Quarantine has forced many of us to rethink the notion of routine–including what once may have been a fine-tuned grooming regimen. This visible shift is probably best delineated as “pre-quarantine” and “post-quarantine.” In the spring, we experienced the rebirth of long, shaggy 70s hair and some guys went all in with the “big chop” haircut. Then, the lucky few among us grew out, and became newfound caretakers of, bristly quarantine beards.
As we head into fall, guys are now settling in with the latest at-home experimentation feat: DIY beard biohacking. While global grooming trends show that beards are around to stay, the truth is that many of us can’t be hirsute men, no matter how hard we’ve tried.
Enter: Reddit rabbit holes, minoxidil and off-label experimentation.
Minoxidil, also known in the U.S. by its branded name, Rogaine, is in some cases able to stimulate hair growth and counteract male pattern baldness at the scalp. Men have amassed in online communities and are sharing DIY stories about how minoxidil helped break the peach fuzz cycle.
But what is really going on with this biohacking trend? “Minoxidil, originally used for high blood pressure, works on hair follicles by vasodilating blood vessels, which opens blood flow to the hair roots. Hair follicles then have more access to nutrients, allowing longer, thicker and healthier hair, by extending the growth phase,” says Dr. Lela Lankerani, Westlake Dermatology, Austin.
We may be on to something here, but as always, consult with your doctor to confirm what may or may not work for you. We caught up with the experts to discuss the growing trend, facts and a few notes of caution.
Let’s get into it.
How safe is it to use minoxidil to grow a beard?
There is still more research to be done, but early observations for minoxidil appear promising and men are researching and testing. “Overall, based on one study, [minoxidil] is thought to be safe and effective for beard enhancement, but more studies are needed. Minoxidil is FDA-approved for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology, NYP-Cornell. Topical minoxidil–the 2 percent and 5 percent solutions you find on drugstore shelves–has for use in regrowing hair on the scalp. So using it on the beard is technically an off-label use.
Guys are experimenting with off-label use and experiencing some results, but it’s important to note that these DIY experimentation efforts are just that-experiments. Experts are still trying to understand how minoxidil works (when it does) for beard enhancement.
What are the side effects of minoxidil?
Men who have sensitive skin, and those generally prone to breakouts, will want to consider that minoxidil may cause skin irritation or worsen existing irritation. “The most common side effect of topical minoxidil is irritation and a rash of the treatment area,” says Dr. Nikhil Dhingra, Spring Street Dermatology.
While you’re lathering up, keep in mind that minoxidil was originally developed to treat high blood pressure and while unlikely, you may feel those side effects in your body. Dr. Dhingra notes, “Systemic effects like blood pressure are so incredibly rare that they are not quantified, given how many use minoxidil daily. Low blood pressure, fast heart rates, tingling of the hands, and swelling have rarely been reported, but this may be related to overdosing on the volume used during application.” The rate of absorption is also correlated with bodyweight. So, if you’re coming in light on the scale, keep this in mind.
The experts remind us that the application of minoxidil is an important yet, often incorrectly executed piece of the puzzle. The results can lead to a, well, hairy situation. Growing too much hair and growing hair where it shouldn’t be, is not the look. Watch getting it on your nose, even accidentally. “Some men in particular have small follicles that may be activated and can lead to unwanted growth on the nose tip,” says Ryan Turner, MD, of Turner Dermatology. Go light on the application and consider foam-based formulas for more control and less drip during application. It’s also important to keep the face, beard area and beard hair follicles moisturized, since common preparations of minoxidil are alcohol-based.
How long does it take to see a fuller beard?
There are necessary planning elements when starting a minoxidil regimen, but since we’re up against genetics, there isn’t a specific timeframe for when you’ll begin to experience results–if you see results at all. Adam Mamelak, MD, an Austin-based dermatologist says, “Minoxidil is most effective during the hair growth phase…which, for the beard, can range between two to seven years. Because the beard hair grows slowly, minoxidil can be used for long periods of time. In general, minoxidil should be used for four to six months before deciding its effectiveness.” There you have it. Watching hair grow is a process that requires patience.
How good is Rogaine, really?
“Ultimately, hair growth (and loss) are genetically determined, so those who don’t have many active hair follicles after puberty are less likely to respond to minoxidil or other stimulators,” says Dr. Dhingra. And what role might ethnicity play, with differences in hair types? “Because genetics determine hair, ethnic background can definitely play a role. East Asian men tend to have less facial hair density and volume than Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian men, for example. Individual family genes will also contribute,” says Dr. Dhingra.
So, as a Black man with curly, thick hair, what results can I, and men like me, expect from minoxidil?
Dr. Turner confirms, “Men of color with more course, thicker hairs that curl inward may see slight increase of ingrowing hair follicles, which can lead to pseudofolliculitis barbae.” But many men have experienced pseudofolliculitis without even using minoxidil. Arash Mostaghimi, MD, MPH, Director, Inpatient Dermatology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Instructor, Harvard Medical School, adds, “This is not true folliculitis but a mimicker.”
There you have it. Whether you’re aiming for a full beard, goatee or chin strap, consider the pros and cons of minoxidil for your individual case. A full attempt at growing a full beard takes time. Start slow, ride out the awkward phases, and trust your individual process.
There’s a five o’clock shadow somewhere.