Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Minoxidil
Minoxidil is a dual-purpose medication used for treating high blood pressure and male pattern hair loss. When prescribed for high blood pressure, it comes in tablet form. For hair loss, minoxidil is available as an over-the-counter medication and its most effective form is a topical solution or foam.
Men using minoxidil as a topical solution or foam to help combat hair loss may be concerned about its effectiveness and also if there are any dangers associated with its use. In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of minoxidil.
What Is Minoxidil?
Although minoxidil is sometimes prescribed as an oral dose to combat hypertension, it’s more widely recognized as a treatment for hair loss. Available over-the-counter under the brand names Rogaine and Theroxidil, minoxidil is sold as a topical solution or foam. It can be purchased in either a 2-percent or 5-percent concentration.
In the late 1950s when researchers first began to run clinical trials to test the efficacy of minoxidil as a vasodilator to be used for regulating high blood pressure, they noticed an odd side effect of the drug. Those who participated in the trial seemed to be growing hair faster than normal. What was of interest to them is that even those with male pattern baldness appeared to be regrowing the hair they had once lost.
This interesting side effect of hair regrowth prompted further studies, not for high blood pressure, but as a treatment for hair loss.
In 1988, Minoxidil became an approved treatment by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a hair loss treatment in men. Out of the many available gels and foams boasting of their hair-growing properties, all but a few have FDA approval. Minoxidil is one of them.
Can Minoxidil Regrow Hair?
Some men begin losing their hair early in life, much earlier than usual. What used to be considered unfortunate and irreversible is now a treatable condition. Thanks to decades of research and clinical trials, men no longer have to accept hair loss as a reality.
Men with androgenetic alopecia, better known as male pattern baldness, have been using minoxidil to regrow hair with great success. Male pattern baldness occurs when hair follicles reduce in size and are unable to support healthy hair growth. Due to their reduced size, they either completely stop the production of new hair or the hair that does grow is thin, weak and prone to breakage.
In most men, minoxidil combats male pattern baldness by diminishing hair loss, and in the majority of cases, does improve hair growth. It does this by improving blood flow to the vessels in the scalp which in turn helps to improve the function of the hair follicles. Minoxidil as a topical foam treatment is easily absorbed by the scalp.
In addition to improving blood flow to the vessels that feed hair follicles, minoxidil also helps to shorten the resting phase of hair growth. Normal hair growth has three phases; anagen (growth), catagen (transition), and telogen (rest). For men with male pattern baldness, the resting phase of hair growth is abnormally long. However, with minoxidil use, this telogen phase of hair growth is significantly shorter. Along with this shortened rest phase, the growth phase is increased.
A randomized clinical trial published by the National Library of Medicine reports that patients using a 5% topical minoxidil treatment grew 45% more new hair than those using a 2% concentration. Overall, a large percentage of men who use minoxidil experience positive results and were able to slow or stop hair loss and begin to regrow lost hair.
Unlike other hair loss treatments that target dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a male sex hormone, minoxidil has no effect on DHT or other hormones. Minoxidil works solely on the scalp level and helps to improve hair growth by improving blood flow to hair follicles along with boosting their growth phase.
Minoxidil works best when treatment begins at the earliest signs of hair loss. Unfortunately, men who begin using minoxidil after significant hair loss has taken place do not have the same results as those men who began treatment early. When hair follicles remain in the telogen phase for an extended period, they rarely return to the growth phase.
A year-long study of 984 men with male pattern baldness using a 5% topical solution in Germany study yielded these results:
- 64% of men found it to be effective to very effective
- 21% found it to be moderately effective
- 15% reported it to be ineffective
Most men see positive results in approximately 4 months, although some have reported new hair grown in as little as 2 weeks. For some men, the results can take much longer. Minoxidil should be used for at least 8 months to determine if it’s effective or not.
What Are the Long Term Side Effects of Minoxidil?
As is common with all medications, some people will experience side effects, and minoxidil is no different. Most users of minoxidil for hair loss are spared unpleasant side effects and it’s generally well tolerated for long term use. The most common issue reported is mild scalp irritation.
Although rare, some patients experience issues such as:
- Changes in hair texture
- Increase in hair loss
- Burning sensation on the scalp
- Scalp acne
- Increased facial hair growth
- Scalp inflammation or soreness
- Reddened skin
These side effects are typically mild, tolerable, and most will subside or disappear with continued use. It’s important to note that users should carefully wash their hands after applying minoxidil to the scalp. Any residue left on the fingers can be transferred to other body parts where hair growth is unwanted.
Some patients have reported an increase in hair loss when first starting treatment, a condition known as minoxidil shedding. An initial increase in hair loss sometimes occurs because minoxidil changes which phase the hair follicles are in. A sudden shift from their current phase can sometimes cause increased hair loss, but once the hair follicles shift into the growth phase, most users report an increase in hair growth.
