What is Minoxidil and Can it Help to Treat Hair Loss?

Minoxidil is the active ingredient in products such as Regaine, that treat hair loss in men and women. It was first used in tablet form as a medicine to treat hypertension. Used in a lotion or foam, topical Minoxidil promotes hair growth in both men and women who have gradual hair loss (thinning hair) at the top of the head. It is not used to treat receding hairlines. It is a vasodilator, which means that it dilates blood vessels.

Minoxidil is not recommended for sudden, unexplained or patchy hair loss. It is also not suitable for women who have lost hair after having a baby.

Dr Simran Deo Medical Editor

Medically reviewed by

Dr Simran Deo

Last reviewed: 26 Mar 2020

How Does Minoxidil Treat Hair Loss?

It is not known exactly how Minoxidil works to stimulate hair growth, but it may be that the dilation of blood vessels in the scalp caused by application of the solution improves the function of hair follicles and promote the growth of new hair.

Minoxidil is usually used for at least four months before hair regrowth can be seen, so results aren’t immediate. This is because hair takes a while to grow back. Everyone has their own rate of hair growth and the treatment must be used consistently for the best chance of seeing results. The first hair regrowth will probably feel fine and soft, but should gain the same appearance and thickness of the rest of your hair as treatment continues

If no hair regrowth is seen after using the product for six months, you should stop using it. You may need to see your doctor to talk about what may be causing your hair loss.

How Effective Is It?

In men

Two studies into Regaine for men, using a 5% solution of minoxidil, were conducted in Germany. Men in both studies applied the solution twice a day. One year-long study of 984 men with hereditary hair loss found the product to be very effective in 15.9% and effective in 47.8% of patients for stimulating hair growth.

The second study tested a 5% solution of minoxidil on 743 men with male hereditary hair loss. The study lasted for four months. It was rated by 7.5% of the men as very effective and 55% of the men as effective at stimulating hair growth. 74.2% of men also reported an increase in hair thickness.

In women

Women with female pattern hair loss (also known as androgenetic alopecia) can use Regaine for women, a Minoxidil solution at a 2% concentration.

32-week study into the effectiveness of a 2% Minoxidil solution in treating female pattern hair loss reported positive results. 60% of the patients in the 2% minoxidil group reported new hair growth compared with 40% of the patients in the placebo group.

Can Men Use Minoxidil?

Minoxidil can be used by men with male pattern baldness. It is suitable for men over the age of 18 who are experiencing hair loss and may stop hair loss and/or stimulate the growth of new hairs. It must be used twice a day for at least four months for any results to be seen. If no results are seen after six months of continuous treatment, you should stop using Minoxidil.

Is Minoxidil Available for Women?

Minoxidil solution at a 2% concentration is available for women with female pattern hair loss. This product is lower than in strength than the 5% solution recommended for men with hair loss. The reason for this is because a higher concentration of Minoxidil can also cause unwanted hair growth on other areas of the face and body in women. It is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or for women planning on becoming pregnant.

Does Minoxidil Cause Side Effects?

In common with all medications, Minoxidil can cause side effects. Some people may experience no side effects.

Common side effects include:

  • itching
  • irritation or redness in the treated area
  • additional unwanted hair growth elsewhere on the body

Rare side effects include:

  • burning of the scalp
  • increased hair loss
  • soreness at the hair roots
  • inflammation of the hair root
  • skin reddening
  • facial swelling

Minoxidil can be absorbed into the skin and cause severe side effects, although this is rare. Stop using Minoxidil and get medical help straight away if you experience any of the following severe side effects:

  • severe allergic reaction - characterised by itching, rash, hives, swelling of the mouth, lips, tongue or face, difficulty breathing, a feeling of tightness in the chest
  • swelling of hands, feet, or lower legs
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • pain in the chest
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • breathing problems (especially when lying down)
  • numbness or tingling of hands, feet, or face
  • vision changes including blurred vision

How Is It Used?

For men:

Minoxidil foam and minoxidil solution are topical treatments, which means that you apply them to the area that you want to treat.

Minoxidil must be used as directed by your doctor. Always check the label for instructions on the correct dosage. Don’t use more or more often than you’ve been directed to do as this could increase the chances of absorption into the skin and resulting side effects.

This is how to apply minoxidil:

  • ensure your hair and scalp are dry before application
  • use the applicator provided to apply the solution to the area of the scalp being treated only
  • wash your hands immediately after application
  • allow the treated area to dry for two to four hours
  • be careful not to allow Minoxidil to get on to any other parts of your body or surfaces such as pillows
  • don’t wash your hair, go swimming, or allow your hair to get wet in the rain for at least four hours after using Minoxidil
  • if you miss an application, apply it as soon as possible after you remember
  • don’t use a double dose of Minoxidil

For women:

Minoxidil can be used in the same way as for men, please see above. The difference is that the solution will contain a lower percentage of Minoxidil compared to the men’s product.

What Other Treatments are There?

Propecia (finasteride) for men is an oral alternative used to treat male pattern baldness. It is a tablet available on prescription only. Propecia may improve hair growth within a few months. Propecia is not suitable for use by women.

Nourkrin is an alternative treatment to Minoxidil for women. It is a ‘natural’ hair supplement in tablet form, also available as a shampoo and lotion. It is a food supplement containing a marine protein extract which is promoted as supplying your body with the nutrients needed to promote hair growth.

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