As a popular treatment for male-pattern baldness, minoxidil is available in a few formulations. The two most common are liquid and foam, though a cream formulation has become increasingly popular for a few reasons.
In this post, I’ll take a closer look at minoxidil cream. This will include how it compares to the “traditional” formulations, and what you may expect from use. In addition, I’ll lay out the possible side effects.
In the end, I’ll also share with you my very own formula for a natural minoxidil alternative.
What is Minoxidil?
Minoxidil is a drug that was originally used in the treatment of hypertension, but which has now become one of the most popular active ingredients in the hair loss community.
First developed by the Upjohn Company (now Pfizer) in the 1950s for the treatment of ulcers, studies showed that minoxidil was a much better vasodilator. As such, it was FDA-approved and released under the name Loniten in 1979 to treat high blood pressure.
As studies continued, it soon became obvious that minoxidil had another surprising side effect: hair growth. In fact, doctors were prescribing Loniten off-brand for their balding patients by the 1980s.
Finally, in 1988, minoxidil was FDA-approved for male hair loss treatment under the name Rogaine, and a female product soon followed (approved in 1991).
How Does It Work?
There’s still a bit of debate about minoxidil’s mechanism; though, it’s believed to be its vasodilating properties.
In individuals with Androgenetic Alopecia, symptoms are caused by a sensitivity to DHT. This is an androgen produced from the interaction between testosterone (the male sex hormone) and 5-alpha-reductase (an enzyme).
While DHT does play an important role in sexual development, those with a genetic predisposition to alopecia (along with other factors) may find themselves with DHT-sensitive hair follicles.
As the DHT attaches to the hair follicles, the follicle becomes inflamed and irritated. In the short term, this leads to thinning and gradual hair loss.
Over time, a process known as hair miniaturization will take place and, if left untreated, will lead to permanent baldness.
Throughout the process of hair miniaturization, there is a severe lack of oxygen and nutrient delivery from the blood vessels to the hair follicle. This furthers the process, and eventually kills the follicle. So, where does minoxidil come in?
As a vasodilator, minoxidil ensures the continued delivery of oxygen and vital nutrients to the scalp and follicles. While it doesn’t remove the cause of the hair loss (DHT), it does make it possible for hair follicles to thrive in an inhospitable environment.
What is Minoxidil Cream?
It’s is a cream formulation, one which allows you to rub the solution into your scalp like you would a lotion.
It’s not currently FDA approved, and not much is really known on its use in the treatment of hair loss.
However, some companies do make cream formulations and sell the product (namely, non-US companies), claiming that it has superior results to the liquid and foam minoxidil formulations.
Minoxidil Liquid vs. Cream
The most popular minoxidil formulation, liquid, has been on the market for a few decades now (first by Rogaine, and then store brands). So, how does it stand up against the cream version?
Unfortunately, no comparative studies have been performed. Actually, no studies at all have been done to test the efficacy of the cream formulation.
However, there are a few things we can know about their differences.
First, the minoxidil liquid is likely to have less side effects than the cream formulation. This is because the cream formulation tends to be prepared in much higher doses (12% – 30%).
Second, the minoxidil liquid is likely to be easier to work with. Unlike cream, which can leave a greasy, gummy residue, the liquid will evaporate over time. This makes it easier to style your hair.
Minoxidil Foam vs. Cream
Minoxidil foam was first introduced as an alternative to minoxidil solution in 2010, and the Women’s Foam was released in 2014.
The foam was produced in response to allergic reactions by Rogaine users – caused by the ingredient propylene glycol – and it has been a staple of many hair loss sufferers hair care routine ever since.
Similar to the minoxidil liquid, no comparative studies have been done for minoxidil foam and cream; this makes it difficult to really know which one works best.
As mentioned above, though, I would imagine the foam would be more effective in the long term. While the cream may produce quicker initial results, a higher dose of minoxidil is not necessarily considered best.
Remember, “more is not always better.”
Side Effects and Considerations
The side effects associated with the cream version will be similar to those of other minoxidil products. However, as many creams come in higher doses than store-bought liquids and foams, you may be more likely to experience side effects.
The most common side effects include itching, redness, flaking, and dryness.
