Minoxidil – more popularly known as Rogaine – is a hair loss product used by thousands worldwide. Due to its rate of absorption, however, its use is limited to liquid and foam formulations and this can make it difficult to use on a daily basis.
In this article, I’ll be discussing the mechanism behind minoxidil’s effectiveness. This will include a look at how the product absorbs into the scalp.
Since minoxidil cannot effectively be used in shampoo formulations, I’ll then show you THREE ways to make its use more effective. And, you’ll also learn all about the natural minoxidil alternative I’ve successfully used to stop the hair loss and regrow healthy hair.
What is Minoxidil?
While minoxidil has grown in popularity as a hair loss treatment, it’s actually an ingredient that was previously used for a very different purpose.
Minoxidil was originally developed in the late 1950s as a treatment for ulcers. While shown to not be effective, it was found to be a vasodilator, and was later released in 1979 as a drug to treat hypertension (high blood pressure).
As trials were underway on minoxidil, it soon became obvious that the drug was also effective in growing new hair.
While doctors began to prescribe the hypertension medication (under the brand name of Loniten) to their balding patients, minoxidil did eventually become approved for use as a hair loss treatment.
It was branded under the name of Rogaine, and official use began in 1988.
How Does it Work?
As mentioned, minoxidil is a vasodilator. This plays a significant role in its hair-growing properties. Let’s take a look.
Your hair follicles are organs, and as such they’re part of a larger system. One component of this system are capillaries – these are tiny blood vessels that deliver nutrients and oxygen to the follicle, and also remove buildup (such as DHT) and waste.
When you suffer from Male-Pattern Baldness (MPB), a process occurs known as hair miniaturization. This happens when DHT (a hormone) causes irritation to the hair follicle, leading to inflammation.
As the follicle becomes inflamed, the hair coming from the follicle has very little room to grow. Eventually, the hairs being produced become smaller and smaller, and this leads to balding (permanent, if not treated).
But what does this have to do with capillaries and, more importantly, minoxidil?
As the hair follicle shrinks (both from DHT-induced inflammation and hair loss), the capillary restricts. This is because inflammation is a system-wide occurrence.
With less nutrients and oxygen now being delivered, the follicle continues to shrink.
Where minoxidil comes in is in its capillary-widening abilities. As a vasodilator, minoxidil works by relaxing the smooth muscle cells within the walls of the capillaries. This means that proper delivery of vital nutrients and oxygen can restart, and the hair follicle can once again begin to produce new hair.
As an aside, minoxidil may also prolong the anagen phase of hair growth. This is purely speculation, however, and there is yet to be any scientific proof to back this claim.
How Does It Absorb?
As part of its effectiveness, it’s important to understand how minoxidil absorbs into the scalp. This will enable you to use it most effectively, and see results sooner.
In 1990 – in the midst of Rogaine’s raise in popularity – a study was performed to show the length of time absorption takes for minoxidil, the popular product’s main ingredient.
Twice daily for six days, one mL of minoxidil was applied to the scalps of 22 healthy male volunteers. It was applied to 150 cm2 of bald scalp.
The minoxidil was then wiped from the scalp at either hour 1, hour 2, hour 4, or hour 11.5. Urine samples were then taken, and the amount of unchanged minoxidil, minoxidil glucuronide, or the sum of these was then measured.
It was found that by hour 1, only about 50% minoxidil absorption was complete. By hour 4, however, it was more than 75% absorbed by the scalp.
What does this mean then?
As a user of minoxidil, this means it’s important to leave the product on your scalp – undisturbed – for at least four hours.
This means you shouldn’t shower, apply other hair product, or do any other such thing that would interrupt the absorption process. This is why a minoxidil cream can work quite well. Because it has the time to absorb into the scalp.
Common Minoxidil Formulas
There are two forms of minoxidil which can be used to regrow hair: liquid, or foam.
The liquid formula was the first to be developed, entering the market in 1988.
So, if minoxidil liquid was well received, why the need for the foam formula?
As use spread, it became obvious that the liquid formulation was causing some unpleasant side effects. These were mostly contained to the application area, and included itching, rash, flaking, and irritation.
It was learned, however, that minoxidil wasn’t the issue. It was an ingredient found within liquid minoxidil formulations – propylene glycol.
This is a short-chain alcohol and, as such, it can cause a number of issues for minoxidil users. Such issues include dryness, flaking, and irritation and, for many, these can be too much to bear.
As a response to this issue, the developers of Rogaine went ahead and created a propylene glycol free product: Rogaine foam.
Without the trouble ingredient included, many have seen a significant decrease in side effects and even further hair growth.
(Are you looking for alcohol-free minoxidil? Learn more here.) If you want to know if high strength minoxidil works better then please read my article here.
Which Concentration is Best?
Aside from deciding between liquid and foam, you’ll also have a few concentrations to choose from.
The two concentrations currently approved by the FDA for hair growth are 2% and 5%. There are more powerful concentrations (namely, 10% and 15%), but neither is recommended unless under supervision of a medical professional. And, even then, the side effects may be too great to use them for long.
For men, either concentration is recommended for use. The 5% concentration has been shown to improve results, so many men begin with this concentration.
However, women should stick with the 2% concentration.
This is because use of the 5% solution has been shown to increase the risk of hypertrichosis – excessive hair growth – on the face. In addition, women were shown to be more susceptible to other side effects as the concentration increased, including dizziness and allergic dermatitis.
Is Minoxidil Available as a Shampoo?
Due to the time it takes minoxidil to fully absorb into the scalp, minoxidil is not available as a shampoo.
