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Last Updated: July 30, 2016
In the world of hair loss, one product that is probably the most researched and used for the treatment of thinning hair is minoxidil. Minoxidil is the key ingredient in the best topical products that are sold in the hair loss market. Over the years, minoxidil has been in and out of the media, discussed on forums, and has been debated as the most effective treatment for hair loss. However, there are also mixed reviews about minoxidil and whether the drug actually produces the results it promises. We have studied several products that contain minoxidil and in this guide will cover every aspect of using this drug as a treatment for regrowing your hair.
First, lets take a look at the different types of minoxidil and how each product is used to regrow hair:
Types of Minoxidil
As of today, there are just a few forms of minoxidil. What generally separates each product is the concentration of the drug, the vehicle (how the minoxidil penetrates the scalp), and the manufacturer. Below we will cover the common types of minoxidil and the attributes of each product.
Minoxidil Foam Formula
Minoxidil Liquid Formula
Minoxidil Foam: The foam version of minoxidil is the most popular for the treatment of hair loss in both men and women. Rogaine was the first to introduce the foam version of minoxidil. The treatment comes in a 5% foam solution for men which should be used 2x per day. Rogaine makes a 5% foam solution for women but the difference is it only takes one application per day. In clinical studies, for men, Rogaine foam regrew hair in nearly 9 out of 10 men after 4 months being used at 2 times per day. In women, the foam version helped regrow hair in over 80% of women in as little as 12 weeks. One of the best benefits of using the foam version of minoxidil is the drying time. Although the liquid is just as effective, the foam dries in half the time of the liquid. The foam is also slightly more expensive but is worth it because everyone can agree that time is valuable. The foam version has also been manufactured by generic company brands made by Kirkland, Walmart, and Target.
Minoxidil Liquid: The liquid version of minoxidil is the original method of application. Rogaine makes the original 5% treatment for men that is applied to the scalp at 2 times per day. The 2% liquid version for women is slightly weaker at twice per day. The results from both of these liquid versions will produce the same positive results but the foam seems to be the new age of using minoxidil. When it comes down to which form is better, the foam vs liquid, it really comes down to personal preference. In addition, the liquid may be slightly cheaper since the manufacturing costs are lower. The only down-side to applying the liquid form is the drying time. The liquid can take twice as long to dry and some users have reported that the liquid seems slightly greasier on the hair. The liquid version again is manufactured by generic company brands made by Kirkland, Walmart, and Target.
Minoxidil Spray: There are a few companies that make minoxidil in a spray form. The reason why a “spray” version of this drug would be beneficial is the convenience of being able to cover a large area of the affected scalp at one time without physically touching the product. With liquid and foam versions of minoxidil, the hands must be washed right away to remove any excess residue of the treatment. On the other hand, a spray would allow you to gently mist the affected areas without any cleanup. One of the only reputable companies we have found with a minoxidil spray is made by Regenepure. Regenepure’s Precision 5% Minoxidil for Men is the go-to product for treating men’s hair loss in a spray form. Currently, they only manufacture a 5% version for men only.
You may be wondering: How was minoxidil discovered to regrow hair (hint: it may not be what you think!)
History of Minoxidil
As with many drugs, there are side effects that produce positive ones that can help than can help other medical conditions. For example, a company named Bimatoprost produced a drug named prostaglandin that was used in an eye drop form to treat glaucoma. One of the side effects that was noticed in patients was the lengthening of eye lashes. Thus, Latisse was born and was marketed and used for cosmetically making eye lashes longer and thicker. For minoxidil, this drug was developed in the late 1950’s by the Upjohn Company (currently known as Pfizer) to treat ulcers. In the beginning, minoxidil was tested in dogs in the hopes of curing ulcers but the treatment failed. However, researchers found that minoxidil was proven to be an effective vasodilator (widens blood vessels). From this discovery, minoxidil was approved by the FDA to be used in the form of a tablet to treat high blood pressure in the late 1970’s. At this point, researchers discovered that there was an interesting side effect of taking this drug. Charles A. Chisdey MD, conducted two studies, one of which showed unexpected hair growth. Dr. Chisdey and Guinter Kahn then discussed the possibility of using minoxidil as a treatment for hair loss. After this new discovery, on August 18, 1988 the FDA approved the topical treatment of minoxidil under the now infamous brand name Rogaine. In 1991, Rogaine made a product for women that was produced using a slighter lower concentration of minoxidil at 2% versus the 5% for men. During the mid 1990’s, the FDA approved the over-the-counter (otc) use of minoxidil for generic manufactures. The standard 5% solution by Rogaine was approved by the FDA for nonprescription sale in 1998. Since minoxidil is applied topically, the need for effective absorption led to a new foam formula that was introduced in 2006. Following this breakthrough, in 2015, the Johnson & Johnson company introduced a 5% foam concentration for women that could be used just once per day instead of twice. Prior solutions for women have always been 2% but this new solution for women increases the concentration and reduces the applications to just 1x per day.
How Does Minoxidil Work?
