Many of you have heard of popular US hair treatment Rogaine (or ‘Regaine’ as it is marketed in the UK and Europe), but how much do you know about how it works? This week The Geeks have set out to demystify Minoxidil, a key ingredient in Rogaine whose savvy science helps hair-loss sufferers to cling onto their precious locks and ‘regain’ (pun intended!) their confidence.

Androgenic alopecia (let’s call it AGA), also known as male-pattern-baldness, is a condition that – unlike the name suggests – can affect both men and women alike. AGA is caused by a combination of genetic factors, as well as hormone imbalances, which can make you susceptible to its development, and manifests itself as overall shrinkage of hair follicles. This leads to a reduction in their function, resulting in an overall thinning of the hair overall that can eventually lead to hair loss. The main hormone responsible for this follicular-malfunction is dihydroxytestosterone (DHT), derived from converted testosterone in the testes and prostate in men, and in the ovaries in women. It is the action of excess DHT upon the hair follicles which is believed to deplete levels of hair growth.

So how can Minoxidil help? Well, considering that Minoxidil has been used successfully in this formula for more than 20 years now, its exact method of action still remains a surprising mystery. We do know that this ingredient is most effective in people under the age of 40 who have suffered recent hair loss. Originally used as an anti-hypertensive vasodilator medication (to widen the blood vessels and decrease blood pressure), it is therefore unsurprising that one of its scientific roles within Rogaine is to increase blood flow to the scalp.

In topical scalp treatments, Minoxidil is used at a 2% or 5% concentration where this mighty molecule is thought to promote hair growth through the production of vascular endothelial growth factor, and does so by its role as an adenosine-triphosphate-sensitive potassium channel opener…

Lost you? Don’t worry it’s actually simpler than it sounds! Adenosine-triphosphate (ATP) is the main source of energy within the body, and so when there’s ATP around, Minoxidil can facilitate the movement of potassium, which contributes to the upregulation of vascular endothelial growth factor. This growth factor then causes development of new blood vessels within the scalp, delivering increased blood flow to hair follicles, which is all good news as an increase in blood flow provides the follicles with essential nutrients and ions. These include zinc which is vital for slowing down hair follicle regression, known as catagen (that hair-thinning follicle shrinkage that we talked about earlier). It also prolongs the phase of follicular growth (anagen), helping to maintain and thicken pre-existing hair.
Remember DHT? Some studies suggest that Minoxidil may work its magic (science!) by influencing the receptors that DHT-derived molecules work through. These experiments found Minoxidil decreased the amount of overall androgen receptor that is made, therefore reducing them as a target and possibly reducing the effect of DHT on follicular regression (catagen). In these studies Minoxidil was also found to directly bind to androgen receptors, again suppressing their activity and suggesting potential roles for this molecule in future treatments for hormone-dependent cancers (what an exciting molecule this Monday!).

Although the benefits of topical Minoxidil are apparent, it must be noted that this formula can only be used to manage hair loss as a life-long treatment choice – so for all you balding Beauty Geeks, if you already use it, stick with it, because ceasing Minoxidil treatment will lose all its effects on hair growth in as little as 4-6 months!