Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/22/2022
If you’re starting to notice the early signs of baldness, such as a receding hairline, you may have looked into treatment options such as minoxidil.
Minoxidil is a topical medication that can decrease hair shedding and treat pattern hair loss. It’s available as a topical solution and as a foam, with both versions of minoxidil designed for use on the parts of your scalp with noticeable hair loss.
However, there’s some debate online about whether or not minoxidil works on the hairs around the hairline. In the tests used to secure FDA approval, minoxidil was primarily tested on the top of the scalp and crown, resulting in a common belief that it only works on these areas.
Despite this, there’s a lot of evidence that minoxidil is effective at promoting hair growth on the entire scalp, including the hairline.
Below, we’ve dug into the science behind minoxidil to give you a deeper understanding of how this popular hair loss medication works, why it’s effective and why it’s worth considering if your hairline is starting to thin and recede.
Minoxidil is a topical hair loss medication. It belongs to a class of drugs known as vasodilators, which work by dilating your blood vessels and improving blood flow throughout your body.
Although minoxidil’s precise mechanism of action isn’t totally known, it’s believed that when this medication is applied to the scalp in the form of a solution or foam, it interacts with sulfotransferases and becomes active as minoxidil sulfate.
From here, minoxidil shortens your hair’s telogen phase — the phase of your natural hair growth cycle in which your hair follicles rest and prepare to shed — and moves your hair follicles into an active growth state referred to as the anagen phase.
Minoxidil may also extend the length of each hair follicle’s anagen phase, allowing your hairs to grow longer and increasing your average hair diameter.
Androgenetic alopecia, the type of hair loss that can cause frontal baldness, occurs as a result of the male sex hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, attaching to receptors in your scalp and miniaturizing your hair follicles.
Our full guide to DHT and male pattern hair loss discusses the harmful effects of this hormone on your hair in more detail.
Unlike finasteride, a prescription medication for male pattern baldness which works by reducing DHT levels throughout your body, minoxidil doesn’t have any effects on your production of DHT or other hormones.
Instead, minoxidil solution and foam work solely at the scalp level, helping to increase your hair count and produce an increase in hair growth locally.
It’s best to think of minoxidil as a local solution that can help to improve your hair growth at the scalp level, while finasteride is designed to shield your hair follicles from DHT.
One of the most common misconceptions about minoxidil is that it’s only effective on the scalp and crown (the area at the top of your scalp).
In fact, many people are convinced that minoxidil isn’t effective for treating and preventing hair loss that can occur around your hairline, or frontal baldness.
This misunderstanding happens in part because of minoxidil’s history, including the process by which it received approval from the FDA.
In its early days, before a topical form was developed and promoted as a mainstream hair loss treatment, minoxidil was developed as a treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure).
After identifying that oral minoxidil produced hair growth as a noticeable side effect, researchers at Upjohn (the company that originally developed the medication) developed a topical version to repurpose as a hair loss treatment for men suffering from androgenic alopecia.
For any new medications to go onto the market and become available to consumers, they need to pass through a rigorous trial and testing process to show that they’re not only safe to use, but also effective.
Upjohn launched large-scale clinical tests of minoxidil throughout the US in the late 1970s, with testing continuing throughout the 80s and 90s. The efficacy side of this testing primarily focused on minoxidil’s effects on hair growth around the scalp and crown.
For example, one study from 1986 focused on the effects of minoxidil on the balding crown. In the study, 53 percent of participants experienced significant hair growth.
In short, Upjohn realized that minoxidil worked very effectively, but focused most of its testing on the crown and frontal scalp.
Most other studies of minoxidil have assessed hair growth on the scalp. For example, one study published in 2002 tested five percent minoxidil solution and two percent minoxidil solution, again by assessing change in hair coverage around the scalp.
For the most part, the claim that minoxidil only works on the scalp and crown of the head comes from this research.
However, more recently, researchers have started to formally study the efficacy of minoxidil as a treatment for hair loss around the hairline.
One study published in the British Journal of Dermatology in 2015 assessed the effectiveness of minoxidil as a treatment for hair loss near the vertex scalp, or crown, as well as the frontal scalp, or hairline.
This study, which featured 16 healthy male participants, found that minoxidil was effective as a hair loss treatment and produced improvements in both areas of the scalp. In simple terms, it appears to work just as well around the hairline as it does in other areas affected by hair loss.