The scientific effect of how minoxidil works to treat hair loss is not fully understood. However, there are theories of why this drug regrows hair. Minoxidil is a potassium channel opener. A potassium channel opener is a drug that facilitates ion transmission through potassium channels. In minoxidil, this causes hyperpolarization (change in a cell’s membrane potential). As a hypothesis, minoxidil works as a vasodilator that widens the blood vessels and opens the potassium channels. In order for hair to grow and thrive, each follicle needs a healthy supply of oxygen, blood, and nutrients. The vasodilator effect supports the hypothesis because this mechanism would help the follicles on the scalp receive an increased supply of oxygen, blood, and nutrients which would ultimately lead to hair growth. Before starting minoxidil, existing hairs on the scalp may be nutrient starved and weak. In men, male pattern baldness has been linked to the hormone dht. If men have a sensitivity to dht, each follicle becomes swamped with this hormone and overtime the follicles get a reduction blood flow, oxygen and nutrients. This cycle leads to the actual hair follicle miniaturizing overtime and eventually the follicle will go into a dormant state. Similar to men, women can still endure genetic and stress related hair loss. Although women do not have the same gene that causes a sensitivity to dht, women can still have conditions that restrict the hair follicle of the nutrients it needs to grow. Therefore, minoxidil could be considered to grow hair by its ability to be a potassium channel opener that uses its vasodilator mechanism to help increase the blood flow, nutrients, and oxygen to each follicle for regrowing hair. Minoxidil may cause hair follicles in the telogen phase (resting phase) to shed, and thicker hairs are replaced in a new anagen phase (growth phase). This will lead to the common “shedding” observation that is noticed by users of this treatment. Shedding can actually be an indicator that the treatment is working by releasing existing weak, thin hairs which are replaced with thicker hairs.
Now one of the most important parts of using minoxidil, the application:
How to Apply Minoxidil
There are several “best practice” methods and techniques for effectively applying minoxidil to the scalp. Below we will cover tips for applying both the minoxidil foam and liquid form which are the 2 most common types of this drug.
#1 Preparation: For maximum results, it is important that the hair has been properly washed and towel dried before applying either the foam or liquid. Your scalp is prone to dirt and oil buildup. In addition, if you use styling products, it is also important to wash your hair and scalp thoroughly. Having a cleaner scalp will allow the minoxidil to penetrate down into the scalp to ensure you are getting the best application. If your hair is slightly damp, it is still okay to apply the minoxidil as long as the scalp has been properly cleansed.
Applying Minoxidil Foam For Men: A special tip before even dispensing the foam is to run your hands through cold water. Having your hands at a lower temperature will prevent the foam from melting to quickly. To apply the foam, first dispense a 1/2 capful of the foam upside down onto your fingers. Next, part your hair and apply the foam in the area where your hair is thinning. Finally, gently massage the product throughout the affected areas. It is important to thoroughly wash your hands after using this product to prevent any residue being left on your hands. The reason it is important is because your arms contain hair follicles. Although this has not been proven, it may not be a good idea to make the hair on your arms thicker! For drying, the foam is actually the fastest drying application of this drug. It is best practice to let the product air-dry for 2-3 minutes.
How to Apply Rogaine Men’s Foam Video Tutorial
Applying Minoxidil Foam For Women: Again, as stated above with applying the men’s foam, it is a good idea to run your hands through cold water to bring your hands temperature down to prevent the foam from melting quickly. First, dispense 1/2 capful of the foam onto a non-porous surface (small bowl or saucer). Next, part the hair down the middle of the head (this will maximize scalp exposure). Then apply the foam directly onto the scalp. Using a your fingertips, gently massage the foam into the scalp thoroughly (start from the back and work toward the front of the scalp). Let the product air-dry for at least 2-3 minutes.
How to Apply Rogaine Foam for Women Video Tutorial:
Applying Minoxidil Liquid For Men: The liquid version of this drug is slightly different than the foam. The liquid version takes longer to dry and is a heavier application. The liquid is administered to the scalp by a special dropper that is included with the product. The best way to apply the liquid version is to first part your hair where you are thinning. Next apply 1ml as directed with the dropper directly on the scalp. If you are experiencing thinning all over, you can use a “zig-zag” pattern on the entire affected area. Then gently massage the product throughout the affected areas thoroughly. Be sure to wash hands to remove any excess liquid from the skin. Since the liquid takes longer to dry, it is best to wait for up to 5 minutes for the liquid to completely dry. To speed up the process, you can take a blow dryer (on a cool setting) to help air-dry the product faster.
Applying Minoxidil Liquid For Women: The application of applying the liquid version of this drug is very similar to men. However, women typically have longer hair so it is important to part the hair properly where hair is thinning. First, part your hair where areas are thinning to expose the scalp. Next, apply 1ml with the dropper and apply directly on the scalp. Gently massage the product throughout the areas affected by hair loss. If you have multiple areas that are thinning, it may be more efficient to distribute the 1ml in multiple areas of the hair that need to parted to expose the scalp. This is very common with diffuse pattern thinning (thinning all over the scalp). This product will take longer to dry since versus the foam version. Make sure your hands are thoroughly washed to remove any excess residue of the application. The liquid can take up to a full 5 minutes to completely dry on the scalp. Since women’ s hair is generally longer, using a blow dryer on a “cool setting” will help expedite the drying process. It is important to have an air-dry effect so using the cool setting is imperative.
