POSTED: 10 Jul 2024

Does Minoxidil Really Work for Hair Growth?

Hair loss is an incredibly common concern that in one form or another can affect men and women across all age group and races. There are many different treatments for hair loss each promising to prevent shedding and promote regrowth. Amongst these, Minoxidil is one of the most common and easy to get treatments for hair growth. However, how effective is it really? In this article we explore the science behind Minoxidil to assess how effective it is, what to expect in terms of results and the best strengths and ways to use it.

What is Minoxidil?

Minoxidil was initially developed as an oral medicine in the 1960s to treat ulcers. However, the trials showed that although it didn’t treat ulcers it was actually a powerful vasodilator that could treat high blood pressure. Even more surprising was that during clinical trials, researchers observed another unexpected side effect. Minoxidil seemed to increase hair growth. This discovery led to the development of topical Minoxidil as a treatment for hair loss, which received FDA approval in the 1980s. Fast forward to today and Minoxidil is an established treatment for hair loss that is used alone or in combination with other medicines. It is available in various formulations, including topical solutions and foams as well as oral tablets. It is available over the counter in lower strengths and by prescription for higher one sin the UK.

How Does Minoxidil Promote Hair Growth?

The effectiveness of Minoxidil in treating hair loss lies in its ability to stimulate hair follicles and extend the anagen phase (growth phase) of the hair cycle. There are three main ways it works:

  • Vasodilation: Minoxidil widens blood vessels thus improving blood flow to the hair follicles. This increased blood flow delivers more oxygen, nutrients and growth factors to the follicles to promoting healthier and thicker hair growth.
  • Prolongs Growth Phase: Minoxidil opens potassium channels which may help prolong the anagen phase. This allows hair to grow longer and stronger before it enters the shedding phase.
  • Cellular Effects: At the cellular level, Minoxidil increases the activity of dermal papilla cells, which play a crucial role in hair follicle development and growth. By boosting the activity of these cells, Minoxidil helps rejuvenate shrinking hair follicles. This leads to the growth of thicker and more robust hair strands.

Who Can Use Minoxidil?

Minoxidil is suitable for both men and women experiencing various types of hair loss. However, its effectiveness can vary depending on the cause and extent of hair loss. Minoxidil is most effective for individuals with androgenetic alopecia (male or female pattern hair loss). This manifests asthinning hair and a receding hairline in men and diffuse thinning over the crown in women. It can also be beneficial for those with other forms of alopecia, such as alopecia areata or effluvium hair loss although results may vary.

In general, Minoxidil is safe for adults over the age of 18. However, before starting Minoxidil, it’s important to consider any underlying health conditions (especially vascular related) which might make it inappropriate to use. Additionally, individuals with scalp conditions such as eczema or psoriasis should consult a healthcare provider, as Minoxidil (especially) may exacerbate these conditions. Furthermore, Minoxidil should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

How to Use Minoxidil for Hair Growth

As a general rule, Minoxidil is mainly used as a topical treatment these days because it is effective and can directly act on the scalp whilst reducing the risk of side effects. Topical Minoxidil is available as Regaine® in the UK over the counter in concentrations of 2% (for women) and 5% (for men). It is primarily used as a foam though solution is also available. Higher concentrations are available in prescription treatments which may also include other hair growth ingredients like Finasteride or Tretinoin. Most people will normally need to apply Minoxidil twice daily and use consistently for 6-12 months to achieve optimal results. After that it is possible to achieve maintenance with a lower frequency though your doctor will advise on this.

Oral Minoxidil is less commonly used but some healthcare providers may prescribe it off-label for hair growth. This option is usually only considered for individuals who have not seen desired results with topical applications or who experience irritation from topical forms.

What Results to Expect From Using Minoxidil Hair Growth

One of the most common questions about Minoxidil is how long it takes to see results. It’s a complex question as it varies between person to person and also depends ob the cause of your hair loss and overall health. That being said, here’s a realistic timeline based on the user average experience:

  • Initial Shedding: This is shocking for a lot of people. In the first few weeks of using Minoxidil, you may notice increased hair shedding. However, this is a normal part of the process as old hairs make way for new growth.
  • Early Growth (3-6 Months): Most users begin to see initial signs of regrowth within this period. New hairs may appear finer and lighter in colour initially.
  • Visible Growth (6-12 Months): Continued use leads to more noticeable improvements. Hair becomes thicker and fuller as the growth cycle progresses.
  • Peak Growth (12+ Months): You typically see maximum results after one year of consistent use. Hair regrowth stabilises and users often experience significant improvement in hair density and coverage.

It’s crucial to understand that Minoxidil is a maintenance treatment. To sustain the benefits and prevent hair loss from recurring, continuous use is necessary. Stopping Minoxidil will likely result in the gradual loss of any hair regrowth achieved. This means your hair will return to the state before treatment.

