The pill that could be an option to treat pattern baldness

People trying to counter pattern baldness might find success by popping a pill instead of applying medicine to their scalps twice a day for the rest of their lives.

“Low-dose minoxidil can be used safely and effectively to treat pattern hair loss, the most common form of hair loss in both men and women,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, a professor and chair of dermatology at The George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Rogaine foam applied to the skin is one of the better known products containing minoxidil, but generic products are widely available at local drugstores, such as CVS or Walgreens.

Oral minoxidil is a relatively cheap medication and is often covered by insurance.

The low-dose pill to treat hair loss is an off-label use of the medicine.

“Off-label does not mean it is not safe or ineffective. It just means the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not approved the medication through its typical pipeline,” Friedman said.

Dermatologists manage more than 3,000 different diseases; many of the medicines used have not gone through the FDA approval process, and Friedman said the oral use of minoxidil is just one of the latest strategies applied to hair loss.

“This is somewhat new in that there have been several clinical trials only published recently, showing that this lower dose can be used effectively, but also doesn’t come with the baggage of higher doses,” Friedman said.

Minoxidil initially was intended to treat high blood pressure; issues related to taking higher doses of minoxidil include low blood pressure, leg swelling and increased hair growth everywhere on the body “that ended up turning people into werewolves,” Friedman said.

Women considering the use of minoxidil for hair loss should be aware of what’s referred to as the “pink tax.”

“One of my former students published a paper comparing the price of minoxidil foam for women versus men, and it was actually more expensive even though it’s exactly the same thing,” Friedman said.

People looking to make a change to their appearance have lots of options for care.

There are many different forms of hair loss, and many approaches — on-label and off-label — to manage them.

“Low-dose minoxidil is one of several off-label therapies we use to manage hair loss. And often, combination therapy yields the best results,” Friedman said. “Make sure to check in with a dermatologist see what the right treatment is for you.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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