Written by the UPGUYS Editorial Team
Published on July 05, 2022
Dolly Parton thinks bald men are sexy. "I love bald men," the singer proclaims on her Twitter. "Just because you've lost your fuzz doesn't mean you ain't a peach!"
Unfortunately, Parton's pro-bald enthusiasm is rare.
In many cultures, balding is a sign of worry or—at best—humility. The famously bald action-film star Bruce Willis notes, "Balding is God's way of showing you are only human. He takes the hair off your head and puts it in your ears."
Fortunately, balding isn't actually an undefeatable act of God. People can stimulate hair growth with products like minoxidil.
Minoxidil over the counter—and its prescription-strength counterparts—have been notable hair-growth stimulants since 1983.
In the decades since, scientists have made new discoveries about the drug. And they've iterated the formula to improve its impact.
Wondering what it might do for you today? Discover the answer to that question—and more—in this short-and-sweet guide. Read on to answer key Minoxidil questions, including:
Ready? Let's dive in.
Minoxidil is a drug classified as an antihypertensive vasodilator.
This classification stems from the drug's original, intended use.
When pharmaceutical scientists first invented minoxidil, they were looking for a way to decrease high blood pressure. Scientists discovered the compounds in minoxidil reduce blood pressure by relaxing the arteriolar smooth muscle.
In the 1950s, scientists at UpJohn (now Pfizer) made an intriguing discovery. The molecules in minoxidil are metabolized by enzymes in the body when consumed orally.
The enzymes turn the drug into minoxidil sulphate, which affects the KATP channels in the membranes of cells—specifically the cells in the muscle tissue that surrounds arteries.
The muscles around the arteries are responsible for vasoconstriction and vasodilation. When they're more relaxed, the blood vessels dilate, which makes it easier for the blood to flow freely. This reduces blood pressure.
The KATP channels in cell membranes facilitate intercellular communication. That is, they are like message delivery routes.
Cells send "messages" to one another by sending enzymes, like ATP molecules, to give and receive instructions.
KATP channels are part of a complex, multi-system "network" that lets cells interface with one another. It empowers the body's processes—including food digestion and cell growth—to run automatically and in harmony.
The network also includes the endocrine system, the central and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the endocannabinoid system.
Once scientists discovered that minoxidil affects KATP channels in cells—and that, specifically, it opens them—they realized the compound had many potential applications.
This article is written for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information provided in the articles cannot and should not replace advice from a healthcare professional. Talk to your healthcare provider about any physical or mental health concerns or the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.
Despite its classification as a vasodilator, minoxidil's direct impact is on KATP channels. These channels facilitate many automatic, physiological processes—including hair growth.
In 1971, dermatologist Guinter Khan discovered that a patient who was taking minoxidil for hypertension was experiencing an unexpected side effect: extreme hair growth.
Khan hypothesized that the same channel-opening effect that decreased blood pressure also increased hair growth in some patients.
Due to the newly open KATP channels, hair follicle cells were better able to receive and act on instructions from other cells—specifically instructions to nourish and grow hair shafts.
Khan tested his hypothesis with an external ointment intended to increase hair growth intentionally. His experiment was a success!
Eventually, the pharmaceutical company he worked for filed a patent on the ointment, then sold it under a brand name many recognize: Rogaine.
Minoxidil works to stimulate hair growth as an external lotion, foam, or cream. It is not ingested. Instead, it is applied directly to the parts of the body where you want hair to grow.
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Minoxidil opens KATP channels in cells. This improves intercellular communication in the body.
This intercellular communication helps cells send and receive instructions, so they can complete necessary biological processes. One of these processes is cell growth.
Hair follicles are cells under the skin. In the bulb of a hair follicle, living cells grow and build a hair shaft, which is largely made of keratin.
Hormones and enzymes that interface with the hair bulb affect the speed of hair growth and the strength of the hair that grows. KATP channels play a role in regulating the secretion and impact of these hormones.
Specifically, these channels regulate cell membrane potential.
When minoxidil is applied directly to tissue with hair follicle cells, it opens more KATP channels.
These channels enable more hormones and enzymes that trigger the growth of strong, healthy hairs to effectively impact the hair follicles. Enzymes can also limit the length of the resting phase in the hair growth cycle.
Yes, you can buy minoxidil over the counter in Canada.
Most over-the-counter minoxidil products contain 2% or 5% concentrations of the compound. But, other minoxidil dosages and formulations have been tested.
Now, can minoxidil be bought over the counter in the United States? Fortunately, the answer is also yes. Moreover, the OTC formulations are the same in both the USA and Canada.
