Does Minoxidil Work?

Written by the Manual Team · Medically approved by Dr Earim Chaudry - MD

In 30 seconds…

Minoxidil is an effective, clinically proven treatment for male pattern baldness. It’s applied directly to the scalp in the form of a spray, foam, or solution. Minoxidil works by expanding the blood vessels in your scalp, improving blood flow to the hair follicles so they produce stronger, healthier hair.

It’s been demonstrated that Minoxidil improves scalp coverage in around 60% of men.

If you’ve looked in the mirror recently and wondered why you’ve started looking more like your senior relatives with a bald spot – you’re not alone. Two-thirds of men in the UK will eventually experience male pattern baldness (also known as androgenetic alopecia), as a result of their genetic make-up. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story…

Clinically-proven treatments for male pattern baldness (MPB) are available. You may have already come across Finasteride, a tablet that blocks DHT, which is the hormone responsible for a lot of MPB hair loss. There is also a topical treatment for MPB, Minoxidil, which works by increasing the blood flow to the hair follicles. The best regime to combat hair loss is to combine both tablet and topical treatment together.

 

What is Minoxidil?

Minoxidil has an interesting history. In the late 1950s the Upjohn Company were carrying out clinical trials of the drug as an oral treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure). The scientists found that Minoxidil had a curious side effect – it was causing patients to sprout extra hair all over their bodies.

Seeing the potential for Minoxidil as a remedy for hair loss, its creators began testing a topical version that could be applied directly to the scalp. They formulated a solution that worked effectively and thus the treatment as we know it was born.

Also known as Regaine or Rogaine (in the US), Minoxidil is available as a spray, foam, or solution and in different strengths – typically 2% and 5% (extra-strength). You don’t need a prescription to start using it: you can buy it online or over the counter in most pharmacies – or you can buy it directly from Manual online.

 

How Does Minoxidil Work?

With male pattern baldness (MPB), hair loss is caused by shrinkage of the hair follicles (the tiny “capsules” that produce one single hair each) on your scalp. This can be the result of age and hormonal changes, such as sensitivity to the hormone DHT.

Minoxidil works to halt – and even reverse – the effects of MPB. As a vasodilator, it expands the blood vessels in your scalp and improves the blood flow to the hair follicles. This has the beneficial effect of reversing shrinkage of your hair follicles, as they receive oxygen and vital nutrients from the increased blood flow.

The treatment also positively affects the growth cycle of your hair. Each hair follicle goes through a cycle where the hair grows, rests, and eventually falls out – allowing a new hair to begin to grow. While the hormonal changes associated with MPB upset this cycle, Minoxidil effectively “resets” it so you’ll have a longer, healthier growth phase, resulting in thicker, healthier hair.

 

How Effective is Minoxidil?

Overall, when used regularly and as directed (see “How to apply Minoxidil” below) Minoxidil is very effective at treating hair loss caused by MPB in the majority of men. The highest strength version of the treatment – the 5% – has been found to be the most effective.

One study determined that around 60% of patients treated with the 5% solution experienced increased scalp coverage after 48 weeks of use. Another study compared the 5% solution to the 2% and found that the men treated with the 5% solution had 45% more hair regrowth at week 48 compared to the 2%. Those who had used the 5% also responded more quickly to treatment.

As you might have guessed from these research results, time is key to success with Minoxidil. You’ll probably find it takes 3–6 months to notice a positive effect on your hair. In addition, the benefits of the treatment will cease once you stop using the product – usually within 4–6 months. So it’s best to build it into your daily routine if you want to enjoy lustrous locks long-term.

It’s important to be aware that Minoxidil regenerates your existing hair follicles; it doesn’t regrow them. If there are areas of your head that have no hair at all and haven’t for some time, Minoxidil may not cause any new hair to grow there. That’s why it’s advisable to start treatment at the earliest sign of MPB.

 

How to Apply Minoxidil

Before applying Minoxidil to your scalp, your hair should be completely dry. You might also want to separate your hair into sections so you can see your scalp better. The solution should make contact with your scalp rather than your hair as much as possible.

The treatment needs to be applied to the problem areas of the scalp in the quantity advised by the manufacturer’s information leaflet. Keep your head tipped back while you apply the liquid and move your hair to help direct it to the right place (this avoids too much dripping and wastage of the solution). Wash your hands thoroughly after using Minoxidil.

Repeat the application twice a day, leaving a 12-hour interval between treatments. The second application should be at least an hour before bed, so the solution doesn’t just rub off on your pillow. Avoid the temptation to apply Minoxidil more than twice a day – this doesn’t provide any extra benefit and increases the risk of side effects.

Important note: Minoxidil should not be applied to scalp skin that is inflamed, infected, irritated, or painful. This article addresses Minoxidil as a treatment for male pattern baldness only.

 

Is Minoxidil Safe?

Minoxidil is a safe and effective treatment for men between the ages of 18 and 65 who are experiencing male pattern baldness. Significant side effects are rare.

During the early stages of treatment, some men notice additional hair loss – but don’t panic: this is likely to be a sign that your hair growth cycle is being regenerated. Usually the old, brittle, unhealthy hair will be replaced with new, strong, healthy growth that is thicker than before. Other mild side effects include irritation and some reddening of the scalp skin.

More serious but uncommon side effects are: hypotension, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, faintness or dizziness, sudden unexplained weight gain, swollen hands or feet, and persistent redness or irritation of the scalp. You should contact your doctor straight away if you notice any of these symptoms. If you have cardiovascular disease or cardiac arrhythmia then you should consult a doctor before using Minoxidil.

 

Key Takeaways...

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So, does Minoxidil work? The answer is: Yes! The majority of men will enjoy a fuller, thicker head of hair when they make Minoxidil treatment part of their daily routine. To really wage war on MPB hair loss, you could also boost your arsenal by combining topical Minoxidil with Finasteride tablets.