The Side Effects of Minoxidil: What You Need to Know

Published June 4th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Minoxidil topical solution is a medication that can be used to treat hair loss. It has an active ingredient called minoxidil sulfate and it works by widening the blood vessels in the scalp which helps increase blood flow and bring nutrients to your hair follicles. Although primarily beneficial, this drug may cause side effects.

What is Minoxidil?

Minoxidil is a topical solution medicine applied to the scalp to help generate hair regrowth. The active ingredient in minoxidil is called minoxidil sulfate which has been clinically proven to increase hair growth by up to 50%. It is available in an oral tablet form as well, but minoxidil most commonly comes in liquid droplets that you can apply directly onto your scalp and hair for optimal results. Direct to Consumer Health companies, such as forhims.com or keeps.com for men and forhers.com for women, offer these hair loss solutions to consumers after a brief survey and chat with a medical professional. The active ingredient in minoxidil consists of about 20% of the formula, while the inactive ingredients include alcohol, propylene glycol, and water.

The way minoxidil works is by widening blood vessels, which can help your hair grow back if your hair is thinning. When you start to lose hair your blood vessels shrink and a minoxidil topical solution can help to restore hair density. Once the follicles are restored and healthy, more healthy hair grows back improving length and thickness.

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Recommended usage of Minoxidil

It is recommended that you use the product twice daily (or depending on your topical product follow the proper dose guideline) for at least six months before seeing any significant changes in your hair growth or thickness. However, it can take up to a year to see optimal results. If you stop taking minoxidil, after four weeks no new hairs will grow back. The intention of this medication is to be taken for the long term to combat your hair loss. Be advised that once you start taking minoxidil you will need to be on it for life because once you stop taking the medication, your hair loss will return.

When not using minoxidil, it’s best to store your medications in a dry place at room temperature away from pets and children.

Who can take Minoxidil and how do you take it?

The minoxidil solution is a topical treatment for both men and women, in an effort to treat male pattern baldness or female pattern hair loss more effectively. Minoxidil can work on any visible hair loss and will typically grow new hairs within three months.

The most common method to take minoxidil is through a topical solution or a foam, although it can also be taken orally, as a pill under certain circumstances. The topical solution is the most popular method because it will allow the topical minoxidil to come into contact with your scalp directly and provide maximum treatment for hair loss.

Minoxidil can be taken by anyone, but in order for the drug to have maximum effect on your scalp, those over 18 should supplement their diet with some form of vitamin B. Taking biotin, also known as vitamin B-7 and using an all-natural styling product such as Moroccan oil may also help improve the condition of your hair.

How long does it take to see results?

The results of minoxidil will be different for everyone and the time frame in which you can see these results may also vary. Generally, most individuals report seeing some form of result within two to four months; but it could take up to a year before you see any type of significant change. This is because minoxidil takes much longer than other treatments such as laser hair therapy or surgical procedures in order to produce substantial effects on your scalp. The good news about this treatment is that there are no limits on how long someone has to continue taking this drug.

Minoxidil side effects

Most common side effects of minoxidil are mild although some serious side effects, such as allergic reactions to the topical foam or liquid, have been known to occur. The side effects of minoxidil include nausea (26%), headache (24%), skin irritation at the site (14%), or itching at the site (13%). Minoxidil also can have adverse drug interactions with other medical treatments, such as lithium and diltiazem. Please consult a physician for medical advice and tell your doctor or  pharmacist all medications you are taking to help mitigate any adverse effects.

There are studies that indicate a significant risk of high blood pressure, so it is recommended to have your blood pressure checked before starting any treatment with minoxidil or at least every six months while taking this medication.

In rare cases, some individuals may experience serious side effects such as chest pain, shortness of breath (bronchospasm), or swelling around their mouth area which could be life threatening. If these side effects occur, seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 for emergency assistance or calling your healthcare provider.

The following are common side effects:

  • Skin irritation
  • Itchy scalp
  • Allergic contact dermatitis
  • Swelling of face, hands, feet, or lower legs 
  • Initial increase in hair shedding with brushing 
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Reddened skin 
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness

Women who are pregnant should not take minoxidil and those who are breastfeeding should not use it either as it could contaminate breast milk.

Any patient with heart problems should consult their physician before use. Patients with heart disease should not take minoxidil because high doses can worsen cardiovascular problems and cause fluid retention. Since minoxidil is a vasodilator, a medication that opens up blood vessels wider, it can lead to an increased heart rate and ultimately heart failure for others with heart conditions.

Patients who have a history of stroke or any other serious neurologic disease should not take minoxidil because they are at risk for having another one while taking the drug.

Where to find Minoxidil?

To find minoxidil you can talk with your doctor or visit these websites below without having to see a doctor. There are brand names available, such as Rogaine, while other generic forms, such as Kirkland minoxidil, are also widely available to patients.

  • The American Hair Loss Association - A nonprofit organization that provides information about hair loss and use of minoxidil. You can request help with buying minoxidil from the association for people in countries where it cannot be found locally, or for those who aren’t able to afford treatment.
  • Allergan, Inc. - Allergan has been manufacturing minoxidil since 1989 and they have also developed other drugs such as Botulinum Toxin Type A (Botox) which is also used for cosmetic purposes. Their site contains videos showing how their products should be applied and it also provides contact information for those who would like to speak with a medical professional.
  • Hair Loss Forum - If you're experiencing hair loss, the forum can provide you with different solutions and methods of treatment in order to help prevent further hair loss or regain what has already been lost.
  • Keeps - Keeps is a Male Hair Loss company
  • Hims - Hims is a direct to consumer health company that offers a number of different hair loss treatment products and includes discreet shipping and consultation with a medical professional.
  • Hers - Hers is the sister brand of Hims and is geared towards female health. They have the same discreet shipping, product guarantees, and consultations as Hims.
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Summary

As a topical solution, minoxidil is a treatment that can be used to treat hair loss. It may improve hair density and regrowth when taken regularly. You may start to see initial results within two to four months, with optimal results within a year. Stopping the medication will result in a gradual return to hair loss.

There are some side effects from using minoxidil and you should talk with your doctor before taking it. Minoxidil isn't for everyone and should be used with caution.

Sources: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6691938/

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2015/018154s026lbl.pdf

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22409453/

https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a689003.html

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