If you’re losing your hair, you’ve probably already heard of minoxidil, or Rogaine.

This popular hair loss treatment is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s available over the counter as a liquid or foam to treat male and female pattern baldness (also known as androgenetic alopecia).

Rogaine does work to some extent as evidenced by clinical studies, but only for certain types of baldness and only if you keep up with its application. But it won’t work for everyone. If it does work, you probably won’t grow back all of the hair you’ve lost, and it can take up to four months to see results. You’ll have to use Rogaine indefinitely to maintain any regrowth.

Read on to learn more about Rogaine’s effectiveness and to find out if you’re a good candidate.

Rogaine is considered a vasodilator. While the exact mechanism of action for minoxidil (the active ingredient) isn’t actually clear, it’s believed to work by partially enlarging hair follicles and elongating the growth phase of hair. With more follicles in the growth phase, you’ll see more hair coverage on your scalp.

Rogaine is applied to the scalp to help grow hair and prevent hair loss caused by male or female pattern baldness. This is the most common type of hair loss and runs in families.

Rogaine works best in people with hereditary hair loss at the vertex of the scalp (the area at the back of the head, just under the crown) or for women with general thinning of hair on the top of the scalp. Rogaine isn’t meant for a receding hairline or baldness at the front of your scalp.

Rogaine has been shown to be most effective in people under 40 years old and for those who start using it at the first signs of hair loss. It won’t help people who’ve already gone completely bald.

Don’t use Rogaine if any of the following apply:

  • You don’t have a family history of hair loss.
  • Your hair loss comes on suddenly and falls out in patches.
  • You’re under the age of 18.
  • Your scalp is red, itchy, infected, or painful to touch.
  • Your hair loss is caused by hair products, chemicals, or hair grooming methods like cornrowing.
  • Your hair loss is caused by another condition, like a thyroid disease or alopecia areata, nutritional deficiencies, scarring of the scalp, or medications, such as chemotherapy.

If you have heart disease, see your doctor before trying Rogaine.

Clinical studies have indeed shown that Rogaine can effectively regrow hair in some people. In the large clinical study that led to the drug’s approval in 1987, 40 percent of men had moderate to dense hair growth on the crown of their head. In a one-year observational study, 62 percent of the 984 men using 5 percent minoxidil reported a reduction in hair loss. As for hair regrowth, the drug was rated as “very effective” in 16 percent of participants, “effective” in 48 percent, “moderately effective” in 21 percent, and “ineffective” in 16 percent. The side effects were minimal.

Clinical studies were also done in women. In one double-blind study, 19 percent of women ages 18 to 45 using Rogaine for eight months reported moderate hair regrowth, while 40 percent had minimal growth (compared to 7 percent and 33 percent for placebo, respectively).

Rogaine is considered safe, and its side effects are usually not serious. The most common include:

  • scalp irritation
  • hair growth in adjacent areas, such as your forehead
  • changes in hair texture or color

When applying Rogaine, be careful not to get any in your eyes. If you do, rinse your eyes with lots of cool tap water.

Rogaine can lead to more serious side effects, though this is rare. See your doctor right away if you experience any of the following:

  • sudden, unexplained weight gain
  • faintness or dizziness
  • swelling of your hands or feet
  • chest pain

When you first start using Rogaine, you might notice an increase in hair shedding for the first couple weeks as your hair follicles push out old hair to make room for new growth.

Q:

Even though Rogaine is only approved for use on the scalp, could it be used to make beards grow thicker?

A:

Although Rogaine, available since 1988, has been reported to cause some hair growth on the forehead and tops of the ears, there have been no studies confirming that beards grow thicker or faster with its use.

Alan Carter, PharmDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

While Rogaine has been proven to be effective in regrowing hair, there are many caveats. Rogaine only works in people with a hereditary form of hair loss at the top and back of the scalp. Only about 60 percent of people in clinical studies had good results, so there’s a chance it may not work for you at all.

If it does work for you, you likely won’t grow all of your hair back. It also becomes a lifetime obligation if you want to maintain your results. To make it easier, you can subscribe to a Rogaine delivery program through the product website. Less expensive generics are also available.

See your doctor if you don’t see any results after four months of twice-daily treatment.