What is Minoxidil?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
While taking minoxidil, people with hair loss will likely not be able to recover hair growth in the balded areas of the scalp.
While taking minoxidil, people with hair loss will likely not be able to recover hair growth in the balded areas of the scalp.

Minoxidil is a medication with vasodilating effects, meaning that it opens up the blood vessels. Originally developed for the treatment of high blood pressure, it became popular as a medication for treating the early stages of hair loss after care practitioners noticed increased hair growth as a side effect. It is believed to work by increasing the supply of blood to the follicles and promoting hair development. This medication can usually be obtained over the counter and goes by a number of brand names.

No specia minoxidil formula is necessary for women.
No specia minoxidil formula is necessary for women.

Both oral and topical forms of minoxidil are available, with topical forms being particularly popular. Patients usually need to take this medication for at least four months, and sometimes as long as a year, before they start to notice changes in their hair growth. In addition, as soon as people stop taking it, hair loss tends to recur. It works most effectively on patients under 40 who are in the very start of hair loss, as it stops hair loss rather than regrowing hair from follicles that have stopped producing.

Minoxidil should not be used by breastfeeding women.
Minoxidil should not be used by breastfeeding women.

Common minoxidil side effects include itching and dryness along the scalp, along with flaking and burning. If patients overdose on the medication, as can happen if they fail to follow directions and apply too much or take it in combination with another medication, they can start to experience more serious side effects as a result of vasodilation throughout the body, not just in the scalp. People may experience dizziness, weight gain, and chest pain. If these signs develop, the medication should be discontinued and a doctor should be consulted.

Individuals suffering from hypothyroidism may experience hair loss.
Individuals suffering from hypothyroidism may experience hair loss.

Men and women with hair loss can both take minoxidil, and no special formulation is needed for women, although some manufacturers market a separate product designed for women, usually with few differences from the male formulation other than scent and packaging. It should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women, as the safety of this medication has not been thoroughly evaluated in these populations. Women with hair loss issues can discuss their concerns about discontinuing minoxidil during pregnancy and breastfeeding to see if there are alternatives available.

Both oral and topical forms of minoxidil are available.
Both oral and topical forms of minoxidil are available.

It is important to understand that this medication is most effective early in the stages of hair loss. People with baldness will not be able to recover hair growth in the balded areas of the scalp, as the follicles have shut down and cannot produce more hair. Individuals with thinning hair can arrest the thinning before it progresses to baldness by taking minoxidil to open up the diseased follicles and encourage them to keep producing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • While taking minoxidil, people with hair loss will likely not be able to recover hair growth in the balded areas of the scalp.
      While taking minoxidil, people with hair loss will likely not be able to recover hair growth in the balded areas of the scalp.
    • No specia minoxidil formula is necessary for women.
      No specia minoxidil formula is necessary for women.
    • Minoxidil should not be used by breastfeeding women.
      Minoxidil should not be used by breastfeeding women.
    • Individuals suffering from hypothyroidism may experience hair loss.
      Individuals suffering from hypothyroidism may experience hair loss.
    • Both oral and topical forms of minoxidil are available.
      Both oral and topical forms of minoxidil are available.
    • Hair loss may be a direct result of sudden--and drastic--weight loss.
      Hair loss may be a direct result of sudden--and drastic--weight loss.