As recent headlines have called into question some fairly popular hair loss treatments (and their apparently-substantial side effects), we wanted to make clear what products are actually scientifically-proven to help reverse hair loss and to what extent such products can actually help you in your fight to reverse hair loss and regrow hair.
Minoxidil is the most commonly-used treatment by men and women for male and female pattern hair loss. But, as described below, unbeknownst to most who use it, it actually does nothing to help cure hair loss. Why? Because it is unable to address the root cause of such hair loss--Dihydrotestosterone, commonly abbreviated as DHT.
Minoxidil is the active ingredient in Rogaine-the most popular product that contains minoxidil (although multiple other products contain the same active ingredient as Rogaine).
The History Of Minoxidil
Minoxidil's ability to help regrow hair was, quite literally, an accidental discovery. Minoxidil was developed to treat high blood pressure. However, during clinical trials, researchers noticed that certain patients being tested started to regrow some hair. Rogaine, manufactured by Upjohn, subsequently obtained FDA approval to market a solution, containing minoxidil, as a hair loss treatment.
How Does Minoxidil Work?
While the FDA has approved minoxidil as a hair loss treatment, the medical community is not in agreement as to how it may actually stimulate hair regrowth. The Rogaine website states that minoxidil promotes blood flow to the hair follicles and increases both the size of the follicles and the diameter of the hair shaft. This stimulates hair growth and prolongs that growth. Follicles that had, over time, become shrunken and were therefore producing finer hairs should then become larger and subsequently produce thicker hair.
Who Can Use Minoxidil?
During initial clinical testing, minoxidil was only tested on males. It was initially sold as a 2% minoxidil formulation only for males. And, because the subjects only used it in the crown of the scalp, it has only ever been approved to help regrow hair in that area--and not along the hairline or the center of the scalp. Minoxidil was subsequently approved to be used at a 5% concentration, for both men and women.
Minoxidil is only recommended for men and women with hereditary or “pattern” hair loss, and not hair loss caused by any other source, such as stress, medication, childbirth, etc.
What To Expect When Using Minoxidil?
Unfortunately, it is well-settled that the effectiveness of a standard minoxidil solution is quite limited. For many experiencing genetic hair loss, it will not provide any benefit, particularly if the hair loss is advanced. Additionally, side effects can be pronounced when using it.
At the inception of treatment, most users will actually experience an increase in hair loss (also referred to as the "shedding period"). This is caused by the minoxidil triggering a new growth cycle in which existing, older hairs are shed to make way for the hopefully new and thicker hair growth. This shedding period should only last a few weeks.
Between 3 to 6 months of use, fine, colorless and very soft hairs may begin to emerge. The new hair should begin to thicken and strengthen somewhat, although it may be a little different in color and texture in comparison to the rest of your hair. If regrowth occurs, and you wish to maintain it, you will need to keep using the minoxidil every day, for the rest of your life, as minoxidil is not a permanent fix or hair loss "cure". It works only as long as it continues to be used.
There are other possible side effects to be aware of:
- A change in the texture or color of the hair
- Dry/flaky/itchy scalp (although this is more common with a 2% solution that contains propylene glycol, a known irritant than with a 5% foam, which does not)
- Initial increase in hair shedding (as described above)
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dizziness, light-headedness
- Chest pain
- Weight gain
- Swelling of stomach, face, ankles or hands
Additionally, there are some reported cases of hair appearing on the face and other parts of the body. And some claim to have experienced:
- dark circles under the eyes
- enlarged pores
- sagging skin
- nasolabial folds
- loss of fat from the face
- premature aging
If you decide to use minoxidil, you must have realistic expectations. There are a number of ways your hair may respond. Either you will grow a little back, not regrow hair but maintain the hair you have left, or see no results at all. On average, only about 33% of users report moderate hair regrowth. Unfortunately, the most common response people experience with minoxidil is slight regrowth, no regrowth and/or slowing of further hair loss.
Another common question people have about minoxidil is whether it can help with a receding hair line. Unfortunately, it has not been proven to regrow hair in the front of the hairline. Rather, it only has been proven to provide some benefit, for a minority of users, in the crown of your scalp.
Minoxidil Does Not Address The Actual Cause of Hair Loss-DHT!
While minoxidil may prolong the anagen (growth) phase of your existing hairs and help regrow some of the lost hairs, the new hairs will be most likely be thin and weak. Minoxidil does not do anything to stop hair loss as it does not address or counter the actual cause of genetic hair loss-DHT. Even if you use minoxidil religiously, eventually, your hair follicles (without a DHT blocker), will become overwhelmed by DHT, leading to hair miniturization. To properly stop and reverse hair loss, you must block DHT.
While there is one FDA-approved medication that can help reduce the amount of DHT in your body (finasteride, also known as propecia), it is only approved for men and can result in serious side effects.
There are hundreds of topical products that claim to block DHT and help reverse hair loss. However, almost none of them contain ingredients that are clinically-proven to help block DHT, which is necessary in order to reverse hair loss. Thus, they are of little to no value. In order to effectively reverse the miniaturization process, you must use a hair loss treatment that has the ability to lower DHT levels. Once DHT levels are lowered, hair follicles will have the ability to generate thicker, fuller and healthier hair.