While Rogaine is a popular treatment for pattern baldness, it does cause a disturbing occurrence at the beginning of use: shedding. This article will explain why Rogaine shedding happens, how long it lasts, and how much loss new users can expect.
Additionally, natural methods to stop shedding and grow your hair more quickly will be outlined.
Using Rogaine to Treat Thinning and Receding Hair
Rogaine is a hair loss treatment – containing the active ingredient minoxidil – that is applied to the scalp daily.
The main use for Rogaine is in the treatment of Male-Pattern Baldness (MPB), the most common form of alopecia.
When applied regularly, the active ingredient works to promote blood circulation and reduce the effects (such as inflammation and hair miniaturization) caused by DHT.
As with any medication, this drug does have some side effects associated with use.
The most common side effects include local irritation (itching, redness, rash), but also some systemic side effects, such as dizziness, excess facial/body hair, and fast/irregular heartbeat.
Another adverse effect of minoxidil use is hair shedding, popularly referred to as “dread shed.”
The Hair Growth Cycle
To understand why medications like minoxidil and finasteride trigger shedding at the start of treatment, it is important to understand how hair grows. The process can be explained by the hair growth cycle.
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There are four stages of the hair growth cycle.
The active growth phase when hair grows and lengthens for a period of two to six years.
In men and women with pattern balding, the anagen phase is considerably shorter for the follicles impacted by hair loss. The result is shorter, thinner hairs that will cycle through the rest of the stages outlined below on an increased timeline.
The transitional phase when the base of the hair follicle, known as the bulb, begins to detach from the follicle’s blood supply. The detachment begins once the follicle receives a chemical signal to stop growing.
At what point in the anagen phase the hair follicle receives the signal will depend on various factors. Body and facial hairs, for example, will receive the signal at a quicker rate than scalp hair that may have entered the anagen phase at the same time. This is because body hairs are characteristically finer and shorter than their scalp counterparts.
This stage can last up to a few weeks.
The resting phase when the bottom of the hair strand (the bulb) has completely detached from the follicle. The hair strand does not immediately shed from the follicle. Instead, it waits for a newly formed hair strand to grow from the follicle and push it out of its place which can take up to three months.
Telogen hairs can shed from typical activities, too, such as hair washing or brushing. These are often the types of hairs found in hairbrushes, in the shower drain, or on pillows.
When the telogen phase hair finally sheds from its follicle, it has entered the exogen phase.
Exogen is a phase often overlooked or lumped in with telogen, as it is not so much a standalone phase like the other three above. Instead, exogen is characterized by the end of one phase (telogen) and the beginning of another (anagen).
What Causes Rogaine Shedding?
During the course of the normal hair growth cycle, shedding takes place. About 100 hairs are shed per day in a healthy individual, and this just means the telogen phase has ended and anagen is next.
When shedding takes place while on hair growth treatments, including Rogaine, the reason is the same.
Rogaine and Propecia – the only two FDA-approved baldness treatments on the market – both bring your hair from the resting phase to the active growth phase. They do this in different ways, but the result of both is excess shedding.
When using treatments like Rogaine and Propecia, individuals can expect to see one result: hair growth. That is the likely result when you use these medications as directed.
There are two ways that Rogaine works to promote hair growth:
- It triggers hair growth in dormant hair follicles, and;
- It lengthens the anagen phase to promote longer, thicker hair.
Just as the hair growth cycle outlined above indicates, for this to happen the dormant hairs must be shed. This is why see an increase in the number of shed telogen hairs in the first few weeks of treatment is common.
The good news is that an increase in shedding is a sign the medication is working as intended.
How Common is Rogaine Shedding?
Rogaine shedding is something that happens at the beginning of treatment – typically in the first two to eight weeks – but that should subside as treatment continues (1).
Not everyone will suffer from shedding as a result of use, though the majority of users will experience some level of shedding.
How Much Shedding to Expect
As mentioned, whether shedding occurs will vary. The same can be said for how much shedding takes place.
During the usual hair cycle, about 100 hairs per day are shed during the telogen phase. It is not uncommon to experience more than this during the first few months of minoxidil use, as many hairs will be prematurely pushed into telogen.
If shedding continues for more than 8 weeks, or if it seems to worsen as treatment continues, it is best to speak with a hair loss specialist.
Shedding is also likely to occur when minoxidil use is stopped. This will continue for a few weeks.
Is It Possible to Avoid Shedding?
It is not possible to avoid the shedding of dormant hair. It is potentially possible to shorten the shedding process, though, by improving the scalp’s overall health.
How to Shorten the Shedding Period
Here are a few ways to promote overall scalp and hair health.
Just as with all other bodily processes, the hair growth cycle is supported by the nutrients consumed as part of an individual’s diet. If the body is lacking in key nutrients and minerals, then the hair growth process will suffer.
Eating a balanced diet, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, can help to ensure the hair follicles and scalp are receiving the nutrients needed to thrive.
Some vitamins and minerals have been proven to support hair health and growth, including iron, biotin, niacin, and zinc (2). Macronutrients, especially proteins and fats, also play a key role in hair growth and repair (3).
As Rogaine works by increased blood flow to the scalp, it can be beneficial for users to add their own scalp stimulation routine to boost results. There are two basic ways to stimulate the scalp manually: One is simple massage, and the other is microneedling.
For scalp massage, the hands are all that is needed. Of course, carrier oils and a scalp stimulation tool can also be used.
The massage itself should be performed for about five to 10 minutes per day.
The second way to stimulate the scalp is with microneedling.
This is a technique used commonly to reduce scarring on the face, but it is also proven beneficial in hair growth. In fact, microneedling performed alongside minoxidil treatment improved results significantly, as shown by a 2013 research study (4):
A derma roller can be used to perform microneedling at home. This is a handheld tool that can be used regularly to provide similar effects to in-office microneedling sessions.
An additional tool – though, a bit pricer than a traditional derma roller – is the derma stamp (5). This tool has increased precision and it is great for beginners.
Other Minoxidil Side Effects to Consider
When adding a new medication to a hair loss treatment regimen, it is important to consider all potential side effects. While shedding is the most commonly discussed side effect, it is not the only one.
The most common side effects associated with minoxidil use are irritation and rash at the site of application. This could be an indication of an allergic reaction, or it could be contact dermatitis due to one of the inactive ingredients, like alcohol.
One inactive ingredient found in many minoxidil formulations is propylene glycol. This ingredient has been shown to cause contact dermatitis which includes itching, burning, redness, rash, and irritation (6). The good news is that minoxidil formulations, like minoxidil foam, do not include propylene glycol which makes them an ideal alternative.
As minoxidil was initially developed as an anti-hypertensive medication, it may cause side effects such as dizziness and lightheadedness. These and other symptoms related to vasodilation are unlikely, however, as a considerable amount of active ingredient would need to be absorbed to experience its vasodilative effects (7).
Shedding is common in the very beginning stages of minoxidil (Rogaine) or finasteride (Propecia) use. It is simply a part of the process and is nothing to be worried about in the majority of cases. As hair cycles from the resting to growth phase it “sheds” the old, thin hair. This is so the hair follicle can enlarge and start growing new, thicker hair.
In any case, the period of Rogaine’s shedding should not last more than eight weeks.