Minoxidil for hair loss: What you need to know about this widely used drug to restore hair growth
Those searching for medical hair-loss remedies would have come across it. But is it really effective and are there side effects? CNA Lifestyle gets a dermatologist to explain.
Anyone who’s ever gone on a search for a medical hair-loss remedy would probably have come across the drug, minoxidil.
There are reasons why it’s so frequently used in topical hair-loss treatments – it’s the first FDA-approved medication for treating hair loss and has been applied for this purpose since the 1980s, which says something about its efficacy and, more importantly, safety for use.
If you’re familiar with the popular topical medication for hair loss known as Regaine (also branded as Rogaine in certain markets), you’d recognise minoxidil as its key active ingredient too. The product may have indeed helped many with thinning hair restore their crowning glory, but, at the same time, it has not done much for others with the same issue.
Regaine, of course, isn’t only the minoxidil treatment available out there. There are many other brands of hair-growth formulations that are based on it too. But as we all know, results are never guaranteed with any hair loss remedy, and it takes time for effects to show, if there even will be any.
Wondering whether it’s worth your while to give minoxidil a shot, if the brand name matters, and if it’ll give you the results you’ve dreamed of? CNA Lifestyle gets dermatologist Dr Eileen Tan of Eileen Tan Skin Clinic & Associates to provide a clearer picture of what it can do and what it won’t.
HOW DOES MINOXIDIL WORK TO RESTORE HAIR GROWTH?
Minoxidil’s original function had nothing to with hair regrowth – according to Dr Tan, it was used as an oral medication during the 1970s to treat severe hypertension. It turned out that the drug produced an unintended effect in those who took it – hypertrichosis, which refers to hair growth all over the body.
This, of course, then led to minoxidil being developed into a topical hair-loss treatment, in the hope of finding a solution that will finally answer the massive demand for a cure for baldness.
“A 2-per-cent minoxidil formulation was approved by the FDA in 1988 for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia (pattern hair loss which mainly affects the front and top of the scalp) in men, and was subsequently approved as an over-the-counter medication for use on both men and women in 1996. In androgenetic alopecia, topical minoxidil helps to reduce hair shedding and, in some cases, helps to reverse the miniaturisation of hair follicles, which translates to hair thickening,” said Dr Tan.
While minoxidil is not approved for treating other types of hair loss, Dr Tan said that it has had diverse clinical applications in various other hair-loss conditions such as alopecia areata, telogen effluvium, and more.
Topical minoxidil should be used long-term in treating androgenetic alopecia, if one has responded well to minoxidil application and would like to maintain its clinical efficacy.
“It is thought to be a vasodilator, which means it increases blood flow around hair follicles and stimulates them to enter into the growth phase of the hair cycle to promote hair regrowth,” she added. But, while the above is true, she also pointed out that its mechanism of action in hair growth is still not fully understood, even though minoxidil has been used as a hair-loss treatment for over three decades since it was approved.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT?
Minoxidil is no miracle cure, even if it provides a science-backed, medical approach to treating hair loss. Dr Tan said that clinical results from using it may vary. In other words, there are groups of users who have experienced good results, while there are also others who have seen little or none.
As with most hair-loss solutions, perseverance and patience are key in the process of using minoxidil. Daily, or twice-daily application may be necessary. It may then take a few months or more for results, if any, to show.
One might even need to use it indefinitely to maintain hair regrowth. “Topical minoxidil should be used long-term in treating androgenetic alopecia, if one has responded well to minoxidil application and would like to maintain its clinical efficacy,” said Dr Tan. She also cautioned that hair loss may begin again within a few months of discontinuing the application of minoxidil.
ARE THERE SIDE EFFECTS?
“There are some side effects, but these are limited and observed only in a small percentage of users. They include contact dermatitis, scalp irritation, temporary increased hair loss and facial hypertrichosis (hair growth on the face) in some women,” said Dr Tan. She also pointed out that pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should not be using minoxidil.
Many brands – not just Regaine – produce topical minoxidil formulations. They also typically exist in two concentrations – 2 per cent and 5 per cent (there are higher-strength formulas that go beyond these concentrations in the market, but those who want to try them will be doing so at their own risk).
According to Dr Tan, more users have observed the occurrence of side effects with a formula with a higher concentration of minoxidil – in other words, a 5 per cent formula may not be suitable for everyone even if it may have a stronger effect in terms of boosting hair growth.
HOW DOES ONE USE IT SAFELY?
Dr Tan suggests one to choose topical minoxidil from a reputable pharmaceutical company that ensures its products are backed by vigorous clinical data. It may also be wise to begin with a 2-per-cent formula, in case you experience side effects.
“Five-per-cent formulations have been found to be more effective than 2-per-cent solutions. However, the side effects of the former may not be well tolerated, compared to the latter. Foam formulations with 5-per-cent minoxidil are currently available for individuals who are unable to tolerate it in the form of a solution, too,” explained Dr Tan.
Always buy them from a clinic or pharmacy – acquiring them from online sources may not be a good idea, since it is difficult to verify product authenticity.
If you find yourself unsure about whether Minoxidil is suitable for your specific hair-loss issue, it’s best to consult a dermatologist who also specialises in treating hair problems, who will be able to accurately diagnose your hair problem and find the right solution for you.