History

Beginning as a treatment for ulcers, and better known today as Rogaine™, minoxidil has been around since the late 1950s and has established itself as a hair regrowth treatment for the past 30 years.  It has been available as a treatment for women since 1991 and is now quite popular among both genders.  The FDA gave approval for over-the-counter sales of minoxidil in 1996.

Mechanism

While not completely understood, it is thought that minoxidil enables the flow of more oxygen, blood, and nutrients to the hair follicle since this medication is known to widen blood vessels.  Studies have shown that approximately 40% of patients suffering from pattern hair loss will regrow hair.  This effect appears to be the result of an increase in enzymatic activity at the hair follicle.  The increase in enzymatic activity may induce the replacement of hair in the late stage of the hair life cycle (telogen phase) with new, thicker hair in the early stage of the hair life cycle (anagen phase).  Minoxidil is applied topically to the area where hair loss is occurring and must be used continuously for ongoing results.  

Safety

As always, please consult with a medical professional before taking any new medication.

Generally, minoxidil can be taken safely.  However, common side effects such as irritation, itching, and/or redness of the treated area can occur.  Allergic reactions, dizziness, and (ironically) temporary hair loss are also common side effects.  Note that minoxidil-induced hair loss is common and can be thought of as a process of shedding, much like skin, before new hair growth occurs.  

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