What is Minoxidil?
Alopecia, or hair loss, is something that will affect two out of every three men during their lifetime, and one out of every three women. Some forms of hair loss can be temporary, others are permanent and will occur as we age. Unexpected hair loss can have a big emotional impact on an individual, affecting their self-image and self-confidence; particularly when permanent hair loss occurs at a young age. But there are treatment options available that can help.
What is Minoxidil?
Minoxidil was originally prescribed as a tablet treatment for blood pressure. However, an interesting side effect of unusual hair growth was observed, particularly on areas such as the back of hands and cheeks. This led researchers to experiment with applying the drug topically to the scalp to boost hair growth and it became the first FDA approved treatment specifically for hair loss, under the brand name Rogaine.
Who requires it and how does it work?
It's not known exactly how Minoxidil (Rogaine) works to prevent hair loss, but it is known to slow hair loss for those with male pattern baldness. This type of hair loss in men, also known as androgenic alopecia, is hereditary and is one of the most common types of hair loss.
Minoxidil is a type of drug known as a vasodilator, which means it widens blood vessels. It is thought that this widening of blood vessels may also affect the blood vessels on the scalp when it's applied, which could be stimulating the hair growth.
There are a number of benefits associated with using Minoxidil:
- It is a widely available treatment that can be purchased relatively inexpensively, without a prescription.
- It is applied topically and doesn't require you to take an oral medication that may affect your hormones.
- It can also help with treating hair loss in women.
- It can be used after a hair transplant to boost new hair growth.
There are also a number of drawbacks associated with using Minoxidil and it's important to consider these when you're choosing a treatment option:
- It can be time-consuming and inconvenient to use, with Minoxidil solution needing to be applied to the scalp twice a day – morning and evening.
- It may take 5-6 months before you see any results from using Rogaine.
- Rogaine, or Minoxidil, does not provide a solution to permanently regrow hair and if you stop using the treatment, within two months, any new hair grown will fall out.
- It's less effective than Finasteride and results vary from person-to-person. Initial trials showed that up to 57% of people could experience some growth, but much of this was mild to moderate growth. Others research has suggested it's only effective in 39% cases.
- It is only effective in the treatment of male and female pattern baldness and not other types of hair loss.
The most common side effects associated with its use are burning, stinging or redness at the point where it's applied. These symptoms should ease quickly but if they are persistent, or worsening, you should contact your pharmacist or doctor.
It is rare, but possible, for Minoxidil to be absorbed through your skin that can lead to other side effects, such as:
- Unusual body or facial hair
- Feeling dizzy or fainting
- An irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Swelling in your hands or feet
- Unexplained weight gain
- Chest pain or difficulty breathing
- Tiredness or fatigue
It is also rare to have a severe allergic reaction to Minoxidil, but if you do notice any of the following signs of one, you should seek emergency medical help immediately:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling around the throat, tongue or mouth
- You should seek emergency medical help immediately
Propecia is available as an alternative medication to Minoxidil. It contains the active ingredient finasteride, which works by inhibiting 5-alpha-reductase enzymes and preventing testosterone converting into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). It involves taking a daily oral tablet, rather than applying a treatment topically. It's an effective treatment for hair loss in men along the mid scalp area and across the vertex that results in a bald patch at the top of the head or a receding hairline.
Propecia can lower the DHT levels by as much as 60% in the scalp when used daily, and has been reported in clinical trials to stop the progression of hair loss by 86% of men, with 65% of trial participants experiencing what was considered considerable hair growth. It usually requires 3-6 months of use before the effects are seen.
Aside from these two medications there are other forms of alternative treatments, which include:
- No treatment – Some types of hair loss can improve over time without intervention.
- Treatment of the underlying condition – For example, hair loss as a result of lichen planus or discoid lupus.
- Corticosteroid injections – These can be used for the treatment of small patches of hair loss as a result of alopecia areata.
- Corticosteroid gels, lotions or foams – These can be rubbed into bald batches from alopecia areata, although opinion is divided as to their effectiveness.
- Dithranol cream – It can help with some regrowth in cases of alopecia areata.
- Immunotherapy – A chemical solution applied to the skin to encourage hair growth in cases of alopecia areata.
- Phototherapy (light treatment) – Involves exposing the skins to UVA or UVB ultraviolet rays.
- Tattooing – This can be used to cover hair loss on eyebrows.
- Wigs – When hair loss is extensive acrylic or real hair wigs can be used to cover up hair loss.
- Hair transplant surgery – Individual hairs are grafted onto the area with hair loss.
- Scalp reduction surgery – Pieces of bald scalp are removed and the sections with hair are stretched and stitched together to cover the removed area.
- Artificial hair surgery – Artificial hair fibres are surgically implanted.