the UK or Rogaine in America, is a popular hair loss treatment for male pattern baldness. It is a topical treatment which is applied to the scalp in the form of a spray, foam or liquid. It works by increasing blood flow to the scalp, stimulating hair follicles to produce stronger and healthier strands of hair. It has been scientifically proven that Minoxidil works in around 60% of men. However, Minoxidil will only work for certain types of hair loss or hair thinning, provided that it is applied twice daily without any breaks in treatment. Once application is stopped, the natural balding process will resume, and you will lose any hair that regrown as a result of treatment.

 

What is Minoxidil?

Minoxidil is a vasodilator (which means it expands blood vessels). It was developed by the pharmaceutical company Upjohn in the late 1950s and was initially used in trials as a potential treatment for high blood pressure. During these trials, scientists observed that hair growth was a side effect of Minoxidil. This prompted further research and in 1988, minoxidil was officially approved as topical treatment for hair loss. To date, it is one of the most effective treatments for hair loss. Minoxidil remains to be popular amongst men around the world because:

  • It is backed by scientific research and evidence
  • The results are proven
  • It has a mild side effect profile

 

How does Minoxidil Work?

Male Pattern Baldness is caused when hair follicles (tiny holes on the scalp where hairs grow from) shrink. Follicles that have shrunk produce hairs that are thin and weak, and eventually stop producing hair. The most common cause of this process is age. As you get older, hormone changes shrink hair follicles. Genetics also play a part of the balding process, with some men being genetically predisposed to MPB.

Minoxidil can help to stop, and in some cases, reverse the hair loss process, by widening the blood vessels in you scalp. This improves blood flow to the hair follicles, which means they can receive a healthy oxygen and nutrient supply. This allows them to produce healthy strands of hair.

The hair growth cycle has 3 stages. The growth stage, the transition phase and the resting phase. During the resting phase, hairs rest whilst new hairs begin to enter the growth stage. When hair falls out after being in the resting phase for 3 months, new hairs enters the growth stage. In MPB, hairs do not spend much time in the growth stage, which means they fall out much quicker. Minoxidil works by stimulating hair follicles from the resting phase to the growth stage. It also works by increasing the length of time hair spends in the growth phase. This will result in fuller and healthier hair growth.

 

How long does it take for Minoxidil to work?

Minoxidil will start to work straight away. However, it will take around three to six months of constant use for results to be visible.

Within the first month of using Minoxidil, you may experience hair shedding. It is normal to lose hair during the first month and this is nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s a good sign which shows that Minoxidil is working. Minoxidil simulates hair follicles to grow, which means that your old hair will shed to make way for healthier and stronger hairs to push through.

 

Does Minoxidil regrow and thicken hair?

Minoxidil works by activating hair follicles to start producing hair again. So, if you are starting to lose hair, there is a good chance that Minoxidil will work to promote the growth of hair. Minoxidil may also help to increase the size of hair follicles, stimulating the growth of thicker hair.

Men who are starting to bald may also find that their hair is starting to appear thinner in nature. This may be a result of hair follicles that are not producing hair and hair follicles that are producing weaker hairs, all within a confined space. This may give the appearance of thinner hair. As Minoxidil starts to work, it will give the appearance of a thicker head of hair.

 

Does Minoxidil work on a receding hairline?

The hair follicles on your hair line do not differ much from those on the top of your head. So, in theory, Minoxidil will work on a receding hairline. However, Minoxidil is most effective on thinning hair, and hair that has been lost relatively recently. Frontal balding is usually early stage hair loss, therefore, to maximise the chances that it will be effective, Minoxidil should be used early on in the balding process.

 

Will Minoxidil work if I am completely bald?

Minoxidil will not work if you are totally bald, because hair follicles on the scalp have not been active for a long time. During this time, hair follicles have undergone permanent changes that are unlikely to be reversed.

 

Can I use Minoxidil on my beard?

