Does minoxidil work? What you need to know
Dr. Aysha Butt is the Medical Director of FROM MARS, and is a GP Partner at Woodcote NHS Medical Practice.
There are a lot of hair loss products out there. Thousands. But hair loss products have a long history of being duds, pseudo-scientific bull, or flat-out dangerous. So it can be hard to know which products to go for.
What about minoxidil? It’s a popular hair loss treatment, but is it one you can trust? Good question. Read on and we’ll explain what the science says about it.
What is minoxidil?
Minoxidil is a prescription medication used to treat male pattern baldness (MPB) which is the most common cause of hair loss in men. It comes as either a foam, a spray or a liquid solution that you apply directly to your scalp. Usually twice a day. You can buy minoxidil in 2% and 5% strengths with most guys typically seeing better results with the stronger 5% formulation.
Minoxidil is the generic version of the treatment but you can also buy branded minoxidil. Rogaine is an example of this. Despite the price difference both are medically identical. Minoxidil and its branded versions are prescription treatments that you can only buy once you have a prescription from a doctor.
Does minoxidil work?
Hair loss treatments have a dubious history but minoxidil is one of the few treatments that is clinically proven to work. Independent scientific studies of minoxidil have proven it can slow thinning and loss of hair. It’s also been shown to halt hair loss and even regrow lost hair in some guys.
In a follow-up survey of 11,000 men who were using minoxidil, 92% of them rated it as excellent, good, or fair at slowing or stopping hair loss. In a study of 393 men lasting four years, up to 40% of them reported some amount of hair regrowth.
Generally, the best results are seen with minoxidil if:
- You use it as soon as you notice any thinning
- Your hair loss isn’t advanced
- You’re under 40 years old
- You use 5% minoxidil rather than 2%
How does minoxidil work?
Minoxidil is a prescription treatment for male pattern baldness (MPB). MPB is caused by a mix of genetics, aging and the hair follicles in your scalp reacting to hormones.
The hormone that has the greatest effect on your scalp is called DHT (dihydrotestosterone) – a male sex hormone that’s made from testosterone. DHT attaches to hair follicles in your scalp and causes them to shrink over time. The hair follicles produce gradually finer and shorter hairs until eventually they close up entirely and no hair is produced at all. This is why your hair thins before you go bald.
Minoxidil works by countering the effects of DHT. Once absorbed into your scalp, minoxidil opens up your blood vessels which improves the flow of blood through your scalp. This increases the supply of oxygen and nutrients to your hair follicles. It should slow or stop follicle shrinkage and promote the growth of thicker and longer hairs.
What does minoxidil do to healthy hair?
Minoxidil improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to hair follicles in your scalp. This can improve the thickness and length of hairs grown by follicles that have been affected by male pattern baldness.
How long does it take for minoxidil to work?
Minoxidil gets to work as soon as you start using it, but it typically takes two to three months of continuous use before you start to see results. This is because hair follows a growth cycle – you’ll have to wait for your thinning hairs to be shed before thicker and longer hairs replace them.
People respond differently to medications – minoxidil will work better for some men than others. But if you don’t see any visible improvement after four months talk to your doctor.
Does minoxidil slow hair loss?
Yes, minoxidil slows hair loss in most men with male pattern baldness. In some men it can even help regrow lost hair. The best results are seen with minoxidil if you use it early, as soon as you notice any hair thinning and if you use it daily without stopping.
Does minoxidil work on a receding hairline?
The vast majority of the scientific research on minoxidil is focused on how it effects hair growth on the top of the head (the vertex). There’s been a lot less research on the effects of minoxidil on receding hairlines.
There has been some research though. This includes a small study of 16 men that found minoxidil had an equivalent effect on receding hairlines as hair thinning on the top of the head. A lot of men also report anecdotally that they’ve had good results on their hairlines with minoxidil. The only way to know for sure though is to try it on your receding hairline.
Does minoxidil work for baldness?
Minoxidil can slow or stop the hair thinning that happens before baldness and for some men it can regrow lost hair. The medication tends to work best in younger men (under 40) who have been losing hair for less than 5 years and who have thinning hair without too much baldness.
If you’re older and have larger areas on your scalp without hair, minoxidil is likely to be less effective. If you’ve been bald in an area for some time the follicles on that patch have likely closed up for good and will never produce hair again. If you’ve lost most of your hair, hair transplants may be a more suitable option.
Does minoxidil work for everyone?
Minoxidil works for most men with male pattern baldness. People respond differently to medications, so some men won’t see results with minoxidil. Just as all medications don’t work for everyone. If you’re losing your hair for another reason such as the result of an illness or a medical treatment, minoxidil won’t work for you. If you’re not a man minoxidil isn’t for you.
Do I have to use minoxidil forever?
If you stop using minoxidil your hair will begin to thin and your baldness will progress again. If you want to keep hair loss at bay, you’ll need to keep using minoxidil or another effective treatment like finasteride.
What else can you use to treat male pattern baldness?
Finasteride (also sold as Propecia) is another effective treatment for male pattern baldness. It’s taken as a pill that you swallow and it reduces the amount of DHT you have in your scalp to slow and stop your hair follicles shrinking.
Because minoxidil and finasteride work in different ways and have no known interactions they’re safe to take together. Research has shown that taking minoxidil and finasteride together can be more effective than using either one alone.