Before minoxidil, male pattern baldness was considered untreatable and most hair loss options were either pure “snake oil” or wigs. While not as effective as finasteride, it’s the most common medication for hair loss most commonly sold under the Rogaine brand, and the only other drug approved by the FDA for this purpose. Its use for hair loss was discovered when patients used it for high blood pressure and noticed hair growth while taking the drug. It’s now used to treat both men and women in patterned hair loss.

Today Rogaine is the most well known of the minoxidil-based solutions. Originally, only the oral remedy was available, but when people developed side effects, its use became prohibitive. This led to the creation of a mixture that is applied directly to the scalp. Users sometimes experienced irritation to the scalp, though, and a foam variety was created which has alleviated the problem.

In reality minoxidil does not grow new hair, but instead it nurtures weakened hair follicles, which render tiny, fine hairs. The result is a fully-grown terminal follicle. The term terminal in this case does not refer to an ending but rather to a re-awakening. These vibrant, terminal follicles increase the length and diameter of hair shafts.

Clinical trials have proven the effectiveness of minoxidil when used as directed. Applications need to be placed on the entire thinning area of the scalp, not the hair, preferably twice a day. Applying once a day may be as effective, though, since the drug has a long half-life of approximately 24 hours. Tests have shown a 5% solution renders the best results for men. According to a 2007 study, when used in conjunction with a 0 .01% dose of a cream made of tertian, allows minoxidil to penetrate the scalp better.

The standard dosage for women is a 2% mixture. The side effect increases significantly when the 5% mixture is used for women, and besides potential irritation to the scalp, women may develop facial hair. Women may also be more sensitive to the potential systemic symptoms such as reduced blood pressure, which can leave them light-headed.

It’s important to note that best results are achieved after six months to two years. Continual use of the product is recommended to continue its effect and this effect is strongest for the crown portion of the head. Discontinuation of use will result in hair loss slowly starting again.

How Does Minoxidil Work?