A medicine known for decades and costing as little as 57 cents a day could help reverse hair loss, doctors say — but it only works for most patients when given as a low dose pill.
Minoxidil — sold under the brand name Rogaine — has been on pharmacy shelves since the 1980s as a lotion to be rubbed into the scalp to restore lost hairs. But more and more doctors are now prescribing it off-label as a low dose pill reports the New York Times, saying this makes it much more effective.
An innumerable number of hair loss prevention products are already available, which are regularly sold at significant prices despite little evidence that they work.
But amid mounting success stories with Minoxidil more and more doctors are suggesting it for patients, despite the treatment being 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 — can help reverse hair loss when it is taken orally as a pill, doctors say. But this is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration
Rogaine has long been a favorite for men to regrow lost hair in older age, but the way the drug was being administered may not have been the most effective
Minoxidil was approved in a lotion to help regrow lost hair for men in 1988, and for women in 1992.
It works by using enzymes present in hair follicles to break the drug down into an active form which stimulates the growth of new hairs.
But it must reach the scalp to work — which is often stopped by remaining hairs — and patients often dislike leaving it on their heads for at least four hours every day.
Doctors have found, however, that when the drug is taken orally as a pill it is still broken down into the active form that triggers hair re-growth.
The discovery was first made by Dr Rodney Sinclair, a dermatologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia, when he had a female patient suffering from pattern baldness who swore by Rogaine but started suffering an allergic rash to the lotion.
To remedy the situation, Sinclair cut minoxidil pills into quarters and offered these to the patient instead. The low dose allowed her hair to continue to grow but did not 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 lowered to one-fortieth of that in the original pill, and then began prescribing it.
In 2015 he presented his findings to a meeting in Miami, after offering the pill to more than 100 successive women. He has now treated more than 10,000 patients.
Pattern baldness could be reversed using a drug known for decades and costing as little as 57 cents per day, doctors say (stock image)
Other doctors are now also following his lead, and prescribing the drug off-label to patients with pattern baldness. It will not work for those who are bald because there are no hair follicles left to stimulate.
No FDA-approved trial of minoxidil has been carried out to date, and it is unlikely one will be completed because companies are unlikely to make a profit.
Doses of minoxidil being given to patients can be as low as 1mg, doctors suggest.
But dermatologists say the pill is safe to use in this way, and that they will continue to prescribe it off-label to patients that want it.
In some cases, it has also triggered long hairs on other areas of the body such as the face and chin. This has led to it also being prescribed with spironolactone, which can block certain sex hormones, to try to prevent the unwanted growth.
Dr Crystal Aguh, a dermatologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told the New York Times: ‘It is just starting to see a surge in popularity.
‘More and more at conferences, we are sharing our success stories.’
About 40million American men are bald, statistics suggest, while more than 50million have pattern baldness — or thinning hair.
Among women, some 30million are also thought to be suffering from pattern baldness.
Amazon sells Minoxidil pills at 2.5mg for as little as $17.10 per 30-pill packet, equivalent to 57 cents per pill.