Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/29/2022
Male pattern baldness is a common issue that can easily creep up on you, whether in the form of a receding hairline or a bald patch around your crown.
These early signs of baldness can be alarming, but they also act as a great opportunity 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 treatment that can help to slow down hair loss and, in some cases, even stimulate healthy hair growth.
Minoxidil is available as a liquid or foam and is applied directly to your scalp. It’s an easy to use, over-the-counter option that’s often the first medication men turn to when they start to notice that their hair isn’t quite what it used to be.
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 fall and normal hair growth -- are visible.
Although the precise amount of time required to see results from minoxidil can vary from person to person, most users see improvements after about two to four months of daily use.
Below, we’ve gone into more detail about what minoxidil is, as well as how it works as a form of treatment for male pattern baldness.
We’ve also explained how long you’ll usually need to wait before you’ll be able to notice results from minoxidil.
Finally, we’ve shared some evidence-based strategies that you can use to get improved results from minoxidil, from using it with other medications to adjusting your hair care and styling habits for healthier hair follicles.
Minoxidil is a topical medication for hair loss. It’s available in a topical foam dosage form (a type of foam that you apply directly to your scalp), and as a medicated topical solution that you apply using a dropper bottle.
You might have heard of minoxidil as the active ingredient in Rogaine. It’s approved by the FDA as a treatment for both male pattern hair loss and female pattern hair loss (FPHL).
One of the biggest advantages of minoxidil is that it’s available over the counter, meaning there isn’t any need to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or a dermatologist to use this medication.
To understand how minoxidil works, it’s important to briefly go over how your hair grows, as well as how conditions such as androgenetic alopecia (the scientific term for 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. This cycle starts with the anagen phase, in which the hair follicle creates a hair fiber that gradually increases in size.
The length of the anagen phase can vary depending on the location of hair on your body. Scalp hair usually spends several years in its anagen phase, or growth phase, allowing it to grow to a significant length before it becomes dormant and sheds.
As hair exits the anagen phase, it enters the catagen phase -- a transitional phase in which the hair stops actively growing. During the catagen phase, the hair shrinks in diameter and forms 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 does not grow. Eventually, the dormant telogen hair sheds and is replaced by a 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 the head that define pattern hair loss for many men.
Minoxidil does several things to either stop 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 spends less time in a resting state and more time growing from your scalp to its full length.
It also means that after you begin 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.
There’s also some evidence to suggest that minoxidil may inhibit the effects of androgens, such as DHT, on your hair follicles, shielding them from some damage. However, minoxidil generally isn’t thought of as a DHT blocker.
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.
Because of the way minoxidil works, as well as the way your hair grows, it usually takes several months before you’ll be able to see any difference in the coverage and/or thickness of your hair after you start using topical minoxidil.
Here’s why. Although minoxidil works fairly quickly, it takes time for your hair to transition from the telogen phase of the hair growth cycle (the phase in which it’s at rest) to the anagen phase (the phase in which it’s actively growing).
Since approximately 10 to 15 percent of your hairs are in the telogen phase at any time, there can be a bit of a delay before these hairs successfully make the transition to active growth.
Although results can vary from one person to another, you should generally expect to see some improvement from minoxidil after around two to four months, with more significant results after a full year of treatment.
In the meantime, it’s actually quite common to notice that your hair looks thinner after you start using minoxidil.
It’s also far from uncommon to notice more of the early signs of hair loss during the first months of using minoxidil, such as hair that falls out when you brush it or more stray strands of hair that build up on your pillowcase or around your shower drain.
This is a temporary issue caused by minoxidil moving your hair follicles from one phase of your hair growth cycle to another one. Although it might look alarming, the minor hair shedding that’s sometimes caused by minoxidil is not permanent hair loss.
Over the course of a few months, this temporary hair shedding will begin to slow down and you will start to develop more persistent hair growth.
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.
Put simply, yes. Although minoxidil isn’t a magic potion for hair loss, several studies have looked into its effects over the years, 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 (a medical term for male pattern baldness).
At the end of the 12-month study, the researchers noted that 62 percent of the men displayed a smaller area of skin affected by hair loss than at the beginning of the study. Of the other men, a total of 35.1 percent showed no positive or negative change from the treatment.
Only 2.9 percent of the men that participated in the study and used minoxidil displayed signs of further hair loss.
The men that took part in the study also displayed a reduction in hair shedding, with fewer hairs lost during washing than at the beginning of the clinical study period.
Overall, 84.3 percent of the men rated the minoxidil solution as either “very effective,” “effective” or “moderately effective” based on its hair regrowth rate.
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 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 condition.
Finally, another study compared the effects of minoxidil 5% with minoxidil 2% in men with male pattern baldness.
The researchers found that both versions of minoxidil were well-tolerated, but that the stronger 5% solution was more effective at promoting satisfactory hair regrowth.
In other words, current scientific research shows that minoxidil works well as a treatment option for preventing hair loss and stimulating hair growth.
Minoxidil is a safe and effective medication for most people. However, like other medications, it can potentially cause unwanted effects.
The good news is that most potential side effects of minoxidil are mild and transient, meaning they tend to only cause mild inconvenience and improve on their own over time.
Common side effects of minoxidil include:
Temporary hair shedding
Scalp irritation and/or burning skin
Pruritus (itchy, dry skin)
Allergic reactions, such as contact dermatitis
When applied to areas other than the scalp, minoxidil may cause hypertrichosis (unwanted or excessive hair growth).
For example, minoxidil can cause body hair growth or facial hair growth when it’s accidentally applied to these areas. To avoid unwanted hair growth, make sure to carefully apply minoxidil only to areas of your scalp affected by male pattern baldness.
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you develop severe, persistent or unwanted side effects after you start treatment with minoxidil.
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.
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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 using minoxidil as early as you can. Hair loss treatments work best when they are applied as early as possible -- preferably, as soon as you start to notice the first few signs of male pattern hair loss emerging.
Instead of waiting for your hair loss to worsen, start using minoxidil as soon as you start to notice a receding hairline or bald patch developing.
Apply minoxidil properly. Minoxidil is generally an easy medication to use, but a few simple mistakes -- such as applying it improperly or using an excessive amount -- may affect your results and increase your risk of dealing with adverse effects.
Our guide to applying minoxidil for hair growth explains how to use minoxidil effectively, whether you opt for minoxidil foam or the topical solution dosage form.
Use minoxidil with finasteride. Minoxidil works well on its own, but it works particularly well when it’s used with finasteride, a prescription oral medication for hair loss that stops your body from producing DHT.
We offer minoxidil and finasteride together as part of our Hair Power Pack, allowing you to target male pattern baldness from multiple angles at once. v
Consider topical finasteride and minoxidil. If you don’t like the idea of using an oral medication to treat hair loss, you can also use 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 -- as well as your intake of essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients -- can have an impact on your overall hair condition.
Our guide to the best foods for hair growth shares ingredients to prioritize for thick and healthy hair.
Thanks to its availability, ease of use, mild side effects and effectiveness, minoxidil is often the first medication men turn to when they start to notice the early signs of hair loss.
Minoxidil starts working right away, but it usually won’t produce any noticeable results when it comes to hair growth for the first two to four months.
After four months, you should be able to see a difference in your hair thickness and enhanced hair regrowth, with the "final" results from minoxidil usually visible after approximately one year of continuous use.
In the meantime, you may notice that your hair shedding gets slightly worse. This is a common, normal effect of minoxidil that will get better with time. Be patient and keep using minoxidil -- as time passes, you’ll likely notice the shedding develop into steady, consistent hair growth.