This article was originally written on Beard Profile, which is merging with the Beard Wiki. It is written by the same author and founder of both websites, but uses a different voice from what the Beard Wiki traditionally uses. Some of these transferred articles may or may not have sources included.
Over the last several years, minoxidil has played a tremendous role in improving men’s beards. While it is not new and the drug itself has been around since the 80s, and used for facial hair improvement since at least the early 2000s, it really only gained a large following in the last few; in part due to social media and Beard Profile, where minoxidil is talked about openly and uninhibitedly.
During this time, many different supplements and tools have been used and discussed in an attempt to grow better beards — from beard oils, which will not actually work and may be detrimental, to supplements like L-carnitine L-tartrate, to derma rolling.
Like many trends, these things are popular in spurts, with many people taking the stance that they are very helpful and a few speaking against them from time to time.
Unlike these things, however, one constant has always remained for better facial hair: minoxidil.
Minoxidil, Studies, and Inferences
Because there is virtually no comparison and minoxidil is one of the only things we have found so far to actually work for permanent, thick facial hair, people are wanting and willing to take things as far as they can with the drug, opting to use a higher percentage for “more gains.”
First, the reason 5% is used over 2% is based upon the studies that we have seen for scalp hair. 2% is commonly used by women because it greatly reduces the chances of of them growing excess facial and body hair. That, and it has been found to work well enough, statistically, for many women with alopecia.
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to have a predisposition to balding due to genetics, and male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia) is constantly and forever working against them. So 5% is the more effective solution to temporarily remedy this issue and has been found to be okay to use long-term.
This does not mean that applying a 2% solution would not work for facial hair, as it would be applied directly to the face, but 5% is what has become the norm because it explicitly has the side-effect of causing facial hair growth. That, and it has been found to be safe for men to use in the long-term as stated above, and using it for beard growth is not a long-term affair.
The information we use is based off scientific literature that is available to us and much of it is simply inferred due to the lack of studies surrounding facial hair specifically.
Considering minoxidil for beard use? See the Minoxidil Beard FAQ on the Beard Wiki to learn more
5% Minoxidil vs 10% Minoxodil
In comes a popular percentage that has been perpetuated, unscientifically, to help more: 10% (or 12.5%, but less commonly talked about). The idea here stems from the idea that “if 5% works, then 10% should work even better!” However, with the way that drugs work, this simplistic idea is not what one should be counting on for more facial hair.
Instead, we should, at the very least, see use a scalp study to infer if that is even remotely true:
- Efficacy and safety of a new 10% topical minoxidil versus 5% topical minoxidil and placebo in the treatment of male androgenetic alopecia: a trichoscopic evaluation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31403367
Conclusion: 5% topical minoxidil was moderately superior to 10% topical minoxidil and placebo in increasing hair regrowth opposite to the expected, the irritation was marked for 10% topical minoxidil. Psychosocial stress after 10% usage were worsened by the shedding [and] irritation compared to their high expectation in comparison to 5% usage.
So, quite literally, 10% is actually worse than 5%.
When to Use 10% Minoxidil
Does this necessarily mean that 10% has no place over 5%? Certainly not, as we know that there are people that have what is called minoxidil resistance, or non-responders. In short, resistance to minoxidil is when one’s body does not metabolize the drug into minoxidil sulfate, the active metabolite that is the cause of stimulation of the hair follicles.
- (Oral, about unusual resistance) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6156359
- (Topical, females, 15%, not 10%): https://www.jidonline.org/article/S0022-202X(17)31049-7/fulltext
Use of a high-concentration (15%) topical minoxidil solution resulted in 60% of subjects achieving a clinically significant response based on target area hair counts [for non-responders]
Without the conversion, you will not see any progress when applying minoxidil. This does not mean that if you are seeing “slow” progression over the first few months of application that you are resistant. That is simply how it goes: slow progress for most, with some individuals every now and then seeing fairly rapid progress in the first few months.
Also read: The Guide to Growing Your Beard with Minoxidil
Remember that minoxidil tends to work in spurts, where there may be a period of shedding or stagnation, then eventually more hair comes after that period. That is partly due to hair cycle and its synchronization by minoxidil. When switching from 5% to 10%, many times it is simply coincidence that you see more facial hair gain or shedding/stagnation.
After many years of seeing the progression of hundreds upon hundreds of men, I would firmly recommend sticking with a 5% solution when using minoxidil for facial hair growth. A 10% solution will cost many times more over the course of a year or two of usage, your body will not be adapted to the more aggressive drug, and you simply do not know if you are resistant to minoxidil in the first place.
Not to mention that anything more than 5% is illegal to sell in many countries, and as such would need to be ordered online from India, which is additional wait time and surcharge before starting your journey.
If after several months of using a 5% solution you do not see any, or very little, progress, then it may be the time to use a higher percentage. Before then, save your time, money, and health.
Beard onward, gentlemen.