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Definition, Purpose, Precautions, Description, Preparation, Aftercare, Risks, Normal results

Minoxidil is a drug available in two forms to treat different conditions. Oral minoxidil is used to treat high blood pressure and the topical solution form is used to treat hair loss and baldness.


Minoxidil was the first drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia (hair loss). Before that, minoxidil had been used as a vasodilator drug prescribed as oral tablet to treat high blood pressure, with side effects that included hair growth and reversal of male baldness. In the 1980s, UpJohn Corporation came out with a topical solution of 2% minoxidil, called Rogaine, for the specific treatment of androgenetic alopecia. Since the 1990s, numerous generic forms of minoxidil have become available to treat hair loss while the oral form is still used to treat high blood pressure.

The popularity of hair loss treatment is due to the general preference in the overall population for the cosmetic appearance of a full head of hair. Minoxidil is used to stimulate hair growth in areas of the scalp that have stopped growing hair. As of early 2001, the exact mechanism of action of minoxidil is not known.


People who have had a prior unusual or allergic reaction to either minoxidil or propylene glycol, a nonactive chemical in the Rogaine solution, should not use topical minoxidil. People who have had a previous allergic reaction to preservatives or dyes may also be at risk for having an allergic reaction to minoxidil.

People who are using cortisone, or cortisone-like drugs (corticosteroids), petroleum jelly (Vaseline), or tretinoin (Retin-A) on their scalps should consult their doctors prior to using minoxidil. The use of any of these products in conjunction with minoxidil may cause excessive minoxidil absorption into the body and increase the risk of side effects.

Also, people who have skin problems or irritations of the scalp, including sunburn, may absorb too much minoxidil and increase their risk of side effects.

As for oral minoxidil, the form prescribed for high blood pressure, patients should use minoxidil only under medical supervision to ensure that excessive amounts of the drug are not absorbed into their bodies. Large amounts of minoxidil may increase the severity of the symptoms and side effects of hypertension.

Minoxidil may pass from mother to child through breast milk. Therefore, women who are breastfeeding should not use minoxidil.


For the treatment of hair loss, minoxidil is available as a topical solution that is generally either 2% or 5% minoxidil in propylene glycol. The propylene glycol ensures that the applied minoxidil is evenly spread across the affected area and easily absorbed through the skin. As of early 2001, the 5% solution is only approved by the FDA for use on men. Approximately 1 milliliter of minoxidil solution is applied to the scalp once a day using the fingertips or a pump spray. It should be applied from the center of the area being treated outward.

In the treatment of high blood pressure, oral minoxidil is usually prescribed when other medications have failed to treat the condition. Dosage is usually 2.5-100 mg per day as a single dose for adults and 200 micrograms to 1 mg per kg of body weight for children.


Before using topical minoxidil, the hair and scalp should be clean and dry before the minoxidil solution is applied.


Hands, and any other areas of the body where hair growth is not desired that may have come into contact with topical minoxidil, should be washed immediately after applying the minoxidil solution on the scalp. Once applied, topical minoxidil should be allowed to air-dry for at least two to four hours before clothing is pulled on or off over the head, a hat is worn, or the patient goes to bed. Prior to this, the minoxidil solution may stain clothing, hats, or bed linens; or, it may be accidentally transferred from the patient's head to one of these objects, then back to other parts of the patient's body where hair growth is not desired. A blow dryer, or other drying methods, should not be used to speed the drying of the minoxidil as this may interfere with the absorption of the medicine. People using minoxidil should also not shampoo, wash, or rinse their hair for at least four hours after minoxidil is applied.


The most common side effects of topical minoxidil use are itching and skin irritation of the treated area of the scalp. Unwanted hair growth may also occur adjacent to treated areas or in areas where the medicine has been inadvertently transferred several times. This unwanted hair growth adjacent to the treatment area may be particularly distressing to women when the face is involved. The itching and irritation usually subside after the drug has been used for approximately two weeks. If symptoms persist after this time, minoxidil use should be halted until a physician has been consulted.

Extremely rare side effects that may occur if too much topically or orally administered minoxidil is being absorbed in the body include:

  • changes in vision, most commonly blurred vision
  • chest pain
  • very low blood pressure
  • decreased sexual desire
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • flushing of the skin
  • headache
  • lightheadedness
  • numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or face
  • partial, or complete, impotence
  • rapid weight gain
  • swelling of the hands, feet, lower legs, or face

Normal results

Topical minoxidil is much more effective at treating baldness that occurs on the top, or crown, of the head than it is at causing hair growth on other parts of the head. Minoxidil does not work for everyone and there is no predictor, in early 2001, of whether or not it will be effective in any particular person. Clinical tests on the effectiveness of topical minoxidil in men with baldness on the top of the head showed that 48% of men who had used minoxidil for one year reported moderate to dense re-growth of hair within the treated area. Thirty-six percent reported minimal regrowth; while 16% reported no regrowth. Similar percentages have been reported in women.

In both men and women, hair re-growth generally does not begin until the medicine has been used for at least four months. The first signs that minoxidil may be effective in a particular person usually occur after approximately 90 days of treatment, when the patient notices that he or she is losing (shedding) much less hair than prior to beginning treatment.

When new growth begins, the first hairs may be soft and barely visible. For some patients, this is the extent to the effectiveness of this medication. For others, this down-like hair develops into hair of the same color and thickness as the other hairs on their heads.

Minoxidil is a treatment for hair loss, it is not a cure. Once a patient stops taking minoxidil, he or she will most likely lose all of the re-grown hair within 90 days of stopping the medication and no further hair growth will occur.



Saito, H. (ed.) Progress in Hypertension : Antihypertensive Drugs Today. Philadelphia: Coronet Books, 1992.


Barone, Jeanine. "Coping with Hair Loss." Better Homes and Gardens (September 1997): 102-108.

Bowser, Andrew. "Treatments Abound for Female Hair Loss." Dermatology Times (June 1999).

Scow, Dean Thomas. "Medical Treatments for Balding in Men." American Family Physician (15 April 1999).


American Hair Loss Council. 30 Grassy Plain Road, Bethel, CT 06801. (888) 873-9719. <http://www.ahlc.org/>.

American Academy of Dermatology. 930 N. Meacham Road, PO Box 4014, Schaumburg, IL 60168-4014. (847) 330-0230. Fax: 847-330-0050. <http://www.aad.org/>.

American Academy of Dermatology. 930 N. Meacham Road, PO Box 4014, Schaumburg, IL 60168-4014. (847) 330-0230. Fax: 847-330-0050. <http://www.aad.org/>.

Paul A. Johnson


Androgenetic alopecia—Hair loss that develops into baldness and affects both men and women.

Hypertension—Persistently high arterial blood pressure.

Scalp—That part of the head that is usually covered with hair.

Topical drug—Drug or medication applied to a specific area of the skin and affecting only the area to which it is applied.

Vasodilation—The increase in the diameter of a blood vessel resulting from relaxation of smooth muscle within the wall of the vessel. Vasodilation activates the blood flow.

Vasodilators—Drugs or substances that cause vasodilation.

Additional topics

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