Does Rogaine Work? The Truth About Minoxidil

mens-hair-lossBefore it was branded as Rogaine, Minoxidil was taken orally to lower blood pressure. Doctors noticed a curious side effect that to many men was godsend – increased growth or darkening of fine hairs.

In the early days increased body hair was noted as it was seen as a possible negative effect to those seeking lower blood pressure. It took years for new eyes to see the positive end of this effect. An “aha” moment came when the people at Upjohn Corporation realized that it also had the potential to strengthen miniaturized hairs on the scalp, fighting the effects of male pattern hair loss.

With millions of men slowly going bald across the globe, the people at Upjohn were onto something big. The oral drug once branded Loniten would go on to be a popular topical solution called Rogaine.

Rogaine comes in two strengths: 2% and 5%. Women with hair loss have very limited options because it isn’t recommended to go over 2% because of the chance of developing facial hair. Minoxidil alternatives hair such as Propecia and new contender Avodart (Dutasteride) only work for men because both block DHT, a byproduct of the synthesis of 5 alpha reductase and testosterone.

Hair loss message boards are overrun with men praising Rogaine while as just many are condemning it. The reason is simple: statistically, around half of men get favorable results with Rogaine while the other half does not.

Remember when reading antidotal reports there are three main factors at play:

  • Expectations: To some any improvement in hair growth makes taking Rogaine worth it, while others have their expectations set too high and land up being disappointed.
  • It’s tough to measure: Improvements with Minoxidil are gradual. Increased shedding is common in the early months of treatment. This can nerve men who have no guarantee that after the shedding they will see an increase in hair growth.
  • No magic bullet: Rogaine doesn’t work equally well for everyone. Some men get no results at all. Fortunate people get miraculous results after only six months. The human body is unique and extraordinarily complex. A variety of factors such as age, current level of hair loss, genetics, etc. play a role.

So what does science have to say about Rogaine? Considering the drug was found to treat hair loss by accident, its understandable that just how Minoxidil works is not well understood by scientists.

In 2004 Pfizer Group funded a yearlong study of nearly 1,000 men with hair loss. These are the most important findings:

  • Bald spots became smaller in 62% of the patients, unchanged in 35.1% and larger in 2.9%.
  • In regards to hair growth, dermatologists found the 5% solution very effective in 15.9% of patients, effective in 47.8%, moderately effective in 20.6% and ineffective in 15.7%.

Conspiracy theory types will likely take this study with a grain of salt or flat of reject it since the maker of Rogaine funded it.

A smaller study conducted by Department of Dermatology, Gulhane Military Medical Academy, School of Medicine in Etlik-Ankara, Turkey got comparable results, although not quite as positive.

Oral Finasteride and topical Minoxidil were put head to head in an attempt to find which is more effective.

  • 80% of the oral Finasteride users in this study saw increased intensity of hair.
  • 52% of the topical Minoxidil users in this study saw increased intensity of hair.

So if Finasteride (Propecia) is more effective why is Rogaine so popular? There are a few reasons.

  • Firstly, Rogaine doesn’t have a reputation for causing nasty sexual side effects like Propecia does. The reason for this is Rogaine does not block DHT, which Propecia detractors has blamed for deceased sexual desire and function.
  • Another reason for Rogaine’s popularity over Propecia is the fact you don’t need a prescription.
  • The final reason is cost. 90 pill packs of Propecia cost between $125 to $180. A pill must be taken every day for life for the results to stay with you. Rogaine costs around $25 to $30 for a container of topical foam and must be applied twice daily.

Neither Rogaine, Propecia or any other treatment for hair loss is considered completely effective by the medical community. Essentially the purpose of both is to fend off hair loss until better treatments are available in the future.

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About Jon Hawthorne

Jon Hawthorne is a freelance writer based out of Toronto, Canada.