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Minoxidil: What Is It, How It Works, Mythbusting

photo of womans scalp minoxidil
When it comes to hair loss, it can sometimes seem that there are more questions than answers. While science hasn’t figured out an antidote to hair loss just yet, there are a few promising treatments available including minoxidil.

You may have never heard of minoxidil, but you’ve definitely seen its results in countless before-and-after pictures. Want to know more about minoxidil? We’ve got you covered. We reached out to Sophia Emmanuel, an International Association of Trichologists Certified Trichologist, hair stylist, and creator of the blog Crown Worthy, to find out everything there is to know about minoxidil and how it works.

What is minoxidil?

Minoxidil is a topical solution approved by the FDA to treat female and male pattern hair loss, also known as androgenetic alopecia. For some people, minoxidil can help slow down hair thinning and extend the hair growth cycle.

How does minoxidil work?

While the exact mechanism by which minoxidil works is still unclear, it is believed that minoxidil works primarily by reversing the miniaturization of hair follicles and increasing follicular size. That’s when the hair follicles begin to shrink, causing the strand itself to become thin.

“Miniaturization causes thick, healthy strands of hair called terminal hairs to shrink into thin strands of hair, called vellus hairs,” Emmanuel explains. “Lengthening the hair growth cycle is key in restarting hair loss because over time, you will be able to retain more hair on your head and see less shedding.”

While minoxidil can help regrow hair on the scalp, it can’t make hair grow once the follicle has already died. Time is of the essence when it comes to hair loss. The amount of hair regrowth is different for each person and minoxidil 2 percent will not work for everyone. Unfortunately, no matter how well minoxidil works for you, your mane may never be fully restored to its former glory.

“Minoxidil won’t work if you have follicles with scar tissue. Follicles with scar tissue are a sign that there is permanent damage to the hair follicles,” she says. “When there is permanent damage to hair follicles, your hair cannot grow back. Minoxidil only works on open hair follicles.”

Even though minoxidil can be purchased over the counter at your local drug store, we recommend making an appointment with a doctor, trichologist, or dermatologist that specializes in hair loss so they can properly diagnose you before beginning treatment.

How long do you have to use minoxidil?

If you believe you are suffering from or have been diagnosed with hair loss, your doctor will advise usage and when you are expected to see results. If you use a product with minoxidil, refer to packaging for usage instructions and expected results. If minoxidil does in fact work for you, get comfortable. You’ll have to use it for the rest of your life.

“Once you stop using minoxidil, you will lose whatever hair you gained. Androgenetic alopecia is a progressive type of hair loss. If left untreated over time, it gets worse and the scalp will be noticeable. Using minoxidil can help retain hair, thicken strands, and stabilize the condition,” Emmanuel explains.

Is minoxidil suitable for all types of hair loss?

Minoxidil 2 percent is only FDA approved to help treat certain hair loss. If you’re suffering from another type of hair loss such as alopecia areata or telogen effluvium, minoxidil might not be right for you. If you are unsure whether or not minoxidil is the appropriate treatment for your hair loss, reach out to a doctor, trichologist, or dermatologist that specializes in hair loss.

While minoxidil may not be suitable to treat all kinds of hair loss, it is suitable for all hair types. It’s important to note that minoxidil is water-based, so it will make your strands revert if you like to straighten your hair. To avoid messing up your ‘do, be sure to apply the minoxidil before styling your strands.

Can you use minoxidil if you chemically treat your hair?

If you like to dye or chemically alter your texture and are suffering from hair loss, fear not! Emmanuel says minoxidil is still safe for you to use if you chemically treat your hair, however, we suggest you reach out to our health provider to confirm. While Emmanuel says using minoxidil and chemically styling your hair is safe, you may want to reconsider how often you chemically treat your hair.

“I would recommend going easy on chemical services if you are experiencing hair loss. Use chemicals in moderation to avoid the hair loss getting worse,” she explains.

If minoxidil doesn't work for you, what other solutions are available?

If minoxidil does not work for you, all hope is not lost. There are several hair loss treatments on the market and Emmanuel says it’s important to know that minoxidil alone is not usually enough to treat hair loss.

In addition to minoxidil, the FDA has also approved low-level laser therapy for hair growth. You can purchase an FDA-approved laser cap to use at home, or schedule laser services with a doctor. There are also promising studies that show platelet rich plasma (PRP), famously used in “vampire facial,” can aid in stopping hair loss and hair regrowth.

If you’re looking for a way to make your hair look and feel fuller while you and your doctor figure out the best course of treatment, we recommend swapping out your regular shampoo and conditioner for Redken’s Cerafill Hair Thickening Shampoo and Conditioner. The award-winning formula is infused with Zinc PCA to help reduce DHT and remove follicle-clogging impurities and excess sebum from the scalp. Hair instantly looks and feels fuller with healthy shine.

Interested in personalized advice about hair thinning? Use our salon locator to book an appointment with a stylist near you.

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