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Minoxidil for hair growth: Everything you need to know

What's the go with Minoxidil for hair growth? Learn the facts to decide if this is the right approach for you.

Written by
Leeza Schwarzkopf
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 19, 2024
min read
Minoxidil for hair growth: Everything you need to know
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Our genetics bless us with many wonderful traits, 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 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% 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 [1]. 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 [2].

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 [1]. It's thought that minoxidil works by dilating small blood vessels and promoting cell reproduction, as well as improving the condition of hair follicles [3][4].

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.

Different types of minoxidil treatments

The type of minoxidil you use can depend on your hair, medical history, current medications, and what your doctor or health professional recommends [5].

Responses to hair loss treatment are really individual — what works for someone else may not be the right treatment for you, so it's important to get good advice.

Oral minoxidil treatment

The oral minoxidil comes in tablet form and is the newer version of the treatment. It's usually taken once or twice a day and should contain a low dose of active ingredients that stimulate hair growth.

We can't say too much about the meds (because of Australia's laws against advertising prescription medication, which protect us from dodgy marketing campaigns), but you do need a prescription to access them.

What we can say though, is they're effective at preventing or reducing hair loss — particularly if you haven't noticed any improvement with other types of treatment [6].

Generally speaking, most people notice results within the first 3 months of their treatment.

Topical minoxidil treatment

Topical here means the stuff you physically rub into your noggin. There are 2 kinds [7]:

  • Liquid topical minoxidil — a solution that's usually mixed with propylene glycol, water and alcohol.
  • Foam topical minoxidil — you guessed it, a foamier solution that doesn't contain propylene glycol.

So which of these bad boys is better? It depends. The liquid has propylene glycol in it because this can help minoxidil penetrate the skin and do its job, but it can leave you feeling a bit greasy [8].

Some people can also have an allergic reaction to the liquid — itchiness and skin irritation are some of the signs.

The minoxidil topical foam is generally less messy, and some people find it easier to style their hair after using it [8]. It dries faster than the liquid and seems to cause less scalp irritation.

It really will depend on you and your hair, though — for example, if you have longer locks the liquid might actually get further into your scalp and work better.

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 [1].

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 2-4 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 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 4 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.

Using minoxidil with a derma roller

Using a derma roller alongside your minoxidil treatment can help it work more effectively [9].

Derma rollers are made from a bunch of teeny tiny (1mm) needles that you can roll over the skin on your scalp. By doing this, you can trigger more blood flow to the area and activate the stem cells that live there — leading to better hair growth.

Studies have shown that people using the derma roller as well as their minoxidil have a much better response to treatment than when they use minoxidil alone [10].

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 [1].

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 [1].

So, while topical minoxidil technically could cause facial hair growth, experts recommend that it is only used on the scalp [11]. 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 other rare side effects can occur if topical minoxidil is overused [1]. 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 [12].

After 3 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 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 [1]. This is when you might notice that you're shedding less hair than before starting the treatment.

Hair growth typically starts around 4-6 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% of people who used topical minoxidil solutions for a year had medium to thick hair regrowth, while around 36% had a small amount of hair regrowth and about 16% had no results at all [1].

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 [1]. 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 to try 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.

Where can you buy minoxidil?

Once you and your GP have decided which treatment (oral or topical) is the right fit for you, next up is acquiring the stuff.

If you're going the topical route, you can usually find this over the counter at your local pharmacy. For other options, you'll need to see a GP.

Photo credit: Unsplash

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