Risks & Side Effects

Like any medication, Minoxidil can cause side effects. Understanding these potential risks and how to manage them is crucial for safe and effective use. These include:

  • Scalp Irritation: Manifesting as redness, itching and dryness may occur with topical Minoxidil especially with the solution form. Switching to the foam or using a moisturiser can help alleviate these symptoms.
  • Unwanted Facial Hair: In some cases, Minoxidil can cause hair growth on the face if used orally or if it comes into contact with facial skin when used topically. Careful application can reduce this risk.
  • Allergic Reactions: Severe allergic reactions are rare but possible. Symptoms include rash, swelling and difficulty breathing. Seek immediate medical attention if these occur.
  • Heart Palpitations: Minoxidil can also affect heart rate and blood pressure especially (but not exclusively) when used orally. If you experience palpitations or dizziness, discontinue use and consult a healthcare provider.

Tips for Getting Started on Minoxidil

There are no magical cures for hair loss and like anything in life consistency is key. Here are some of our best tips to help you start on the right footing:

  • Stick to a Schedule: Set reminders or incorporate Minoxidil application into your daily routine to ensure you don’t miss a dose.
  • Be Patient: Hair regrowth takes time. It’s important to use Minoxidil consistently for at least 4-6 months before expecting visible results. Unless you have any side effects don’t give up!
  • Avoid Contact with Eyes and Face: Minoxidil can cause irritation if it comes into contact with sensitive areas. Wash your hands thoroughly after application.
  • Apply onto Clean Scalp: This will help with penetration.
  • Limit application to Scalp: Minoxidil can cause unwanted hair growth on the face so avoid transferring it beyond the scalp either with your fingers or indirectly through pillows and towels.

Combining Minoxidil with Other Hair Growth Treatments

Hair loss is complex and in some cases, combining Minoxidil with other hair loss treatments can enhance its results. This normally means combining with other medicines but professional treatments can also work. Here are the most common hair growth treatments to combine with Minoxidil:

  • Finasteride: This is available either as an oral or topical medication. Finasteride works by blocking the hormone DHT, which contributes to hair loss. Using Finasteride alongside Minoxidil can provide a dual approach, targeting hair loss from different angles. Normally Finasteride is only for use in men and post menopausal women.
  • Dutasteride: Similar to Finasteride, Dutasteride is also available as an oral or topical medication. It also inhibits DHT but does so more comprehensively than Finasteride. Combining Dutasteride with Minoxidil can offer potent results. However due to risks it is often reserved for men and postmenopausal women who do not respond adequately to other treatments.
  • Spironolactone: Another medication available in both oral or topical form, Spironolactone can treat hair loss. It works by blocking androgen receptors, thereby reducing the effects of hormones that contribute to hair loss. Combining Spironolactone with Minoxidil can be especially effective for women with androgenetic alopecia.
  • Hydrocortisone: For individuals experiencing scalp inflammation or irritation, topical hydrocortisone can help to soothe these symptoms. Applying hydrocortisone in conjunction with Minoxidil can allow higher strengths to be tolerated and help maintain a healthy scalp environment, promoting better hair growth.
  • Tretinoin: Combining Tretinoin with Minoxidil can enhance the penetration of Minoxidil into the scalp. This potentially improves its efficacy.
  • Microneedling: This involves creating tiny punctures in the scalp with fine needles, which can enhance the absorption and effectiveness of topical treatments like Minoxidil. Microneedling stimulates the hair follicles and can significantly boost hair regrowth.
  • Laser Therapy: Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) devices, such as laser combs and helmets, can stimulate hair follicles and improve hair density. Combining LLLT with Minoxidil may offer synergistic benefits, as the laser therapy can enhance the overall environment for hair growth.
  • Hair Transplants: Minoxidil is sometimes used before and after hair transplant surgery to enhance the overall success of the procedure and support new hair growth. It helps in maintaining the health of the existing hair and ensuring the newly transplanted hair thrives.

Minoxidil offers a scientifically-backed solution for those struggling with certain types of hair loss. It has a long established safety record and can be effective when used correctly in the right patients. However, like anything in life everyone responds differently to treatments and the results of Minoxidil hair growth are no different. It’s worth knowing from the outset that you will need months of consistency and patience to even start to see results. There are also a number of other hair loss treatments that can enhance the effects of minoxidil so it is worth seeing a professional healthcare provider if Minoxidil is not working for you or if you want help from the outset. Finally, Minoxidil like most hair loss treatments requires a long term commitment to maintain your results. Its vital to consider this before embarking on your hair regrowth journey.

We strongly believe that hair regrowth should always be a personal journey. This is why we provide personalised hair loss and regrowth treatments through our virtual clinic. Our doctors create bespoke hair loss treatments using actives like MinoxidilSpironolactoneFinasterideDutasteride and Tretinoin. We also treat skin concerns like acnehyperpigmentationmelasma and signs of skin ageing. Book your virtual consultation and start your journey to great hair today.

Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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