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Minoxidil for Hair Loss

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
minoxidil Rogaine

Minoxidil (2% or 5% solution) is a spray or lotion that you put directly on your scalp twice a day. It is available without a prescription.

How It Works

It is unclear how minoxidil affects hair growth. Minoxidil appears to increase hair follicles and also thickens the shafts of existing hair so that it grows in thicker.

Minoxidil has been approved for both men and women.

Why It Is Used

Minoxidil was originally used to treat high blood pressure. It is now also used to treat inherited hair loss (androgenetic alopecia), the most common cause of hair loss. And it is used to treat other causes of hair loss too.

How Well It Works

Minoxidil slows hair loss and grows new hair. In men, the 5% solution appears to be more effective than the 2% solution, but it costs more and may have more side effects.

Some people who take minoxidil only grow hair that is thin and wispy or similar to peach fuzz.

Minoxidil seems to work best on people younger than 30 years of age who have been losing hair for fewer than 5 years.1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Chest pain and a rapid heartbeat.

Stop use and call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Faintness or dizziness.
  • Sudden weight gain for no reason.
  • Swelling of your hands or feet.
  • Unwanted facial hair growth.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Skin irritation, such as itching, on the scalp.
  • Dandruff.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Minoxidil must be used daily. If you stop using minoxidil, any regrown hair will gradually be lost, and within 6 to 12 months the scalp will most likely appear the same as before treatment.

If you have heart problems, ask your doctor about using this medicine.

Women may have more hair growth if they use minoxidil along with estrogen (such as hormone therapy or birth control pills).

In women, minoxidil may promote facial hair growth, especially on the forehead and cheeks.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. If you need to use this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Habif TP (2010). Hair diseases. In Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy, 5th ed., pp. 913–935. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised May 29, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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