Unfortunately, if you're wondering if you can get minoxidil over the counter in the 15% formulation, the answer is no.
In 2016, scientists tested a 15% formulation of minoxidil on female pattern hair loss patients. All patients in the study had not seen any hair growth effect from 5% minoxidil.
By the end of the study, 60% of the patients saw a clinically significant hair growth response with the 15% minoxidil treatment. But, despite this success, 15% of formulations are only available with a prescription.
Similarly, a 3% minoxidil solution was tested in 2014. It was developed to stimulate and enhance beard hair growth.
The 3% formula was found safe and effective. But, as of 2022, it is not available over the counter.
There are fewer steps to purchase minoxidil over the counter than there are to get a prescription. So, in that sense, you might be able to get OTC minoxidil faster than you can get a prescription.
But, while over-the-counter (OTC) minoxidil is considered safe, it is not covered by most health insurance plans.
Health insurers in Canada typically only cover prescription drugs. So, OTC minoxidil can cost you more out-of-pocket than a prescription.
A prescriber can also give you advice specific to your own body and goals.
Minoxidil might be the best choice to improve your hair health. But, a practitioner can ask questions to determine if a different product might be a better choice for you personally.
You can see the per-tablet price for minoxidil, the oral hypertension drug, in Ontario's official drug formulary price guide. Unfortunately, there are no public price guides that note the wholesale cost of external minoxidil for hair growth.
The price of minoxidil varies depending on a few factors. Factors that impact the cost of minoxidil include:
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Yes. Rogaine is the brand name of minoxidil. Minoxidil is the generic version of the drug. Other minoxidil brands include:
Is Rogaine over the counter in Canada? Yes. But, the generic minoxidil is just as good as Rogaine over the counter, in Canada and stateside.
When used as directed, minoxidil is safe for most men. Minoxidil is for topical (external) use only.
But, minoxidil does carry a risk of side effects. And, it is not safe for men using certain medications or who have specific health conditions.
According to Mayo Clinic, minoxidil side effects are rare. But, it is important to seek medical attention quickly if any side effects occur. Be aware of the following potential side effects before using minoxidil:
These are all signs the solution may have entered the bloodstream. Other, less serious side effects include rashes, redness, or acne at the application site.
Because minoxidil can affect blood pressure, do not use minoxidil if you already have low blood pressure. Do not use minoxidil if you are currently taking blood pressure medication.
Minoxidil can affect blood sugar levels and hormone production. If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before using minoxidil.
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Very few over-the-counter alternatives to minoxidil have been tested in clinical trials. So, it's hard to say whether other non-prescription options are equally effective.
One that has been studied is Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). A single study of MSM in 2019 determined the supplement improved subject's hair and nail condition.
But, the study was fairly limited, as only 63 individuals participated. And the results were determined based on subjective reports completed by the study participants.
There is also some evidence that vitamin B7, also called Biotin, may stimulate hair growth.
Gentlemen's publications, including GQ, have hyped this vitamin's "magic" hair-growth effect. While you can buy a B7 supplement, it's also found in eggs and bananas.
That said, the Harvard School of Public Health dismisses the claims some manufacturers make about the hair-growth effect of Biotin.
Harvard's public health researchers note that evidence indicating vitamin B7 improves hair growth or health is, at best, inconclusive. The studies that do exist have serious "weaknesses."
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Other OTC minoxidil alternatives are similarly understudied. Anecdotes suggest caffeine, scalp massages, red clover, hemp oil, and mung beans may stimulate hair growth.
Red clover is chemically similar to compounds in minoxidil, and it may create similar effects. But none of these options have been tested as thoroughly as minoxidil has.
Minoxidil is a well-studied compound that stimulates hair growth in many contexts. It's applied externally. Minoxidil is the generic name of the brand-name drug Rogaine.
Minoxidil stimulates hair growth by opening communication channels for hair follicle cells. This channel-opening can have widespread effects. So, stay aware of potential side effects, and don't use it if you have low blood pressure.
Minoxidil is available over the counter. You can also get a higher dosage (or a different formulation) with a prescription. No OTC hair-growth alternatives have been studied as thoroughly as minoxidil.
Don't settle for baldness. If you're ready to kickstart your hair growth, we've got your back.
You can get minoxidil over the counter in Canada at concentrations of up to 5%. But, it's only one of many options to elevate your hair game. That's why it's smart to talk to an expert before choosing a product.
At UPGUYS, we give you the power to get tailored, professional insights as you navigate the wide array of hair growth formulae and concentrations. If you're ready to get your hair growing, connect with a practitioner today.