Drugs and Ointments

Pharmaceutical hair restoration treatments use manufactured chemical substances to affect the structure or function of the hair follicles in an effort to stop hair loss and promote hair growth. Some hair loss medications work by causing hair follicles that have shrunk or shut down to enlarge and grow hair again. Hair restoration medications are used to treat both sudden, temporary hair loss and chronic hair loss that starts slowly and becomes progressively more extreme over time.

These medications may be applied to the skin, taken by mouth or injected, and they include both prescription and non-prescription drugs. Prescription drugs are typically powerful and have the potential for some serious undesirable side effects if not used as directed and for their intended purpose.

Over-the-counter medications, like prescription drugs, contain active ingredients that affect the body's structure or function in order to treat a medical condition. These medications are intended for conditions that do not generally require skilled medical diagnosis. They are usually less powerful than prescription drugs and less likely to cause harmful side effects.

Minoxidil

Minoxidil (the generic name) is in a class of drugs called hair growth stimulants. Oral minoxidil, a prescription drug originally used to treat high blood pressure, was found to increase body hair growth in the majority of patients taking it daily.

This led to the development of topical minoxidil, sold over-the-counter and marketed in its 2 percent form under the brand name HealthGuard (Bausch & Lomb Pharmaceuticals), and in its 5 percent form under the brand name Rogaine (Pharmacia & Upjohn). These formulas have been shown to stimulate hair growth in men with pattern baldness. In women, these ointments can help increase growth in the forehead area, according to manufacturers.

Pregnant or nursing women should avoid minoxidil in either form and be cautioned that the use of extra-strength formulas are not designed for women and can cause facial hair growth and other problems.

Minoxidil is what pharmacists call dose-dependent. This means that treatment must be continued in order to maintain or increase hair growth benefits. Regular-strength Rogaine must applied on a dry scalp at least twice daily (and left in place for at least four hours) and for at least four months to see results. Extra strength formulas work much more quickly (in about 45 days), manufacturers say.

Oral minoxidil can cause a fall in blood pressure, an increase in the heart rate, and weight gain (fluid retention). An increase in the absorption of topical minoxidil from the scalp can occur in users with inflamed or abnormal scalps and can lead to the same side effects as those of the oral minoxidil. This means that people with heart failure or major coronary heart disease should avoid the drug in either form, and those with high blood pressure should consult their doctors. In addition, topical minoxidil should not be used with other ointments or topical creams. Skin side effects might include irritation, itching, hives, swelling and sensitivity.

We'll take a look at some other medications in the next section.