Minoxidil is perhaps the most popular drug for the treatment of hair loss. The brand name is Rogaine, but many generic versions are also available.
While it is a relatively safe topical treatment (at least compared to finasteride), minoxidil is not without side effects.
One of the most common side effects is itchy scalp. This can become so persistent and unpleasant that many users terminate treatment altogether.
This article will explain the main cause of minoxidil itchy scalp. You will also learn some effective ways of dealing with it, as well as other side effects from minoxidil use.
Minoxidil Itchy Scalp – What Causes It?
While severe allergic reactions to minoxidil are rare, itching is a common side effect. The main reason for this is an ingredient in the liquid version of minoxidil: propylene glycol.
This ingredient serves an important purpose: it enables the solution to penetrate the skin and reach the hair follicles.
Propylene glycol, however, is a problematic chemical for the skin. Research has linked it to adverse skin reactions, including itching and irritation (1).
Can You Stop Minoxidil Itchy Scalp?
If you are currently dealing with annoying itching from using minoxidil, you have several options.
Switching to the Foam
The first is to switch over to minoxidil foam.
As mentioned above, the most common reason for minoxidil itchy scalp is the ingredient propylene glycol. It is an important component of the liquid solution, but it is quite harsh.
The foam solution, on the other hand, does not contain propylene glycol. For this reason, users generally tolerate it better. They also report less itching.
Another benefit to the foam is that it is less messy to apply. There are also cream varieties of minoxidil, but they are harder to find.
Let the Solution Air Dry
A common reason for itchy scalp is users not allowing it to air dry after minoxidil application.
The majority of the active ingredient, minoxidil, will absorb into the scalp regardless. The alcohol in the product, though, will not be able to evaporate. Over time, this can irritate your skin.
If you wear a shower cap or other covering after applying minoxidil, it is best to stop. This will allow the alcohol to evaporate freely. This way, you will not be exposing your scalp to it for longer than necessary.
Use a Medicated Shampoo
There are many reasons for an itchy, flaky, or irritated scalp. And for as many reasons, there is likely a shampoo that can help.
Medicated shampoos, like Neutrogena, Selsum Blue or Nizoral, are typically used to treat dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis. They contain active ingredients like ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, and zinc pyrithione.
In most cases, they target the inflammation which causes the irritation and itching. They may also help to balance your scalp’s sebum levels, as well as prevent the growth of fungi.
This is a great topic to discuss with your physician.
Ask Your Doctor for Topical Steroids
It is possible your itching and irritation do not respond to medicated shampoos. In that case, your doctor may recommend a topical steroid.
Topical steroids are often used to reduce inflammation. They do so by blocking the chemical reactions which lead to inflammation. Steroids can also change how immune cells work so as to prevent tissue damage and inflammation.
The problem with a topical steroid is that a regular course will only run for up to 14 days. There are risks associated with long-term use of steroids, so it is best to avoid this if possible.
Reduce Frequency of Use
If you have tried the above tips above with no success, then you can consider reducing your minoxidil dosage.
The manufacturer recommends that you apply minoxidil twice daily. This can give optimal results, but can also cause more side effects. To reduce the incidence and severity of side effects like itchy scalp, you can reduce your usage to just once per day.
You may notice an initial increase in shedding when you do this. This should only last about six weeks. But you may find that the trade-off in terms of reduced side effects is worth it.
It is likely not an answer you wanted to hear, but one surefire way to stop a minoxidil itchy scalp is to stop using the drug entirely.
Minoxidil can be a great solution for many people. That does not mean it is the only hair growth product out there. If you find that the itching or other side effects are too intense, then speak with your doctor about the other options at your disposal.
Finasteride is another drug the FDA has approved against pattern baldness. It does have side effects of its own to consider, though.
You may also consider a more “natural” approach, which involves treating the underlying cause of your hair loss. For most people with pattern baldness, this is scalp tension (2). You can reduce scalp tension with daily scalp massages, or a scalp tension reduction device.
Coming off Minoxidil
If you do decide to quit minoxidil, your best bet would be to slowly wean from the drug.
You should first drop down to using the solution just once per day. After two to three weeks, you can start using it every other day. Continue this pattern until you are using it just twice a week. At that point you can stop completely.
You will very likely still experience the after-effects of stopping minoxidil, like increased shedding. But by following this method you should be able to reduce their intensity.
IMPORTANT! If you display signs of an allergic reaction, including hives, swelling at the application site, shortness of breath, etc. then you should stop using minoxidil and seek medical help. If you experience signs of anaphylaxis, such as difficulty breathing, then seek out medical attention immediately.
Minoxidil is perhaps the most popular hair loss drug on the market. While it has certainly been helpful to hair loss sufferers worldwide, that does not mean it comes without risks or side effects.
One of the most maddening side effects is an itchy scalp. Fortunately, as outlined above, there are steps you can take to reduce the intensity of this side effect or stop it completely.