May 20th, 2017 Written by a Staff Writer at Hair Loss in Women
Does Minoxidil Work?
As a woman, excessive hair loss can be devastating. One of the greatest tools in the fight against female alopecia is minoxidil. Minoxidil is the only FDA approved drug for women’s hair loss (in the 2% solution). Two double-blind studies of women ages 18 to 45 demonstrated its ability to regrow hair. In the first study, 13% of female users had moderate hair growth. 50% experienced minimal growth. In the second study, 60% of women reported new hair growth.
Who Does Minoxidil Work Best For?
If you’re experiencing some form of hair loss this is great news! And, minoxidil doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription. Those seeking treatment can purchased minoxidil over-the-counter (OTC). However, minoxidil is only effective if your hair loss is due to genetics (called androgenetic alopecia), which accounts for 90% of all women’s alopecia (hair loss). If hair loss runs on either side of your family, you might be a candidate for minoxidil. Androgenetic alopecia may be the cause of your hair loss if your hair loss has been gradual, doesn’t occurring in patches, but diffusely across your scalp.
How can you tell what’s causing your hair loss? The best way is to visit your dermatologist or doctor for a diagnosis. However, you can get clues to what’s causing your hair loss by the type of hair loss you’re experiencing and by your lifestyle, such as pregnancy, menopause, and childbirth, which cause changes in your hormonal levels. Visit our causes page to see the over 20 sources of female alopecia.
Minoxidil won’t help you if your hair loss is due to:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Trichotillomania (chronic hair pulling) or traction alopecia (stress on your hair due to certain hairstyles that pull on your hair, such as cornrows)
- Thyroid imbalance
- Chemotherapy – it doesn’t stop hair loss during chemotherapy, but has been shown to help regrow hair after chemotherapy
- Improper hair care, such as excessive chemical treatments
- Autoimmune disease, such as lupus
- Hair loss that is patchy
Is Minoxidil Right for You?
If you’re not sure what’s causing your hair loss, talk to your doctor or dermatologist first.
Some studies show that minoxidil poses some risks to infants, so the recommendation is to not use minoxidil if you’re pregnant or a breastfeeding mom. It should only be used by hair loss sufferers that are 18 years old or older.
Regarding other medications that you may be using, talk to your doctor before you start using minoxidil, especially if you’re using:
- Minoxidil tablets (Loniten) for high blood pressure – using both oral and topical minoxidil may increase the chance of side effects.
- High blood pressure medicines, including diltiazem (Cardizem), metoprolol (Lopressor), nifedipine (Procardia), propranolol (Inderal), or verapamil (Calan).
- Cortisone drugs
- Petroleum jelly (Vaseline)
- Tretinoin (Retin A) on your scalp. Some users use tretinoin in addition to minoxidil to increase its absorption, but talk to your doctor first to be sure.
- Any other medications to your scalp
Minoxidil was developed in the later part of 1950’s by the Upjohn Company (which later became part of Pfizer) as a means of treating ulcers. However, when used in trials with dogs as subjects, it was discovered that it works more effectively as a powerful and effective vasolidator (something that expands blood vessels). This caused Upjohn to produce more than 200 variations of the drug. Further studies garnered positive results, which caused the FDA to approve the oral version of minoxidil (brand name Loniten) that was designed to cure high blood pressure in 1979.
The FDA also approved the request of Upjohn to conduct more tests on the new drug when it came to treating hypertension. With this stamp of approval, Upjohn approached Charles A. Chidsey, an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado, to conduct more research. Chidsey performed 2 studies, and the result of the second study indicated unexpected hair growth among the participants. This led to further studies that showed that the drug is more effective in preventing and treating hair loss, so doctors during the 80’s started prescribing them to balding patients. In December of 1985, Upjohn introduced their study regarding a baldness treatment containing 2% minoxidil to the FDA. The study included more than 1,800 patients. The results of the study were publicized in 1986.
In 1988, the drug designed to treat baldness in men, with the brand name Rogaine, gained the approval of the FDA. In 1996, both the generic formula of minoxidil, and selling the drug over the counter, were approved by the FDA.