The chances of these side effects can be lessened by using a propylene glycol-free product, such as minoxidil foam.
Depending on the cream you purchase, it may have propylene glycol. So, if you’re sensitive to such things, be sure to do your research.
Of course, more severe side effects can occur (though, they’re rare). These include dizziness, headaches, nausea/vomiting, difficulty breathing, hives, and swelling of the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat.
If these symptoms occur, stop use of minoxidil immediately and seek medical attention.
If you’re a woman, you’ll want to be wary of high-dose minoxidil concentrations. The FDA has only approved minoxidil liquid 2% and minoxidil foam 5% for women, as higher concentrations can increase risk of side effects.
One such side effect is excess hair growth on the face (known as hirsutism).
Costs and Availability
Unlike the 2% and 5% minoxidil solution and foam, the cream version is not available over the counter. In fact, it’s quite hard to even come across in the US, and it can be hard to track in other countries as well.
Why isn’t it available over the counter?
The FDA has approved only two doses for over-the-counter use: 2% and 5%. However, creams tend to have much higher doses (anywhere from 12.5% to 30%) and, therefore, are not recommended by the FDA.
For this reason, any minoxidil creams you do come across will be pretty pricey.
Are There Any Natural Alternatives?
Minoxidil is a popular hair loss treatment, but it’s one with many side effects and unknown long-term effects. This is especially true if you’ll be using a high-dose formulation, such as cream.
To avoid such issues, I recommend you go with an all-natural alternative. With natural ingredients, you can tailor the product to fit your needs. In addition, you can save money.
Are you ready? Then take a look at this two-step alternative that you can start using today.
1. Salicylic Acid Scalp Peel
Sebum buildup is a common occurrence, but it can cause a number of issues if not treated regularly. Such issues include an excess amount of DHT on the scalp and hair follicle blockage.
Fortunately, you can handle this issue easily with a scalp peel.
- Salicylic acid (15% solution or less)
- Coconut oil
Wash your hair with a gentle shampoo (I recommend one from here), and then rinse thoroughly. Apply coconut oil to the scalp, enough to cover it in a thin layer. Allow to sit on your scalp for 30 minutes.
Using an eyedropper (you can pick some up at the drugstore), apply the salicylic acid to your scalp in sections. Pay particular attentions to areas with obvious flaking, itching, thinning as these are the areas most likely to have the most buildup.
Leave the acid on your scalp for 10 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly. Peel away any excess acid that has been left behind (you can also use a hair brush – gently!).
2. Topical DHT Blocker (Minoxidil Alternative)
What You’ll Need:
While not a necessary step, I recommend you first use a dermaroller to stimulate the scalp.
A dermaroller is a microneedling tool that creates small puncture wounds to the scalp. As these “wounds” heal, blood and nutrient flow to the area is increased. This means your scalp is more able to absorb treatments, and it can also promote growth of new hairs.
You should perform this step after the scalp peel, but before the topical.
Now, mix the ingredients together as follows:
- 1 part of emu oil to 1 part of hyaluronic acid.
- 1 part saw palmetto to 7 parts emu/hyaluronic mixture.
- 1 part pumpkin seed oil to 6 parts emu/hyaluronic/saw palmetto mixture.
NOTE: The actual amounts don’t matter (so you can make as much or as little as you’d like).
Now, using a pipette or spray bottle (set on lowest spray), begin to apply to areas where you’ve applied the peel and used the dermaroller. Use your fingertips to massage the mixture in, and then let sit for 20-30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm (NOT hot) water.
For best results, apply this mixture as frequently as minoxidil (twice per day). Or, if using as a supplement to another hair loss treatment, you can apply every few days.
To store the mixture, keep in a dark-colored bottle (preferably glass). I would suggest keeping it in the fridge, though any cool, dry place will do.
When looking for a hair loss treatment, minoxidil cream is an option. However, it’s not one that I would recommend.
In fact, I would urge you to strongly reconsider before using. The heightened risk of side effects, as well as the fact that you would need to continue use perpetually, make it an unwise choice.
Instead, I suggest a more natural approach to treatment. With the minoxidil alternative above, alongside a healthy diet, you can see results just as effective (or even more) as with minoxidil.