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Minoxidil for hair loss

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Minoxidil (also known as Rogaine) is the only medicated drug approved by the American Food and Drug Association (FDA) and internationally, such as the European Medicines Agency, to treat androgenetic alopecia. This is also known as female pattern baldness in women and can stop hair loss in its tracks. Here’s everything you need to know about how it works and the possible side effects from its use.

What is minoxidil and how does it work? 

Minoxidil is a drug which comes in a topical or foam solution. It is a vasodilator which widens the blood vessels and improves the blood flow to the scalp. In addition, it also works to enlarge the hair follicles, and lengthens the hair’s life cycle during the growth (anagen) phase. This helps the hair to stay longer on the scalp, and therefore, reduces the effects of hair loss.

Minoxidil is known by the popular brand name Rogaine. Since the patent with Johnson & Johnson has now expired the drug is more commonly just known as minoxidil. However, Rogaine as a brand remains a popular choice of minoxidil for customers.

It’s important to note that another drug for hair loss called Finasteride (Propecia) is only for men and should not be used by women. There is also no other clinically approved drug for women to tackle hair loss but minoxidil.  

Who is minoxidil for?  

Woman serious hair loss problem for health care shampoo and beauty product concept.jpg

There are many types of hair loss but minoxidil only treats a particular type called female or male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia. This type of hair loss is described as the gradual thinning of hair from the scalp, usually starting at the crown of the head and widening as it becomes thinner. For women, the thinning is more defused throughout the hair but the central parting at the crown will see the most noticeable level of hair loss. 

As many as 40% of women over the age of 50 are said to experience some level of hair loss. Androgenetic alopecia is due to genetic factors such as ageing and hormones etc. As a result, follicles of this nature tend to shrink and the growth life cycle is cut short, leading to premature hair loss. Unlike normal hair growth, hairs are continuously replaced by finer and shorter hair strands. If you are unsure of the cause of your hair loss, read our causes for hair loss guide. 

What are the side effects of using minoxidil?

There are some side effects to using minoxidil. Most people will not experience side effects but it is important to be aware of the risks. Note, if you are taking other medications, including over-the-counter vitamins, there may be a risk of interactions.

If you experience these, you should stop using minoxidil and consult with your doctor.

Could happen but not common:

  • Itching or rash to the scalp

Rare side effects: 

  • Redness to the skin  

  • Facial hair growth (more likely with 5% solutions) 

  • Spots or acne  

  • Burning sensation to the scalp 

  • Soreness and inflammation 

  • Facial swelling

Very rare side effects: 

  • Headache or migraine 

  • Disturbed vision 

  • Fainting, dizziness or light-headedness 

  • Chest pain  

  • Changes to the heartbeat 

  • Heat flushes 

  • Reduced feeling or tingling sensation in the hands, feet, or face 

  • Swelling of face and/or limbs 

  • Sudden increase in weight

What are the pros and cons of using minoxidil for hair loss?

Pros of minoxidil

Pros

  • Proven to work effectively as a treatment for hair loss in women, backed by a large volume of scientific data

  • Clinically safe to use 

  • Oral medication may not be required depending on type of hair loss and product purchased

  • Life cycle of the hair is extended during its growth and resting phase, giving a thicker and fuller look for longer

  • Can be taken safely for many years.

Cons of minoxidil

Cons

  • Need to apply hair tonic or foam once or twice a day and must be left in to absorbed  

  • Results can take at least two to four months and up to a year 

  • May see small hair loss initially before growth 

  • Must continue to take it to maintain results 

  • If you stop you will see hair loss again 

  • Expensive 

  • May see increase in facial hair 

  • Not effective for those with extreme hair loss with little hair left 

  • Whilst it activates dormant follicles in the scalp, we all have a finite amount of hair in our scalp.

Who should not use minoxidil?

If you have the following health problems then minoxidil may not be suitable for you. This is not an exhaustive list; if you are unsure speak to a medical professional for advice.

Not suitable for:

  • Pheochromocytoma (thyroid cancer) 

  • Those with skin conditions such as eczema (the topical solution will dry out the skin around the scalp further) 

  • Women who are pregnant (unless it is needed and medically advised) 

  • Women who are breastfeeding 

  • Those with heart or chest conditions 

  • Those with kidney disease 

  • Those undergoing treatment for cancer

In addition, minoxidil is most effective:

  • When used between the ages of 18-40 

  • Those experiencing female pattern baldness in its early stages. This product will not be as effective for those who have extreme baldness.

Do I need to consult with a doctor before using minoxidil? 

Prescription

Although minoxidil is readily available over the counter, it is worth asking a doctor or medical professional for their opinion on the type of hair loss you are suffering from to decide if this is the right path to treating your hair loss. It is also a good opportunity to check in on any medication you are taking which may interfere with the treatment, or address any health concerns you have. They may recommend taking a blood test to determine whether you are lacking in vitamins, which is also a factor for hair loss. 

What studies have been done on minoxidil to show its benefits? 

There are varying studies into minoxidil but most have indicated a positive result for women with female pattern baldness.

One study in 2012, conducted by E.J. van Zuuren, Z. Fedorowicz and B. Carter, with 2,349 female volunteers who used different levels of minoxidil, found more participants treated with the drug reported a moderate increase in their hair regrowth compared with those who were on the placebo trial. Another study conducted in 2014 by A. Gupta and K. Foley found that the most concentrated form of minoxidil (5%) was the most effective in tackling hair loss in women. 

Rogaine, one of the most popular brands for minoxidil, have undertaken their own studies to prove the benefits of using minoxidil in treating hair loss. For their ‘Women Once A Day’ product foam, clinical trials in five different countries found 8/10 of women saw a positive difference to their hair 

What percentage of minoxidil should I use and how do I use it?

The FDA have approved 2% and 5% minoxidil to be used by women. If you are starting off new to this, it is recommended to start with the lowest dosage of 2% solution twice daily. However, it is dependent on your hair loss and a doctor may advise that a 5% foam may be more effective. The 5% foam is to be used once a day. Some brands may come in a pill form too.

The solution or foam should usually be applied directly to the scalp or to the area of hair loss. It should be left in to be absorbed and then washed out as instructed by the product’s packaging. It should be used daily; if you forget to use it you should pick up from where you left as soon as possible. Do not overdose to catch up on missed days.  

Is minoxidil a long-term solution for stopping hair loss?

Minoxidil is safe and effective to use for many years without any side effects. However, it is said that after 15 years some users may see diminishing effectiveness and a return to their previous hair state. 

References

Please click below if you want to read the science behind this article.

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