Here is the #1 question we see asked about using minoxidil:
Can Minoxidil be Used on the Frontal Hairline?
This is probably the #1 question we see asked online and on forums. The answer is yes. The reason why some of the products only advertise for vertex only is typically due to the FDA clearance it receives. Here is a prime example, the female version of Rogaine foam directs women to part their hair directly down the center and then massage the product to the affected areas. For men, if the hair can be grown on the vertex, the same mechanism should work on the front. We have seen tons of men with great success on the frontal part of the hairline using minoxidil. However, each person will respond to the drug differently. In addition, some areas of the hair may also respond to minoxidil differently. It is best practice to use this product for at least 6 months before evaluating any results. Take a look at this image below. If minoxidil has the power to grow a beard, the front of the hairline should not be a question!
This is crazy: Our team found this interesting use of minoxidil from a beard growing forum:
Minoxidil Even Works on Beards!
Here’s the deal: Minoxidil is probably one of the most opinion based regrowth treatments because of varying results:
What to Expect as You Use Minoxidil
Most people that have just started or are thinking about getting on minoxidil have expectations. We can call this the “minoxidil timeline.” First, remember everyone responds differently to this drug. For example, one user could start seeing great results within the first few months. On the other hand, the same user may experience similar results at the end of months five and six. Therefore, it is important to give minoxidil time before questioning its effectiveness. For the timeline, the first time you use minoxidil, the drug immediately penetrates the scalp. Remember, this drug affects the telogen phase (resting phase) of the hair growth cycle. People using this product generally experience an increase in hair loss. First, it is important not to freak out and remember that you want your brittle weak hairs to be pushed out and replaced by thicker ones. The shedding phase usually lasts around 2 weeks. During this time, you may experience and increase in itchiness or scalp flaking. Again this is normal since your scalp is getting adjusted to the drug. To combat the flakiness and irritation, it is a good idea to invest in Nizoral Shampoo. Nizoral contains a key ingredient, ketoconazole, that has been proven to treat dandruff and related scalp conditions. This shampoo only needs to be used 2-3x per week. Both men and women can benefit from using Nizoral but there is an added bonus for men. The shampoo’s key ingredient ketoconazole has been shown to reduce the levels of dht in the scalp that is linked to male pattern baldness. Going back to the timeline, minoxidil starts to reactivate hair follicles and lengthens the hair’s anagen phase (growth phase). After a few months, you may notice existing hairs that are growing faster and thicker. However, remember you may still have hairs that are in the resting phase that will eventually sprout. There will be an ongoing cycle of your hair regenerating itself into thicker and longer strands. Even if the hair is not dark and thick, if you look closely in the mirror you may notice “peach fuzz.” This peach fuzz is referred to as vellus hair. Vellus hair is soft, colorless but is a sign of new growth. Remember that the vellus hair can eventually turn into regular hair follicles overtime with increased blood flow, nutrients, and oxygen. We have also seen some success with people using laser hair loss therapy to help awaken and make the vellus hairs thicker. Overall, most people should start seeing results within 4 months. However, we suggest that you give minoxidil at least 6 months to see how well you respond to the drug. In addition, minoxidil is a commitment but regrowing your hair is worth every minute for restoring confidence.
Finally, we see quite a few questions about the possible side effects of using minoxidil (some may be facts, a few are myths):
Side Effects From Using Minoxidil
Just with any drug, there are always reports of potential side effects. First, do not let this discourage you because minoxidil was originally discovered as a “positive side effect” from a blood pressure medication. Anyway, we will cover some of the most common side effects and our tips for combating these side effects.
Scalp Dryness and Irritation: The #1 side effect we hear from users applying minoxidil is scalp irritation. A good tip to remember is your scalp may be sensitive for the first week or two as it gets adjusted to the drug. It may be beneficial to use Nizoral shampoo to help with a flaky scalp. For dryness, using a light-weight conditioner every other day should replenish the hair with moisture. We recommend “light-weight” because some conditioners are heavily formulated which may cause your hair to lay flat. After trying one of these two methods and you still experiencing irritation it would probably be recommended to discontinue the product.
Increased Hair Loss: Remember, seeing an increase in shedding is a sign that the drug is working. During this phase, if you want to cover up any areas that are experiencing shedding, there is an amazing hair loss concealer called Toppik. Toppik is made of keratin hair fibers that are statically charged that stick to existing hairs to give you a thicker head of hair.
Unwanted Hair: There have been a few users that have reported some unwanted hair growth. Don’t worry about turning into “Teen Wolf” but for example, some men have reported an increase in facial hair. In addition, it is important to wash your hands thoroughly after each application to reduce the risk of increasing hair growth on the top of the hands. Again, these are rare cases and any excessive hair growth in both men women will disappear after discontinuing the drug.
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