Minoxidil is perhaps the most popular drug for the treatment of hair loss. It is usually sold under the brand name Rogaine, though you can also purchase generic versions.
While being a relatively safe topical treatment (at least in comparison 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 itchy scalp and 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 experienced by many users. The main reason for this is an ingredient found in the liquid version of minoxidil: propylene glycol.
Minoxidil products contain propylene glycol, a chemical known to cause skin irritation. This ingredient serves an important purpose, enabling the solution to penetrate the skin and reach the hair follicles.
Propylene glycol, however, has been associated with skin reactions, including itching and irritation (1).
Can Minoxidil Itchy Scalp Be Stopped?
If you are currently dealing with minoxidil-related itching and cannot bear it, you have several options.
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, it is generally better tolerated and less likely to cause itching.
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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 that many people will experience itching is that they are not allowing the scalp to air dry after application. The majority of the active ingredient, minoxidil, will absorb into the scalp. The alcohols in the product, though, should be given the opportunity to evaporate.
If you currently wear a shower cap or other covering after applying minoxidil, it is best to stop. This will allow more alcohol to evaporate so your scalp is not exposed to it longer than necessary.
Use a Medicated Shampoo
There are many reasons for an itchy, flaky, irritated scalp. And for as many reasons, there is likely a shampoo that can help.
Medicated shampoos, like Selsum Blue or Nizoral, are typically used to treat dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis. They contain active ingredients like ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, or zinc pyrithione. In most cases, they target the inflammation which is the cause of irritation and itching. They may also help to balance your scalp’s sebum levels, as well as prevent the growth of bacteria and yeast.
This is a great topic to discuss with your physician.
Ask Your Doctor for Topical Steroids
If the itching and irritation is so bad that it cannot be treated with medicated shampoos, your doctor may recommend a topical steroid.
Topical steroids are often used as a way 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 tips above and nothing has worked so far, then you may want to consider reducing how often you apply minoxidil.
The manufacturer recommends that minoxidil be applied twice daily. While this may lead to better results, it also has a greater chance of causing side effects. To reduce the risk and intensity of side effects like itchy scalp, you can reduce your usage to just once per day.
You may notice an initial increase in shedding as you drop from twice daily to once daily. This should only last about six weeks. But you may find that the trade-off of slower results 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 solution 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 FDA-approved drug for use in the treatment of 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, and even the use of a scalp tension reduction device.
If you do choose to quit minoxidil entirely, 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 instead. You will continue this pattern until you are using it just twice per week or so, and then you can stop.
You will very likely still experience the after-effects of stopping minoxidil, like increased shedding. But they should be somewhat reduced by following the above method.
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.