Our genetics bless us with many wonderful traits (thanks mum and dad), but one thing you might be less thrilled about inheriting is hair thinning and hair loss as you age.
Hair can be a big part of our identity and losing it as we get older can be a bit confronting. If you're not quite ready to let go of your hair just yet, there are quite a few different treatments available to improve your hair density these days.
One type of topical treatment for hair loss uses minoxidil as its active ingredient. On the plus side, topical minoxidil solutions are easily accessible as they're available at chemists without needing a prescription (although, it's always a good idea to consult with your doctor or pharmacist first).
But they can also be a bit impractical for some people and minoxidil is only clinically proven to be effective in less than 50 per cent of people.
Here's what you need to know when deciding if minoxidil is the right approach for you.
What is minoxidil?
Minoxidil is the active ingredient that promotes hair regrowth in some topical hair loss treatments. It is specifically used to treat androgenetic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness.
Androgenetic alopecia is a hereditary hair loss condition that is characterised by thinning hair, a receding hairline and baldness in the mid-frontal area of the scalp. There are different forms that a topical minoxidil treatment can take and many brands use it in liquid, aerosol and foam solutions.
Although minoxidil as a topical solution is used as a hair loss treatment, it was originally used as an oral medication for high blood pressure.
How does minoxidil work?
This is quite a curious case as the science of how minoxidil helps with hair growth is not completely known. When it was first used as an oral medication for high blood pressure, hair growth and the reversal of male pattern baldness were observed and listed as side effects.
Then in the 1980s, researchers developed a minoxidil topical solution and turned the side effect of hair regrowth into the main treatment focus.
In recent years, an oral tablet version of minoxidil has also become available and is often much easier to consume versus using a topical treatment.
How do you use minoxidil?
Using minoxidil for hair growth is fairly straightforward, but there are a few precautions to take in order to create the best opportunity for hair growth results and minimise unwanted side effects.
If you're using the topical version of minoxidil, it's best to start with hair that is clean and dry. Then, using your fingertips, apply the minoxidil solution evenly across the affected area of the scalp, starting from the centre and moving outward. It needs to be applied twice daily.
Minoxidil can cause unwanted hair growth on other body parts that it comes into contact with, so once the product has been applied to the scalp, wash your hands immediately and any other body parts that have been in contact with the minoxidil solution.
Let the topical minoxidil solution dry for two to four hours before putting your head into contact with anything. This includes wearing a hat, lying down in bed, or pulling a shirt over your head.
The reason for this is that you want to let the solution absorb into your scalp as much as possible. Plus, staining other materials with the topical minoxidil can result in it being transferred back onto other parts of the body and again risking unwanted hair growth.
While you may be tempted to speed up the drying process by using a hair dryer, this can actually interfere with its absorption into the scalp, so it's best to let it air dry. Also, do not wet your hair for at least four hours after applying minoxidil. Patience is truly a virtue with this hair regrowth treatment.
If you're using the tablet version of minoxidil, this is generally taken once per day.
Can minoxidil help with a receding hairline?
Noticed your hairline creeping back a bit as you get older? This is one of the main characteristics of androgenetic alopecia and topical minoxidil was actually the first medicated treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the US to treat this type of hair loss.
Although receding hairlines and androgenetic alopecia are genetic, minoxidil can stimulate hair growth in balding areas.
Can minoxidil help with facial hair growth?
As mentioned earlier, one of the side effects to be conscious of when using topical minoxidil is hair growth on other body parts that inadvertently come into contact with the solution.
So, while topical minoxidil technically could cause facial hair growth, experts recommend that it is only used on the scalp. This is because the risk of other side effects could be higher if topical minoxidil is used on other body parts.
Common side effects include itching and skin irritation, although there are some other rare side effects that can occur if topical minoxidil is overused. These include:
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain
- Low blood pressure
- Decreased sex drive and impotence
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Skin flushing
- Headaches or lightheadedness
- Numbness, tingling or swelling of hands, feet or face
- Fast weight gain
However, if facial hair growth is something that is seriously affecting other aspects of your life, consult your doctor to see what can be done.
In one reported case from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, a 17-year-old transgender man, who was initially unable to start testosterone therapy, was treated with topical minoxidil due to gender dysphoria and a desire for facial hair.
After three months of regular application along the lower jaw, he had grown enough facial hair to help him avoid being misgendered, although he also had excessive skin dryness as a side effect.
Your healthcare provider will be able to assess your personal circumstances and advise you on whether a topical minoxidil treatment would be suitable to help you with facial hair growth, or if there are other treatments available.
How long does it take for minoxidil to grow hair?
The first sign that topical minoxidil is working for you usually shows around 90 days after starting treatment. This is when you might notice that you're shedding less hair than before starting the treatment.
Hair growth typically starts around four to six months after you start using a topical minoxidil solution. The first stage of new growth produces hair that is soft and extremely fine, and this may be the complete extent of new hair growth for some people. For others, the soft hair will continue to develop into the same thickness as the rest of their hair.
But don't forget, minoxidil needs to be used consistently according to its instructions in order to see results and skipping applications may make it less effective.
It's also worth noting that minoxidil for hair growth doesn't work for everyone. Clinical trials have shown that around 48 per cent of people who used topical minoxidil solutions for a year had medium to thick hair regrowth, while around 36 per cent had a small amount of hair regrowth and about 16 per cent had no results at all.
Is hair growth with minoxidil permanent?
If you've successfully regrown thick, luscious locks with topical minoxidil, you'll have to continue using it in order to keep the new hair growth in the long term.
An important thing to keep in mind is that while topical minoxidil can treat hair loss, it's not a permanent cure. If you stop using minoxidil on your scalp, the hair regrowth is likely to shed within 90 days.
While it's not perfect, and many aesthetic treatments aren't, if you're feeling self-conscious about thinning hair, a receding hairline or hair loss, it may be worth a shot trying a topical minoxidil solution. It's a hair loss treatment option that's accessible and non-invasive, but as always, it's best to chat with a doctor first to get personalised advice.
There is no shame in seeking help for hair loss — it's an extremely common experience and there are ways to tackle it head-on.
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