It sounds almost too good to be true. You rub a bit of foam or tincture on your hair and suddenly it all grows back. Well, maybe not exactly — its effects are said to be a bit more subtle. But minoxidil can still sound like a magic potion when it comes to hair loss.
With zillions of health and beauty options on the market, it’s hard to know which ones you can trust. For every quality product out there, you can find dozens of snake oils and ineffective knockoffs.
So what about minoxidil? Is it a true miracle ingredient, or just another marketing ploy? Let’s dig into the real effectiveness of minoxidil and see if it’s worth your time and money.
What Makes Minoxidil So Effective?
Scientists have observed several distinct mechanisms of action that may be behind the potency of minoxidil. First, it’s a vasodilator, meaning it opens up blood vessels, delivering more oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the hair follicles. Nutrients and oxygen could help stimulate hair growth, making minoxidil effective in growing healthier hair.
Second, minoxidil is a potassium channel opener — a drug that causes vascular muscles to move more blood through the body. The mechanism is slightly different from vasodilation, but the outcome is the same. Potassium channel openers mean more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the hair follicles, stimulating effective hair growth.
Third, minoxidil prevents follicle miniaturization, the process that makes follicles narrow over time. As follicles narrow, hair grows finer and weaker until it cannot reach its normal length. Hair growing from miniaturized follicles may break off prematurely or may simply fall out. This is why bald folks often aren’t actually hairless — they just have tiny, barely visible hairs.
Finally, minoxidil is believed to shorten the resting phase (telogen) and lengthen the growth (anagen) phase of the hair cycle. Hair usually “rests” or stops growing for 3-4 months at a time, but minoxidil truncates this stage. Then, minoxidil jumpstarts the growth phase and keeps hair there for longer, giving it more time to strengthen and grow.
How Effective Is Minoxidil?
Stats vary depending on who you ask, but most sources agree that minoxidil works around 60% of the time. This is assuming it’s used correctly for cases of male and female pattern baldness, aka androgenetic alopecia. This is the only type of hair loss for which minoxidil is an FDA-approved prescription treatment.
While minoxidil treatment can be used off-label for other types of hair loss, it may not have the same results. In cases of alopecia areata, where the immune system attacks the hair follicles, minoxidil isn’t demonstrably effective on its own. It does, however, show promise in conjunction with other therapies like corticosteroids.
Minoxidil may also be effective for chronic telogen effluvium, or stress-related hair-shedding due to pregnancy, surgery, trauma, etc. Evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of topical minoxidil on this type of hair loss is limited.
Minoxidil also shows some promise, used in conjunction with other drugs, for scarring alopecia. This is a condition where autoimmune disorders, burns, injuries, or medical treatments cause destruction of the hair follicles. In these cases, it is typically used together with corticosteroids or finasteride. Minoxidil has not shown effectiveness at regrowing hair lost due to chemotherapy.
What Can I Do to Increase Minoxidil’s Effectiveness?
To see the best results from minoxidil treatment, make sure you’re using the right dosage. Most people with male pattern baldness should use a 5% minoxidil formula for the best outcomes. People with female pattern baldness may only need a 2% formula, and shouldn’t use a higher dosage unless needed.
Another way to increase the effectiveness of minoxidil is to apply it consistently. For most people, this will mean twice a day, usually once in the morning and once at night. You need to use it for around four months before you start seeing results. Once minoxidil starts working, don’t stop applying it — it’s effectiveness only lasts as long as you keep using it consistently.
Minoxidil might also be more effective in conjunction with other products. As discussed in previous sections, for certain types of hair loss, minoxidil can be used with corticosteroids and other adjuvants. For male pattern baldness, a combination of both minoxidil and finasteride is often the most effective course of treatment. Minoxidil encourages longer, stronger hair growth, while finasteride can help stop the progression of hair loss.
One last way to make sure you’re getting the most effectiveness out of minoxidil treatment is adopting healthy lifestyle habits. Make good dietary choices, get regular exercise and plenty of sleep, and try to avoid stress, smoking, and alcohol. Maintaining good health can slow hair loss and keep the hair you have healthy, contributing to better results.
Fortunately for hair loss sufferers, minoxidil really does work in a majority of cases. That said, it isn’t exactly a miracle cure. Minoxidil won’t give you permanent results if you stop applying, and it doesn’t work for all types of hair loss.
But considering how well minoxidil works, it’s an extremely convenient, non-invasive, and relatively inexpensive solution to a big problem. It’s also relatively low-risk, with only rare and generally mild side effects.
Will minoxidil magically regrow the hair you had in your twenties if you’re already partially or fully bald? Definitely not. But could it keep you looking a bit younger and boost your self-esteem in the process? Probably.