In theory, Minoxidil will help you to grow a stronger beard by stimulating hair follicles on your face to produce thicker and healthier strands of hair, resulting in a stronger beard. However, Minoxidil is not licensed for use on the face and clinical research has only been carried out on scalp usage. Minoxidil has been known to cause irritation on the scalp. Given that the skin on your face is more sensitive, it is likely to cause dryness and irritation. Blood circulation is also better around the face than the scalp. This may increase the absorption rate of Minoxidil into the bloodstream, increasing the likelihood of side effects.

Whilst Minoxidil may be effective at helping you to grow a beard, it is not licensed for use on the face and should not be used for this reason. The likelihood of experiencing side effects may also be increased as your face is more sensitive than your scalp, and has a better blood supply (making it more likely that Minoxidil will be absorbed into your system).

 

What the science says

A one year study of Minoxidil conducted on 984 men reported the following:

  • 16% found it to be very effective
  • 48% found it to be effective
  • 21% found it to be moderately effective
  • 16% of men found it to be ineffective

This study also reported minimal side effects demonstrating that Minoxidil is generally well tolerated.

Another study comparing the use of Minoxidil solution 2% and 5% found that after 48 weeks, men that used the 5% solution experienced 45% more hair growth.

Scientific research conducted over a 4 month period found that men using Minoxidil had significantly better hair growth compared with those using a placebo, in as little as 16 weeks.

 

How to use Minoxidil

  1. Ensure that your scalp is dry. Any water on your hair is likely to dilute the solution and it will not be as effective
  2. Apply the solution to your scalp. If you have long hair, you should move it out the way before applying Minoxidil directly to your scalp. It is a good idea to separate your scalp into 6 parts and apply the solution to each part
  3. Gently massage the solution into your head
  4. You should wash your hands thoroughly after application. This avoids the likelihood of Minoxidil coming into contact with other areas of your body and causing unwanted hair growth
  5. Apply Minoxidil twice a day consistently. Minoxidil has a half-life of around 22 hours, which means it leaves your body relatively quickly. Therefore, it is important to use Minoxidil twice a day consistently

Minoxidil is often used together with finasteride, which is a dihydrotestosterone (DHT) blocker. MPB is caused when testosterone converts to DHT, which shrinks hair follicles. A study conducted in 2015 found that Minoxidil used together with finasteride was more effective in treating MPB.

It is also common practice to use a derma roller as part of a treatment routine. The tiny needles on the end of the roller are thought to improve circulation and produce collagen, stimulating hair growth. Whilst many men find this to be effective, scientific research is limited and the science behind using a derma roller is theoretical.

You should not use minoxidil if:

  • You are under the age of 18 or over the age of 65
  • You have previously had a bad reaction to Minoxidil
  • Your hair loss is not genetic (i.e. if your hair loss has happened suddenly, or is patchy)
  • You are completely bald or are experiencing loss of hair on your body
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have conditions that affect your scalp such as psoriasis, eczema, sunburn, or you are using treatment on your scalp for a condition

 

What are the side effects of Minoxidil?

Minoxidil is generally safe for long term use, however, as with all medication, there are side effects that can occur.

The most common side effect is headache and scalp irritation and itching. Unwanted hair on other parts of the body has also been reported.

Using too much Minoxidil can cause side effects such as light-headedness, nausea, and vomiting. You should visit your doctor as this may be a sign that too much Minoxidil has entered your bloodstream.

Unlike finasteride, Minoxidil does not have any sexual side effects and is not known to cause erectile dysfunction or affect sperm and libido. This is because Minoxidil expands blood vessels and does not affect hormones.

 

So, does Minoxidil really work?

Minoxidil can help to regrow hair that has recently fallen out and can also help to improve hair that is thinning. It is a scientifically proven treatment, used by many men around the world.

You should use Minoxidil on your hair for as long as you wish to see results. Remember, your hair may fall out before it starts to grow back stronger and healthier. This is normal and a sign that treatment is working. The effects of Minoxidil will not last forever, and once you stop using treatment, you are most likely to resume the natural balding process, losing any results you may have gained from treatment.

 

Whilst all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it is not intended to be substituted or used as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please speak to your doctor.

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