This is logical, as there’s no reason that minoxidil would stimulate blood flow and promote hair growth around the crown, but not in other areas of the scalp with similar hair follicles.
In short, the idea that minoxidil only works around your crown and isn’t effective at treating hair loss around your hairline comes primarily from the way Upjohn tested the medication, not from any research showing a lack of results.
Put simply, yes. Minoxidil works well for hairline regrowth, with many men reporting an increase in hair growth and a thicker, more dense hairline after using it for several months.
The hair follicles in your hairline aren’t significantly different from the hair follicles on your scalp or crown, meaning you should still experience the full benefits of minoxidil when you apply it to your hairline.
In addition to the research mentioned above, there are also countless anecdotal reports of men with receding hairlines or mature hairlines noticing improved growth and thickness after adding minoxidil to their hair growth routines.
With this said, it’s important to keep in mind that the scientific research on minoxidil as a frontal hair loss treatment isn’t as extensive as the research on its effectiveness as a treatment for hair loss around the crown of your scalp.
As such, it’s best to think of any increased hair growth that happens near your hairline as a nice bonus of using minoxidil, not as its sole intended effect.
One of the biggest benefits of minoxidil is that it’s an easy medication to use. To use minoxidil for a receding hairline, follow the steps below:
Apply minoxidil twice a day. Minoxidil is generally used twice a day, in the morning and before bed.
Check the instructions for your form of minoxidil. Minoxidil is available as a liquid solution and foam. Check the instructions and apply the amount of minoxidil listed on your product’s label.
Gently rub minoxidil into your scalp. After applying minoxidil to areas of your scalp with hair loss, use your fingertips to gently massage it into your skin.
Wash your hands after applying minoxidil. Make sure to carefully wash your hands using warm water and soap to remove any remaining minoxidil solution or foam.
Our guide to applying minoxidil for hair growth goes into greater detail about how you can use minoxidil for a receding hairline, diffuse thinning and other signs of male pattern baldness.
Minoxidil is generally a safe and effective medication. However, like with all medications, there are a few side effects and risks that you should be aware of before adding this to your hair loss prevention toolkit.
These common side effects of minoxidil are typically mild and often get better on their own over the course of several weeks.
Minoxidil can also cause facial and/or body hair growth if it’s applied to areas of skin other than your scalp, making it important to carefully wash your hands after applying this medication and avoid transferring it to other parts of your body.
In rare cases, minoxidil may cause allergic reactions. Contact your healthcare provider for help if you start to feel lightheaded, have any difficulty breathing, or develop swelling of your face or limbs, a rapid heartbeat or chest pain after using minoxidil.
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We’ll get right to it: all Rogaine is minoxidil, but not all minoxidil is Rogaine. Rogaine is a popular brand name for minoxidil. When minoxidil first came onto the market in the 1980s, it was sold as Rogaine and wasn’t available as a generic medication.
If you were to purchase a box of Rogaine from your local pharmacy and briefly look at the active ingredients on the box, you’ll see “5% minoxidil” (or, in some cases, “2% minoxidil) displayed on the label.
These days, minoxidil is available as a generic medication. Like with most medications, sticking to the generic version of minoxidil will allow you to use this medication at a lower overall cost.
The next logical question is: “Does Rogaine work better than minoxidil?” Like with other popular medications, the fact that Rogaine is a name brand doesn’t mean that it’s any more effective at preventing hair loss or safer to use than generic minoxidil.
Both brand-name Rogaine and generic minoxidil contain exactly the same active ingredient and come in the same form, meaning you can use either one to treat hair loss and expect the same results.
Each drug is equally effective at treating hair loss and each is equally worth considering if you’re in the market for a treatment for male pattern baldness.
Does minoxidil work on your hairline? Although most testing on minoxidil involves hair loss near the crown, minoxidil is also an effective treatment for a receding hairline.
Whether you’re starting to notice reduced hair around your hairline and want to take action early or have severe hair loss that you’d like to reverse, topical minoxidil is a popular, effective form of treatment that’s worth adding to your daily routine.
Used morning and evening, minoxidil can stimulate your hair follicles, resulting in improved hair density, normal hair growth and a thicker, more youthful hairline.
We also offer minoxidil with finasteride in our Hair Power Pack, allowing you to target hair loss and treat your receding hairline from multiple angles.
Interested in finding out more about your options? Our guide to the best treatments for thinning hair goes into more detail about how you can treat hair loss, from medications and healthy daily habits to procedures such as hair transplant surgery.