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Topical Minoxidil Guide: Uses, Results & Side Effects
Dr Mir Malkani
Medically reviewed by
Dr Mir Malkani
Updated on April 10, 2024

Topical Minoxidil is one of the most popular hair growth products globally. Its market value is predicted to grow by $1bn over the next decade, as more people turn to topical Minoxidil to treat hair loss [1].

Global statistics on the Minoxidil market

As one of the few widely licensed treatments for hair loss, topical Minoxidil is one of the safest ways to enhance your hairline. It has fewer side effects than Finasteride, and is safe for both women and men to use [2].

It’s also one of the most regularly prescribed by hair loss specialists, with 53% saying they always or often recommend topical Minoxidil to their patients, compared with 26.4% who say the same of oral Minoxidil [3].

In this article, you’ll learn all about topical Minoxidil: how it works, what side effects you can expect, and whether it’s better to choose oral or topical Minoxidil.

Table of Contents

What is topical Minoxidil and how does it work?

Topical Minoxidil is a solution you can apply to your scalp to slow hair loss and stimulate hair growth. When the solution is absorbed into your skin, the active ingredient — Minoxidil — opens up the blood vessels by acting on potassium channels of vascular muscle cells, stimulating blood flow and feeding your hair follicles with essential nutrients [4-5].

What’s the difference between 2% Minoxidil and 5% Minoxidil?

The percentage on a Minoxidil topical solution indicates the concentration of the active ingredient within each application. Every 100ml of 5% Minoxidil solution contains 5g of Minoxidil. In 2% Minoxidil, the same quantity contains 2g.

Often, female-branded Minoxidil (such as Regaine For Women) contains the 2% formula, while male-branded Minoxidil (such as Regaine) has a 5% concentration.

What’s the difference between 2% Minoxidil and 5% Minoxidil?

However, studies that have compared the effectiveness of Minoxidil 2% and 5% for male pattern baldness and female pattern hair loss both find the 5% solution to be superior [6-7].

Both concentrations are generally safe regardless of gender. You might choose to use a lower concentration if you’re worried about side effects, or a higher concentration for more visible results.

Can you get higher than 5% Minoxidil?

Research shows that higher strength concentrations of Minoxidil can be more effective than 5% solutions [8].

However, higher concentrations such as 10% Minoxidil aren’t licensed for use, so they’re not commercially available. They may also cause more irritation and other side effects.

Speak to a hair loss specialist if you’re not seeing results from a 5% Minoxidil solution. We can recommend alternatives to Minoxidil that may be more suitable.

Which hair loss conditions can topical Minoxidil be used for?

Topical Minoxidil can treat the following types of alopecia:

It’s not always possible to self-diagnose your hair loss. That’s why it’s important to see your GP to rule out any underlying health conditions and book a free consultation with a hair loss specialist to discover the root cause of your hair loss. You can then decide if topical Minoxidil is the best solution to treat your thinning hair.

Topical Minoxidil and hair growth: clinical photos

These photos from clinical trials show results from using topical Minoxidil. You can also find out how long it takes for Minoxidil to work.

Topical Minoxidil and hair growth: clinical photos after using Minoxidil topical foam to treat male pattern baldness for 8 weeks
Before and after eight weeks of using 5% Minoxidil foam twice a day [9].
Topical Minoxidil and hair growth: clinical photos after using 5% Minoxidil for 6 months
Before and after using 5% Minoxidil once a day for six months [11].
Topical Minoxidil and hair growth: clinical photos in female pattern hair loss patient
Before and after 12 weeks of using 5% Minoxidil solution twice a day [10].

See more before and after Minoxidil photos, including results from using both oral and topical Minoxidil.

How much Minoxidil is absorbed topically?

Minoxidil is a relatively large molecule, so it’s not easily absorbed into the skin. Just 1.4% of the topical Minoxidil you apply is absorbed into the scalp [5]. Derma rolling for hair may help more of the solution penetrate the skin [10].

Nanoxidil was devised as an alternative to Minoxidil which consists of a smaller molecule, which theoretically makes it easier to absorb. However, no evidence suggests that Nanoxidil users see better results than Minoxidil users.

Topical Minoxidil side effects

Topical Minoxidil has minimal side effects compared with other hair loss drugs like Finasteride and Dutasteride. However, there are some topical Minoxidil side effects to be aware of:

Topical Minoxidil: safety and side effect FAQs

Some people worry that using topical Minoxidil can contribute to specific health conditions. Here’s what the research shows.

Topical Minoxidil has been known to cause headaches in some cases. Trials for female pattern hair loss found headaches occurred in 3.7% of patients on average [5]. In men, headaches occurred in 1.8% of men on average.

Studies show no link between topical Minoxidil use and heart problems like ischemic heart disease or abnormal heart rate [5]. These conditions have been linked with oral Minoxidil use in rare cases, but topical Minoxidil is far less likely to cause these systemic side effects. 

There’s no evidence to suggest topical Minoxidil will lead to weight gain [5].

Topical Minoxidil hasn’t been linked with high blood pressure. Oral Minoxidil is sometimes used to treat high blood pressure, so while it can cause changes in blood pressure, it’s unlikely to lead to hypertension [5].

While there’s limited evidence that Minoxidil can cause acne, it can trigger other conditions that may look similar to acne [12-13].

For example, contact dermatitis may cause a small red rash that appears around the area where Minoxidil has been applied. 

