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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
These early signs of baldness can be alarming, but they’re also a great sign to take action and protect your hair from further thinning.
If you’ve ever researched hair loss treatments, you’ve probably heard of minoxidil. Available as a generic medication and under the brand name Rogaine®, minoxidil is a topical liquid or foam that’s applied directly to your scalp to stimulate hair growth and stop hair loss.
It’s also available as an oral medication that your healthcare provider may prescribe if you have hair loss that doesn’t respond to topical treatments. However, this oral form of minoxidil is not yet FDA-approved, which means it’s only prescribed off-label.
Like other hair loss treatments, minoxidil starts working right away within your body. However, it usually takes several months before the effects of minoxidil — for example, reduced hair shedding and normal hair growth — are visible.
Below, we’ve gone into more detail about what minoxidil is, as well as how it works as a treatment for male pattern baldness.
We’ve also explained how long you’ll usually need to wait before you’ll see results from minoxidil treatment, as well as other options you might want to consider if you’re starting to lose hair.
You might have heard of minoxidil as the active ingredient in the medication Rogaine. In topical form, it’s approved by the FDA as a treatment for both male pattern hair loss and female pattern hair loss (FPHL).
Minoxidil works in several ways. First, it moves your hairs into a phase of active growth, also referred to as the “anagen” phase of the hair growth cycle.
Second, it may increase blood flow to your scalp, providing your hair follicles with more of the nutrients they need for consistent growth.
To explain the effects of minoxidil in greater detail, it’s important to briefly go over how your hair grows, as well as how conditions like male pattern baldness can cause it to become thinner.
Every hair on your body goes through a multi-phase hair growth cycle in which it grows to its full length and eventually falls out.
This cycle begins with the anagen phase, or growth phase, in which the follicle creates a hair fiber that gradually increases in size. This phase typically lasts for several years.
As hair exits the anagen phase, it enters the catagen phase — a transitional phase in which the hair stops growing. During the catagen phase, the hair shrinks in diameter and forms into a club hair.
Finally, the hair enters the telogen phase, or resting phase, of the hair cycle. During this phase, the hair is completely dormant and doesn’t grow. Eventually, the dormant telogen hair detaches from your scalp and is replaced by new hair in the anagen phase.
So, what does this have to do with hair loss, and how does it affect the amount of time required for minoxidil to start working?
Although a variety of health issues can cause hair loss, the most common cause of hair loss in men is male pattern baldness.
This type of hair loss occurs when a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is made within your body as a byproduct of testosterone, attaches to receptors in your scalp and causes your hair follicles to go through a process called miniaturization.
As your hair follicles become miniaturized, the length of the anagen phase shortens, resulting in hair that’s unable to grow properly.
This process usually starts around your hairline and the vertex scalp (crown), which can lead to the classic receding hairline and bald patch near the top of your head.
As we briefly mentioned earlier, minoxidil does several things to either prevent hair loss, reduce the severity of hair loss or promote hair regrowth in affected areas of your scalp.
The first is that minoxidil shortens the telogen phase of your hair growth cycle. This means that each hair follicle on your scalp spends less time in a resting state and more time growing to its full length.
It also means that after you start to use minoxidil, many of your hairs will prematurely enter into the anagen phase and start growing.
The second is that minoxidil stimulates the blood vessels throughout your scalp, which may help to provide more consistent blood flow to your hair follicles. This may further promote hair growth by ensuring your hair follicles have the nutrients they need to function correctly.
It’s important to note that these effects only happen as long as you’re using minoxidil — if you stop using it, you start losing it (it being your hair).
Although results can vary from one person to another, you should generally expect to see some improvement from the use of minoxidil after about two to four months, with more significant results after a full year of treatment.
Minoxidil is absorbed quickly and starts working almost immediately to improve blood circulation in your scalp and accelerate your natural hair growth cycle.
However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll see results from minoxidil within a few days of applying it to your scalp.
Although minoxidil works quickly, it takes time for your hair to transition from the telogen phase of the hair growth cycle to the anagen phase.
It also takes time for your hair to grow. On average, it takes about a month for your hair to grow one inch. This means that you may need to wait several months after your hairs enter into the anagen phase before any improvements in growth or coverage become visible.
In the meantime, it’s actually quite common to notice your hair appears thinner after you start using minoxidil. This is a temporary problem that’s likely caused by minoxidil moving your hair follicles from one phase of your hair growth cycle to another one.
Although it can look alarming, any minor hair shedding that occurs after you start treatment with minoxidil isn’t permanent hair loss and typically resolves over the course of a few months.
If you’ve recently started to use minoxidil, stay patient and focus on the long term. Your hair will almost always look better two to four months from now (and even better after a whole year), but it may be a slightly bumpy ride in the meantime.
Stick with it and keep up your daily application of minoxidil. Over the long term, your hairline and total hair count will thank you.
Minoxidil isn’t a magic potion for hair loss and everyone’s experiences may differ. However, the odds are good that you’ll see positive, significant results if you have hair loss and use minoxidil consistently as part of your treatment routine.
Over the last few decades, several clinical trials and observational studies have looked into the effects of minoxidil, with almost all research showing positive results for men with hair loss.
In a study published in 2004 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, a group of dermatologists looked at the effects of topical minoxidil 5% on more than 900 men with hair loss caused by androgenetic alopecia.
At the end of the 12-month study period, 84.3 percent of the men rated the minoxidil solution as either “very effective,” “effective” or “moderately effective” based on its ability to regrow hair.