Although generally well tolerated by most users, a small percentage of men do experience some issues with its use, which are mostly just associated with the oral form. Some of the more severe side effects can include:
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Facial flushing
- Severe headache
- Swelling of face and extremities
- Numbness of face and extremities
- Rapid weight gain
Men who experience any of the above side effects should discontinue the use of minoxidil immediately and consult with their primary care physician. Those with heart issues or high blood pressure should speak to their doctor before using minoxidil to minimize the risk of further harm.
How Do I Use Minoxidil?
Minoxidil comes with detailed instructions and should only be used as directed. Although not necessary, you may want to consult with your doctor before your first application so that they can determine if this medication is safe for you to use. Minoxidil comes in two forms; topical solution and topical foam. Here we’ll cover some basic application rules to follow.
Topical Solution Usage Instructions
The typical dosing amount for topical use is 1 milliliter applied directly to the scalp twice daily. Your doctor may adjust this amount.
- Ensure hair and scalp are dry before applying
- Apply the prescribed amount directly to the affected area, beginning in the center, using the supplied applicator
- After applying the medication, immediately wash your hands to ensure its not spread to other parts of the body
- Allow the solution to dry and do not wash hair for at least 4 hours
- Do not use a hair dryer to dry the solution
- When applying the medicine during the evening hours, allow it to dry fully before laying down to sleep
Topical Foam Usage Instructions
The dosing amount for minoxidil foam is half a capful applied to the affected area of the scalp twice per day. According to your personal needs, your doctor could possibly adjust this dosage.
- To open the container, line up the arrow on the can with the arrow on the cap and remove
- Part the hair to expose the area you want to target for treatment
- Hold the can upside down and press the nozzle to release the foam on your fingers
- Using your fingers, gently massage the foam into the affected area of the scalp
- Once applied, immediately wash your hands to prevent spreading the medicine to other areas of the body.
Should I Use Minoxidil Permanently?
Sufferers of male pattern baldness will need to use minoxidil twice daily for as long as they wish to continue healthy hair growth. Unfortunately, this treatment will need to be ongoing since androgenetic alopecia is currently not a curable condition. Men with male pattern baldness will most likely need to continue minoxidil treatments daily if they want to keep the hair that they’ve been able to regrow.
Men with alopecia areata or telogen effluvium may be able to discontinue the use of minoxidil after they’ve experienced adequate hair regrowth. Clinical studies have proven the use of minoxidil to be an effective treatment for alopecia areata, however, not for severe alopecia areata or total scal hair loss.
Although minoxidil treatments are easy and don’t require much time or effort, men with male pattern baldness will most likely need to continue treatments for the entirety of their lives. It’s a small price to pay to stop hair loss.
Who Shouldn’t Use Minoxidil?
Minoxidil is an effective hair loss treatment for most men with male pattern baldness. However, some men should first consult with their doctor before starting the regimen. Those who could be at risk include:
- Anyone under the age of 18 or over the age of 65
- Those who have had a serious allergic reaction to minoxidil
- Anyone who is experiencing a sudden and dramatic hair loss
- Sufferers of high blood pressure or other heart issues
- Men with severe psoriasis or eczema of the scalp
- Anyone with liver or kidney disease
- Those with hair loss due to burns or injuries to the scalp
Can Minoxidil Help Me Grow a Thicker and More Full Beard?
Since minoxidil helps to grow hair on the scalp by improving blood flow to the hair follicles and shortening their rest phase, you might think that it’s also a great medication to thicken up a thinning beard. Although in theory, this may sound correct, there haven’t been any studies to prove or disprove its effectiveness on other parts of the body.
Minoxidil can irritate the scalp and since facial skin is much more sensitive, applying the medicine to the face should be avoided. Doing so could cause swelling, irritation, and other unpleasant conditions. Since there hasn’t been any testing done for beards, use on other body parts isn’t recommended.
The Pros and Cons of Minoxidil
Most men tolerate minoxidil quite well and report little to no side effects. Although rare, some serious conditions can result from minoxidil use. Clinical studies prove that minoxidil for use as a hair loss treatment for men with male pattern baldness report high success rates. Unless you are one of the unfortunate few who experience severe reactions to minoxidil, this hair loss treatment has very few cons. The 5% minoxidil concentration has proved to be more effective than those that only contain 2%.
Is Minoxidil Right for You?
Many men do their best to prevent hair loss, but sometimes, they need more specialized interventions. Those who suffer from male pattern baldness have found that minoxidil has proven to be the holy grail of medicines for hair growth. It easily tolerated hair loss treatment is FDA-approved, and with daily use, continues to help men keep their hair. Although possible, side effects are rare and generally subside or completely disappear with continued use.
If you’re one of the many men who have tried other medications without success, minoxidil might be your salvation. It’s easily found in most pharmacies, big box retailers, and online. There’s no need to suffer in silence. Give minoxidil a try.