Topical Minoxidil has also been linked to acute localised exanthematous pustulosis (ALEP). ALEP creates red pus-filled spots on the skin that may look similar to acne. However, this condition is very rare. There’s only one documented case linked with topical Minoxidil use [13].


No, topical Minoxidil won’t affect the kidneys. Oral Minoxidil has been linked with kidney function changes when used to treat high blood pressure [14]. Fortunately, topical Minoxidil isn’t used for this purpose and is absorbed by the body in much lower amounts. So it’s unlikely to cause any renal problems.

Yes, it can be dangerous to expose cats and dogs to Minoxidil. So take precautions if using this treatment around pets.

Does topical Minoxidil go systemic?

Some people worry that Minoxidil will cause systemic side effects. That means the medication causes changes throughout the body, rather than just in the area of application.

Unlike oral Minoxidil, topical Minoxidil is very unlikely to cause systemic effects, even if you apply it several times a day [15]. While some Minoxidil will inevitably enter your bloodstream, it won’t cross the blood-brain barrier.

Topical Minoxidil absorbed through the skin doesn’t stay in your system for long. Approximately 95% of the absorbed Minoxidil will leave your body after four days [5].

Does topical Minoxidil work for women?

Yes, topical Minoxidil has been shown to be effective for women as well as men [7]. 5% Minoxidil tends to be most effective for women, as it leads to greater scalp coverage.

These clinical photos show the impact of using topical Minoxidil for women:

Does topical Minoxidil work for women? Before and after results in female pattern hair loss patient
Before and after six months of using 5% topical Minoxidil twice daily.
Does topical Minoxidil work for women? Hair regrowth results in female pattern baldness patient

Hair growth progress over six months of 2% Minoxidil use for severe androgenetic alopecia in a female patient.

Does topical Minoxidil work for beard growth?

Topical Minoxidil is safe and effective for use on your beard as well as your scalp [5, 16]. This is an off-label use of the product, but many people claim to have used Minoxidil for beard growth successfully, including YouTuber Kaz Veselka. Here are his results before and after 1.5 years of 5% Minoxidil foam use:

Does topical Minoxidil work for beard growth?

Can you combine topical Minoxidil and Finasteride?

Yes — studies show that combining topical Minoxidil with oral Finasteride can give you better results than either treatment on its own [18].

A combined treatment of topical Minoxidil and topical Finasteride may also maintain hair growth after a course of oral Finasteride while minimising the risk of Finasteride side effects [19].

Learn more about Finasteride vs Minoxidil and which one is better for hair growth.

Where to get topical Minoxidil

Topical Minoxidil is available over the counter, so you can buy it from most pharmacies.

Find the right hair loss treatment at the Wimpole Clinic

Topical Minoxidil is a good first-line treatment for many types of hair loss. But plenty of other highly effective hair loss treatments can be used instead of or as well as Minoxidil.

To create a bespoke treatment plan that tackles your unique hair loss needs, book a consultation with the Wimpole Clinic team. Learn about our award-winning treatment plans that have had us voted the UK’s best hair transplant clinic three years’ running.

Topical Minoxidil Guide: Uses, Results & Side Effects, Wimpole Clinic

  1. Minoxidil Market Size – By Product (5% concentration, 2% concentration), By Region, Pricing Analysis & Global Forecast, 2023-2032 | Global Market Insights
  2. Comparing the therapeutic efficacy of topical minoxidil and finasteride with topical minoxidil and oral finasteride in androgenetic alopecia: a randomized trial
  3. ISHRS Practice Census 2022
  4. Potassium channel conductance as a control mechanism in hair follicles
  5. Minoxidil and its use in hair disorders: a review
  6. A randomized clinical trial of 5% topical minoxidil versus 2% topical minoxidil and placebo in the treatment of androgenetic alopecia in men
  7. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of 5% and 2% topical minoxidil solutions in the treatment of female pattern hair loss
  8. Does topical minoxidil at concentrations higher than 5% provide additional clinical benefit? 
  9. Similar Response Patterns to 5%Topical Minoxidil Foam in Frontal and Vertex Scalp of Men with Androgenetic Alopecia: A Microarray Analysis
  10. A Randomized Controlled, Single-Observer Blinded Study to Determine the Efficacy of Topical Minoxidil plus Microneedling versus Topical Minoxidil Alone in the Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia
  11. Comparison of low-level light therapy and combination therapy of 5% minoxidil in the treatment of female pattern hair loss
  12. Allergic contact dermatitis to topical minoxidil solution: etiology and treatment
  13. Acute Localized Exanthematous Pustulosis (ALEP) Caused by Topical Application of Minoxidil
  14. Improvement of Renal Function During Long-term Treatment of Severe Hypertension with Minoxidil
  15. Absorption of minoxidil after topical application: effect of frequency and site of application
  16. Case Report: Successful Use of Minoxidil to Promote Facial Hair Growth in an Adolescent Transgender Male
  17. Minoxidil 1 mg oral versus minoxidil 5% topical solution for the treatment of female-pattern hair loss: A randomized clinical trial
  18. Combined treatment with oral finasteride and topical minoxidil in male androgenetic alopecia: a randomized and comparative study in Chinese patients
  19. Topical minoxidil fortified with finasteride: An account of maintenance of hair density after replacing oral finasteride
Dr Mir Malkani
Medically reviewed by Dr Mir MalkaniUpdated on April 10, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
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