The most recent development in regards to minoxidil was introduced by Johnson & Johnson in 2015. This is a formulation with 5% minoxidil, which is primarily designed for women. It comes in mousse form that the user needs to apply once daily, instead of the usual two times a day application.
How Minoxidil Works
Minoxidil is thought to reduce the effect of androgens (male hormones) in the body. Androgens convert to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that attach to the hair follicle and cause hair to thin. As males have higher levels of androgens, their balding will cover most of the scalp. Women, however, have lower levels of androgens in their bodies, so they usually get miniaturization-the process where hair follicles produce thinner hair.
2% vs. 5% Minoxidil
What’s the difference between the 2% and the 5% forms? With both forms, you apply them to your scalp and let them dry (the alcohol and water evaporate), which leaves behind the minoxidil in propylene glycol. The only difference is that the 5% version leaves behind a greater quantity. So you could get the same amount of minoxidil by using two and a half times the amount of 2% to get the same amount you’d get with 5%.
Note that with the 5% solution, there’s a greater possibility of side effects (such as skin irritation).
Foam vs. Liquid Minoxidil
Liquid minoxidil is the original form used for hair loss, containing propylene glycol, water, and alcohol. The issue that some users of the liquid have had is irritation to the propylene glycol: itching, contact dermatitis, and scaly skin. The newer foam version of minoxidil is propylene glycol-free.
As far as the effectiveness of each, there have been no comparative studies between the two formulations in humans. However, there was an animal study where the foam was found to be as effective as the liquid.
The foam is is applied once per day, and the liquid twice per day.
How to Use Foam & Liquid Minoxidil
Start by washing your hands in cold water. If your hands are warm, it will accelerate the drying of the foam before you apply it to your towel-dried hair and clean scalp (you want it to dry on your scalp, not on your hands). Then apply half a capful of foam to your scalp (more isn’t better). If you’re using the liquid, fill the dropper up to the 1-ml line and apply the medication to areas in your scalp where you notice hair thinning. Let it dry, then wash your hands thoroughly with warm water. Don’t wash your hair for at least 4 hours. Repeat this process once daily for foam, and twice a day for the liquid. That’s it!
Apply Minoxidil to Your SCALP
Minoxidil is to be applied to your scalp, and not your hair. All of the hair on your scalp that you see is dead; it’s the hair follicles in your scalp that produce your hair.
For both versions of minoxidil, apply to a clean scalp to maximize exposure. It can be a good idea to apply it after you wash your hair, but it’s not a requirement. And to get maximum exposure, you can move the part in your hair several times, and reapply the minoxidil to your exposed part each time.
Wait until the application is completely dry before you go to bed. If not, your pillows and sheets may absorb the minoxidil. And don’t use a hairdryer to speed up the process! And don’t wash your hair for at least 4 hours after application.
What to Avoid with Minoxidil Treatments
Don’t use minoxidil on the days that you receive chemical treatments on your hair, or on days that you have any kind of skin irritation, such as a sunburn, cut, scrape, or rash. Allow 24 hours after any type of treatment that may irritate your scalp before using minoxidil. But you can safely use it on colored or treated hair.
Avoid applying it to other parts of your body and avoid contact with sensitive skin and eyes. Avoid applying minoxidil to irritated or sunburned scalp, since it can be damaging to these sensitive areas. If by accident the medication comes in contact with the mentioned areas, use cool water to wash them right away. In case of any irritation, contact your dermatologist immediately.
Supercharge Your Minoxidil Treatments With Micro-Needling
Microneedling is the process of creating tiny punctures on the skin with a derma-roller. It’s commonly used to stimulate the healing process in skin to get rid of wrinkles and acne scars. Scientists say that the slight injury to the skin stimulates the growth of collagen.
The Department of Dermatology in Mumbai, India, tested the effectiveness of minoxidil with and without micro-needling on men with hair loss in 2011 to 2012. A 12-week randomized, comparative, evaluator blinded study was conducted with of 100 men with androgenetic alopecia. Half of the group underwent micro-needling with minoxidil, and the other half just minoxidil. The results: by week 12 the micro-needling group had a mean hair count of 91.4, compared to 22.2 for the Minoxidil group. In the micro-needling group, 41 (82%) patients versus only 2 (4.5%) patients in the Minoxidil group reported more than 50% improvement.
