Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/28/2021
Like finasteride, minoxidil is scientifically proven to improve hair growth and potentially help men with male pattern baldness regrow “lost” hair.
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 lots of evidence that minoxidil is effective at promoting hair growth on the entire scalp, including the hairline.
In this guide, we’ll look at the science behind minoxidil to give you a deeper understanding of how it works, why it’s effective and why it’s worth considering (along with finasteride) if you’ve noticed your hairline starting to thin and recede.
Minoxidil is a vasodilator, meaning it’s designed to dilate blood vessels and improve the flow of blood to certain areas of your body.
Although its mechanism of action isn’t exactly known, it is believed that when applied topically in the form of a serum or foam, minoxidil interacts with scalp sulfotransferase, which converts it into minoxidil sulfate — which is thought to be the active form of minoxidil.
From there, it shortens your hair’s telogen phase (the phase when the hair is resting and beginning the process of falling out), and pushes it into the anagen phase (the growth phase) prematurely, and even extends the growth period of hair, making your hair grow longer and thicker.
Unlike finasteride, which works by reducing the levels of DHT in your bloodstream, minoxidil has no known effect on your hormones. It’s best to think of minoxidil as a local solution that can help improve your hair growth, while finasteride is designed to shield your follicles from DHT.
One of the most common misconceptions about minoxidil is that it’s only effective on the scalp and crown. Many people are convinced that minoxidil isn’t effective for preventing frontal hair loss around the hairline.
In its early days, before a topical form was developed and became a mainstream hair loss treatment, minoxidil was developed as a treatment for hypertension.
Noticing that oral minoxidil produced hair growth as a noticeable side effect, researchers at Upjohn (the company originally developing the medication) created a topical form to repurpose as a topical hair loss treatment for men suffering from androgenic alopecia.
For new medications to go onto the market, they need to pass through a rigorous trial and testing process to show that they’re not only safe 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 mostly 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, another study from 2002 tested five percent minoxidil against two percent minoxidil, again by assessing change in hair coverage around the scalp.
A 2014 study with 16 healthy male subjects to study the effects of five percent minoxidil topical foam on other parts of the scalp other than the vertex found that minoxidil was effective in treating hair loss in the frontal scalp as well as the vertex.
For the most part, the claim that minoxidil only works on the scalp and crown of the head comes from this research. It’s not that minoxidil isn’t effective around the hairline (logically, it is) but that there so far hasn’t been extensive research conducted on minoxidil and hairline restoration.
Minoxidil works by improving blood flow to the area in which it’s applied. Apply it to your scalp and it can potentially improve hair density and increase the rate of growth.
As such, there’s no reason minoxidil shouldn’t work for a receding hairline. The hair follicles in your hairline aren’t significantly different from the others on your scalp or crown, meaning that you should still experience the benefits of minoxidil when you apply it to your hairline.
There are also countless anecdotal cases of people with receding hairlines improving growth and increasing thickness by using minoxidil.
However, right now there isn’t much detailed scientific research on the effects of minoxidil on the hairline. As such, it’s best to view minoxidil as something with potential benefits, instead of as a guaranteed way to regrow your hairline.
We’ve covered minoxidil side effects pretty extensively, but here’s a general rundown of what a small percentage of topical minoxidil users can expect, far as side effects are concerned.
There are a few noted side effects of minoxidil including:
Scaly changes on the scalp
Allergic contact dermatitis
We’ll get right to it: all Rogaine is minoxidil, but not all minoxidil is Rogaine.
What we mean by that is Rogaine is the branded name for generic minoxidil. If you were to purchase a box of Rogaine from your local pharmacy and look at the active ingredients on the box, you’ll see “5% minoxidil” displayed pretty prominently.
… That’s because it’s exactly what it is.
The next logical question is: “Does Rogaine work better than minoxidil?” Just because it’s a name brand doesn’t mean one is better or worse than the other.
Now, this obviously isn’t the same for everything. For instance, every painful childhood memory starts and ends with the difference between our parents buying “Tootie Fruities” or “Fruit Rings” instead of copping the extra 50 cents for real-deal Froot Loops®. We shudder at the thought.
But when it comes to medications like these, 5% minoxidil is 5% minoxidil regardless of how much you pay for it or what the box looks like when you get it. Each drug is equally effective at treating hair loss, and each is worth considering if you’re in the market. However, obviously, you’ll save a few bucks on generic minoxidil over brand name Rogaine.
It’s also worth considering minoxidil in combination with a DHT blocker like finasteride. Studies show that minoxidil and finasteride can have a synergistic effect in preventing hair loss, making the two medications a popular combo for protecting your hairline and scalp from baldness.
Whether you’re pre-empting what your genetics are telling you is the inevitable or you’re deep in the trenches staving off hair loss, minoxidil is a popular and effective treatment that’s both backed by science and the FDA.
While the exact mechanism of action in minoxidil is unknown, it’s believed that, as a vasodilator, it improves blood flow to the areas it’s applied, thereby opening the follicles to the nutrients they need to stimulate growth.
The follicles on your hairline are very similar to those on your scalp or crown, where minoxidil has been proven to be effective, which means there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t be effective as a treatment for a receding hairline. If you want to learn more about hair loss treatment options, the best thing to do is schedule time with a certified healthcare professional.
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