There may be shampoo products on the market which contain minoxidil, but their use would be futile. This is because there’s no way to hasten the absorption of minoxidil into the scalp, and only time can lead to proper absorption rates.
This is unfortunate, as a minoxidil shampoo would be very convenient. However, it’s a reality of the ingredient that can not be changed.
How to Boost Minoxidil’s Effectiveness (3 Ways)
If minoxidil-containing shampoo is ineffective, what can you do to improve the effectiveness of the product?
1. Combine With a DHT-Blocking Shampoo
As you learned above, DHT is the main culprit in MPB. As such, it’s important to remove DHT from your scalp and use a DHT-blocking shampoo on a regular basis to keep your scalp as free from DHT buildup as possible.
- Warm water (1 cup)
- Baking soda (1 tablespoon)
- Apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon)
- Citrus essential oil (5 drops)
- Saw palmetto gel (1 capsule)
- Olive oil (1-2 teaspoons)
Combine the water, baking soda, vinegar, and olive oil in the container of your choice. As the baking soda and vinegar react, it’s best to use a non-airtight container to avoid gas buildup.
Next, use a needle or knife tip to pierce the saw palmetto capsule. Squeeze the gel into the combination above, and mix by stirring. At this point, you can also add in the citrus essential oil drops.
The baking soda and vinegar work together to create a gentle, but fully-cleansing shampoo base.
This combination gently removes buildup of oil, dead skin, and chemicals, but it leaves the necessary oils behind to protect your hair and scalp from overdrying.
Saw palmetto is the main DHT-blocker ingredient in this recipe.
Last, olive oil is the hydrating carrier oil used in this recipe to deliver the free radical-scavenging citrus essential oil throughout the scalp. This ensures the citrus oil is distributed evenly.
2. Use a Dermaroller
To further open the pores and improve absorption of minoxidil, I recommend you use a dermaroller.
A dermaroller is a small device with tiny needles attached to a rolling pin. It’s used to create small punctures in the skin, where the skin then repairs itself and generates new hair follicles.
Are you a bit wary? Check out this 12-week study that shows just how effective the dermaroller can be:
One hundred men with varying degrees of male-pattern baldness were split into two groups. The first group received a weekly microneedling procedure and twice daily application of minoxidil 5% lotion.
The second group received only the twice daily application of minoxidil 5% lotion.
During the day of microneedling, the participants were informed not to apply minoxidil; instead, they were to resume application 24 hours after the procedure.
There were three efficacy measures that were considered:
- Change from baseline hair count at 12 weeks;
- Patient assessment of hair growth at 12 weeks; and
- Investigator assessment of hair growth at 12 weeks.
These were the results:
As can be seen quite clearly, the microneedling + minoxidil group performed significantly better than the minoxidil-only group.
The researchers hypothesized that there were a few reasons for this incredible difference.
First, microneedling can induce the release of platelet derived growth factor. This leads to wound regeneration and, as a result, growth of healthy hair follicles.
Second, it’s believed that an activation of stem cells in the hair bulge area occurs. This further perpetuates the growth of healthy follicles.
Fortunately, you don’t need to work with a professional to get these same results. You can do this at home.
3. Change Your Diet
One of the greatest things you can do for hair loss – whether you’re using a product like minoxidil or not – is to bring your diet back into alignment with your body’s natural state.
What does this mean?
As humans, our bodies naturally run on the alkaline side of the pH scale. Unfortunately, many of us eat foods that put us firmly on the acidic side of the scale.
This imbalance can cause a variety of issues, including bodywide inflammation, irritation, and hair loss.
There is a fix for this, however, and that’s to introduce a larger number of alkaline foods into your daily diet.
Acid-forming foods, such as dairy, sugar, carbonated beverages, and alcohol serve no purpose when it comes to your health.
The opposite is true for alkaline foods, however, which serve to provide you with the necessary vitamins and nutrients to keep your body happy and healthy.
All you need to do is start small. I recommend adding a smoothie or homemade juice to your routine. This will boost your intake of alkaline foods, and they’re both also highly nutritious and beneficial for your health.
Is There a Natural Alternative to Minoxidil?
Whether the side effects associated with minoxidil are too much, or you’d just like to give natural a try, you’ll be glad to know I’ve used the minoxidil alternative below with much success.
This three-ingredient recipe packs all that you need to combat hair loss and even regrow lost hair.
The Minoxidil Alternative Hair Serum
Combine the above ingredients in the ratios listed, but with your own amounts chosen so you can make as much (or as little) as you’d like.
Pour the mixture over your scalp, and use your fingertips to gently work it in. Pay attention to areas with excessive thinning (such as the temples, forehead, and vertex), and leave to sit for 5-10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm (or cold) water.
There are two DHT-fighting ingredients in this recipe, though each goes about it a different way.
First, hyaluronic acid works by removing DHT from the scalp. This is due to hyaluronic acid’s cleansing abilities, removing any harmful buildup.
Second, is pumpkin seed oil’s DHT-targeting abilities. More than just removing it, PSO can prevent DHT buildup from occurring.
Both of these ingredients are delivered with the help of emu oil, a moisturising component that helps each ingredient to penetrate deep into the scalp.
While adding minoxidil to shampoos would be a great way to makes its daily use simpler, the rate at which it absorbs into the scalp would make this course of action worthless.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to increase minoxidil’s effectiveness.
However, I recommend that you give the natural alternative outlined above a try. Instead of covering the issue (as minoxidil and finasteride tend to do), you can treat the issue at its cause. This means you’ll have better results in the long run.