A drug that medical professionals have known for decades to cure hair loss could be more effective than previously thought if the way it’s taken is changed from a pill to an ointment.
Minoxidil – sold under the brand name Rogaine – has been available on pharmacy shelves since the 1980s as a lotion to rub into the scalp to restore lost hair. But more and more doctors are now prescribing it off-label as a low-dose pill, the New York Times reports, saying it makes it much more effective.
There are already countless products to prevent hair loss that are regularly sold at considerable prices despite little evidence of their effectiveness.
But amid increasing success stories with minoxidil, more and more doctors are suggesting it for patients, even though the treatment has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a pill to prevent hair loss.
Minoxidil — sold under the brand name Rogaine — may help reverse hair loss when taken by mouth as a pill, doctors say. However, this is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration
Rogaine has long been a favorite for men to help regrow lost hair as they age, but the way the drug was administered may not have been the most effective
Minoxidil was approved for men in 1988 and women in 1992 in a lotion to help regrow lost hair.
It works by using enzymes present in the hair follicles to break down the drug into an active form that stimulates new hair growth.
But it needs to reach the scalp to take effect — which is often stopped by remaining hair — and patients often don’t like leaving it on their heads for at least four hours each day.
However, doctors have found that when the drug is taken orally as a pill, it still breaks down into the active form that triggers hair regrowth.
The discovery was first made by Dr. Rodney Sinclair, a dermatologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia, when he had a patient suffering from hair loss who swore by Rogaine but was beginning to get an allergic rash to the lotion.
To remedy this, Sinclair cut minoxidil pills into quarters and offered those to the patient instead. The low dose kept her hair growing but didn’t trigger the rash or affect blood pressure – another use for the drug.
Through testing, he found that the drug remained effective when the dose was reduced to a fortieth of the original pill, and then began prescribing it.
In 2015, he presented his findings at a meeting in Miami after offering the pill to more than 100 consecutive women. He has now treated more than 10,000 patients.
Hair loss could be reversed with a drug known for decades that costs just 57 cents a day, doctors say (stock image)
Other doctors are now following his example and prescribing the drug off-label to patients with hair loss. It will not work for those who are bald as there will be no hair follicles left to stimulate.
No FDA-approved study of minoxidil has been conducted to date, and one is unlikely to be completed as the companies are unlikely to make a profit.
The doses of minoxidil given to patients can be as low as 1 mg, doctors suggest.
But dermatologists say the pill is safe to use this way, and they will continue to prescribe it off-label to patients who want it.
In some cases, it has also triggered long hair on other parts of the body, such as the face and chin. This has led to it also being prescribed alongside spironolactone, which can block certain sex hormones to try and prevent the unwanted growth.
dr Crystal Aguh, a dermatologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told the New York Times, “Popularity is just beginning to soar.
“We share our success stories more and more at conferences.”
Statistics show that about 40 million American men are bald, while more than 50 million have pattern baldness — or thinning hair.
It is believed that among women, around 30 million also suffer from pattern baldness.
Amazon sells 2.5 mg minoxidil pills for just $17.10 per pack of 30 pills, which is 57 cents per pill.