A different study from 2007, which was also published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, compared the effects of topical minoxidil 5% with a placebo over the course of 16 weeks of treatment.
After 16 weeks, the men who used the 5% minoxidil displayed a statistically significant increase in new hair growth and a reduced degree of hair loss compared to those who were treated using the non-therapeutic placebo.
The men in the minoxidil group also displayed improvements in a subjective assessment of hair loss.
Finally, another study compared the effects of minoxidil 5% with minoxidil 2% in men with male pattern baldness.
The researchers found that both dosages of minoxidil were well-tolerated, but the stronger 5% solution was more effective at promoting satisfactory hair regrowth.
In addition to showing that topical minoxidil is safe, most research on this medication suggests that side effects, while possible, aren’t common.
Potential side effects of topical minoxidil include:
Temporary hair shedding
Scalp irritation and/or burning skin
Pruritus (itchy, dry skin)
Allergic reactions, such as contact dermatitis
Out of more than 900 men that participated in one study, fewer than 40 experienced any adverse effects from topical minoxidil, with none of the side effects classified as serious.
Research also suggests that oral minoxidil is generally safe and effective for men with hair loss, although it should be used with caution in men with hypertension (high blood pressure) or heart health issues.
Although uncommon, both topical and oral minoxidil could cause more severe side effects and allergic reactions.
You can find out more about the side effects of minoxidil, as well as steps that you can take to keep yourself safe and healthy while treating hair loss, in our guide to minoxidil side effects.
“I tried several different options before but Hims combined approach of all four methods by far created the best results.”
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“When I show my barber my progress, he is always in disbelief. I have to recommend Hims to any guy who’s experiencing thinning.”
“Cost effective and affordable. My hair keeps growing thicker, fuller, and at a fast rate.”
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“In just as little over two and half months, I can really see the difference in thickness and in color.”
“4-months strong and my confidence boosted back up to 100% using Hims, future me really does thank me.”
“I’m a 34-year-old father of two and have been using Hims for over a year now. My hair is back to what it was in my mid-twenties.”
If you’re using minoxidil to treat hair loss from male pattern baldness, there are numerous things that you can do to improve your results:
Start minoxidil as early as you can. Hair loss treatments work best when they’re used as early as possible — ideally, as soon as you notice the first signs of male pattern hair loss emerging.
Apply minoxidil properly. Minoxidil is an easy medication to apply, but it's important to practice consistent use to get the best results. This means starting with the right amount of minoxidil and applying it to your entire scalp, not just specific areas.
Our guide to applying minoxidil for hair growth explains how to use minoxidil effectively, whether you opt for minoxidil foam or the liquid solution.
Make minoxidil a habit. You’ll only see the effects of minoxidil as long as you’re using it. Once you stop applying it on a regular basis, your hair growth will stop and you’ll likely start to see excessive shedding or thinning again.
Use minoxidil with oral finasteride. Minoxidil works well on its own, but it’s even more effective when used with finasteride, a prescription hair loss medication that prevents your body from producing DHT.
We offer minoxidil and oral finasteride together as part of our Hair Power Pack, allowing you to target male pattern baldness from multiple angles at once.
Consider topical finasteride and minoxidil. If you don’t like the idea of taking an oral medication to treat hair loss, you can also apply minoxidil and finasteride together in the form of a topical medication.
We offer topical finasteride and minoxidil as a convenient, easy-to-use spray that you can apply to areas of your scalp with noticeable hair thinning.
Avoid habits that can damage your hair. These include wearing your hair tied back tightly or slicked back with strong hold styling products, brushing your hair excessively, smoking or exposing your hair to excessive UV radiation from the sun.
Our guide to lifestyle changes for improved hair growth shares techniques that you can use to decrease hair shedding and promote a healthier head of hair.
Eat a hair-friendly diet. Although your diet won’t prevent hair loss, the foods you eat and your intake of essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients can have a visible impact on your overall hair condition.
Our guide to the best foods for hair growth shares ingredients to prioritize for thick and healthy hair.
Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.
This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.
If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
Clinically proven to regrow hair in 3-6 months, no pills required.
Minoxidil doesn’t work overnight, but it does work. On average, research suggests that it takes around four months for some new hair to appear, with more significant results after one year of continuous use.
If you’re considering minoxidil, or if you’ve recently started treatment with this medication, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:
Your hair might look worse before it gets better. Because of the way minoxidil works, it’s common to notice more shedding before your hair gets thicker. Hold steady and keep using minoxidil — after a few months, your hair should look thicker.
Both forms of minoxidil can produce side effects. These usually get better over time, but if you have persistent or bothersome side effects, it’s important to let your healthcare provider know.
Using finasteride can improve your results. Finasteride and minoxidil work great as a team for treating hair loss. Try adding oral finasteride to your hair loss prevention routine, or use a topical medication that combines both ingredients.
When it comes to treating hair loss and stimulating hair growth, patience is a major virtue. Once you start using minoxidil, focus on applying it twice a day, not on checking your mirror every few hours for new hairs.
Then, check your scalp on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Over time, you’ll likely start to notice a small increase in hair growth that might turn into a thicker crown, stronger hairline or fuller head of hair over the course of the next year.
Interested in using minoxidil to treat hair loss? We offer minoxidil solution and minoxidil foam as part of our range of evidence-based hair loss treatments for men.