If you have interest, talk to your dermatologist about micro-needling. There’s a slight chance of infection, but overall micro-needling is rather safe. You need to make sure that derma-roller sanitation procedures are in place before each use.
Note that if you decide to use a derma-roller to help absorption of minoxidil, you aren’t doing to use the derma-roller each day. You may use it once per week, but it’s best to discuss it with your dermatologist.
Micro-needling with minoxidil (different sizes of needles on the derma-roller, frequency, duration, etc) needs more research. However, the initial study shows a lot of promise for those dealing with androgenetic alopecia.
Below is a demonstration of micro-needling.
Brands Currently Available in the Market
More than 30 companies manufacture Minoxidil at present, with new generics joining the market often. You can find topical minoxidil in various forms including those in liquid, ointment, gel, and cream forms. Some of the popular brand names of minoxidil are Alopec, Foligro, Hairex, Inoxi, Minofast, Pilogro, Tugain and Pilomin. The most popular brand name is Rogaine.
Possible Side Effects
Minoxidil may cause adverse side effects if not used properly. Among the side effects that you may experience are skin irritation and itchiness, flaking or dryness in your scalp, scaling, burning and contact dermatitis. Liquid minoxidil also contains alcohol (propylene glycol), which may trigger skin or eye irritation (the foam doesn’t contain propylene alcohol).
Occasionally users have experienced changes in their hair color and texture.
Some users have experienced unwanted hair growth in other parts of the body, which could be due to letting the minoxidil come into contact with other parts of the body, or by absorption into the circulatory system. If this occurs, discontinue its use and talk to your doctor or dermatologist.
If it accidentally comes in contact with your eyes or any other sensitive areas, it’s advisable to wash it with cool water. You also need to contact your doctor right away if you experience the following right after using or applying the medicine:
- Sudden weight gain
- Breathing difficulties
- Swollen face, stomach, hands or ankles
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
What to Expect
Keep in mind that you’ll need to use it for a minimum of 4 months to 1 year before you expect to notice results. And if you stop, your hair loss will resume. Once you start using minoxidil, you have to continue for as long as you want to fight your hair loss.
Don’t raise an alarm if you start losing hair for a few weeks to a few months when you start your treatments. Your old hair is falling out, and new hair that’s thicker can replace your thinning hair.
Additional Tips When Using Minoxidil
Research indicates that Minoxidil is effective in regrowing hair for women. In order to maximize the effects of Minoxidil implement the helpful following tips:
- Increasing the dosage recommended by your doctor won’t stimulate faster or greater hair growth. It may even trigger side effects.
- Note that it only works in the place where you applied it, so make sure that you use it on all problematic areas. The medicine also works in any place where there is miniaturized hair (those areas that aren’t yet completely bald). You can also expect it to work effectively when applied on the temples and front part of your scalp, especially if those areas were already beginning to thin.
- If you find it too greasy, it’s advisable to use the solution before you go to bed. This way it can work while you sleep, and you can wash it off in the morning.
- Use minoxidil regularly and continuously. This means that you should avoid stopping it’s use for a while then starting to apply it again. This will prevent the medicine from working the way it’s should.
- In case you missed a dose, make sure to apply the medicine as soon as possible. If it’s almost time to take your next dose, you can skip the missed application and resume your regular schedule with your next application.
- Keep track of your progress by scheduling regular visits to your doctor so you’ll know if the medicine is working properly. This will also help you check for any unwanted side effects.
- Store in a closed container at room temperature. Make sure that the storage area is away from direct light, moisture, and heat. Don’t let it freeze, and place it in an area away from children. Also check the expiration date of the medicine so you’re not using an expired product.
The Key to Success
The key to achieving the best results when using minoxidil for hair growth is commitment – you have to use it continuously. Stopping your use of the treatment prematurely may cause your hair to return to it’s condition it was in before you started taking it, or even worse.
Have you had success with minoxidil? If not, what else have you tried? Please leave your comments below, we’d love to hear from you!