Why Isn’t Minoxidil A Household Word?
Retin-A. Botox. Latisse. Shellac. Mention any of these words to most beauty-savvy women and you’ll get a nod of recognition. They know what these innovations are and they’ve probably even tried them. But say the word Minoxidil, and you’ll get blank stares.
“You know, the active ingredient in Rogaine,” I’ll say to the vacant faces. After that, I get aversion. Rogaine is for balding men—why would a woman need to know anything about that?
My answer: Because Minoxidil is the only ingredient that’s been proven to boost hair growth for both men and women. And since nearly half of women over 40 will experience some hair thinning or loss, I think it’s something we should all know about.
Like tretinoin (the active ingredient in Retin-A), Minoxidil is one of the few "beauty" actives that has been shown in repeated clinical studies to live up to its claims. There just is no other growth-boosting product (other than Latisse, but that’s only FDA-approved for lashes) that helps hair grow. So why aren’t we all using it? I. Don’t. Know. Which is why I am writing this post, in case it’s just due to lack of information.
So let’s begin with some basic information. For most women, age-related thinning is tied to our DNA (thanks Mom and Dad), and the sparse spots appear first along the frontal hairline, through a widening part or back at the crown. I spoke to Amy McMichael, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Health Center, about this topic a few years ago, and she explained the process like this: Aging hair often grows in skinnier and stays put on the head for a shorter amount of time. Thus, your hair follicles haven’t closed up shop (a good thing) but, because your strands are now scrawnier and they fall out faster (decreasing the number of hairs on your head at one time), you’ll notice a difference in density. For this kind of thinning, McMichaels said, Minoxidil is the best solution. Why? The ingredient is believed to work by encouraging follicles to grow fatter strands—and by helping the scalp then hold on to these strands longer. So, it’s basically an antidote to what your DNA’s dictating.
It’s important though, not to delay application for months or years. Although, at the first signs of thinning, most follicles are still functioning (albeit less robustly), there is a point at which they can give up the ghost. And once your hair follicles are dead, a vat of minoxidil won’t get them growing again.
So what about those times when hair loss or thinning is not age- and gene-related? I’m talking about illness, hormonal fluctuations, an over- or under-active thyroid, anemia, cancer treatment, stress. If that’s applicable to you, finding the underlying cause is the key (of course)—but then Minoxidil can help goose hair growth once the condition is under control.
So how does one use Minoxidil exactly? Most Minoxidil formulas for women contain a two-percent concentration in serum form you apply twice daily to sparse spots. A few years ago, the FDA also approved a 5-percent Minoxidil foam formula for women that can be applied just once a day. Rogaine makes two versions: Women’s Rogaine 2% Minoxidil Topical Solution ($40/three-month supply; walgreens.com) and Women’s Rogaine Women’s 5% Minoxidil Treatment Foam ($40/four-month supply; walgreens.com). Nioxin and Redken both make 2% solutions as well: Nioxin 2% Minoxidil Topical Solution ($35/one-month supply; ulta.com) and Redken Cerafill Retaliate Minoxidil Topical 2% Solution ($30/one-month supply, though as I post this, Ulta is running a buy two, get one free special; ulta.com). Finally, you can buy house-brand versions of Minoxidil 2% treatments at most major drugstores retailers. Target offers a three-month supply for just $20 and Walgreens offers a three-month supply for $30. Bottom line: There are plenty of options at a range of price points. And if you don’t want to walk into a store and buy it—order it online.