You looked in the mirror this morning and can see your hair has started to thin. A once thick, full head of hair has a slightly more visible hair line and what is in your ponytail just feels thinner. Hair loss effects almost 50 percent of the population, male or female, at some point in our lives. Hair loss does not necessarily only impact those of an advanced age. For that matter, the process can begin in the late 20’s can certainly be an emotionally unpleasant experience for many which causes us to reach out to our dermatologist to ask what can be done to stop the process. For decades there have been countless products on the market to treat hair loss and thinning hair. There are topical creams, shampoos, foams, ointments, sprays, laser treatments, wearable products that “stimulate” the follicle”, laser treatments, injections, plugs, transplants and the list goes on. Your doctor has prescribed Rogaine, but you wonder does it work? What are the side effects? Products such Rogaine (Minoxidil) have been around for some time and have proven successful. In order to examine the side effects of the product we must first briefly look at what it does and how.
What is Minoxidil?
Minoxidil is a vasodilator. This means the product is designed to dilate the blood vessels and improve blood flow to the area of the body where it is applied. In the case of a hair growth product, the blood vessels in the scalp will be dilated bringing more blood to the parts of the scamp where the hair grows-the follicle. The increased blood supply also increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered to the follicle which, in theory, helps stimulate hair growth. Originally, Minoxidil was developed as a treatment for hypertension and notable hair growth was a side effect. Thus, its second use as a hair growth/hair loss mitigation product began. Minoxidil is the only FDA approved over the counter medication approved to treat hair loss in both men and women and comes in two strengths; 2% and 5%. Unlike some other hair loss treatments, Minoxidil does not have an effect on hormone production as it does not inhibit the production of DHT (dihydrotestosterone) which is the hormone at the root of most alopecia.
What is Minoxidil used for?
Generally, Minoxidil is used to treat hair loss on the scalp and crown. This has resulted in a common thought, and potential misconception, that Minoxidil only works on these areas and is not successful in treating a receding hair line. The reality is, there have been limited tests on the success of this product on the hairline area and as a result, there is very limited data as to its success. However, if it is considered that the follicles on the scalp and crown are essentially the same as those on the hairline it would stand to reason the success rate would be quite similar.
Is it effective?
Studies indicate Minoxidil is most effective on those under the age of 40 who have only recently begun to experience hair loss. Studies also show it is effective on 2 out of 3 men. In order to be most effective, Minoxidil should be used on a regular basis for 2-4 months before you can expect to see any new growth of hair.
What are the side effects?
Along with the desired effect of helping to ward off hair loss, there can be some unwanted effects of the topical application of Minoxidil.
Common side effects of Minoxidil include itchiness of the scalp, dryness, scaling, flaking, irritation and burning. These are common, but if persistent you should notify your doctor. You may also experience headaches, gastrointestinal issues and unusual hair growth on other areas of the body such as the arms, back and face. Other, less common side effects include allergic reactions, weight gain, body swelling, difficulty breathing, heart arrythmias, chest pain and lightheadedness or dizziness. These should be reported to your doctor immediately as they could be a sign that your body is absorbing too much of the medication and an adjustment to the strength or dose may need to be made. Women specifically, may experience facial hair growth. Minoxidil is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women as it can be harmful to the unborn child so pregnant women should not use or handle the product.
Minoxidil has been on used since the late 1980’s to treat hair loss in men and women. It has been proven quite successful in helping to regrow hair and treat hair loss in those who are experiencing hair loss at a young age. As with any medication there are side effects some of which should be reported to your doctor however, for the most part, Minoxidil is a well-tested treatment with minimal dangerous side effects.
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