Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Paean to Minoxidil

Over Christmas I had visitors from the states. When they asked what they could bring me, the only thing I wanted was a supply of minoxidil. I was down to my last precious dropper full.  It is available in Mexico, but it costs more for a one-month supply that I was paying for three months worth in the states. When my friends bearing gifts arrived with six bottles; gold, frankincense and myrrh would not have gotten a bigger reception from me.
Why the hysterics? I consider myself to have reasonably good skin and more-or-less straight teeth. But God must have been holding me by the hair when She dipped me in the gene pool, because what should have been my crowning glory has mostly been my Achilles heel.

In its first iteration my hair was mousy brown and baby fine. As a child I desperately wanted big, fat braids like the other girls in school, but mine were thin and more like little plaited rat tails. During high school, I tried to tease my cow licks into submission. 

My Teens: Teased
In my 20s I wore my hair long and could coax it into a nice little wave by sleeping in rollers and using lots of Aquanet।

My 20s: Rollers and Hairspray
By my 30s, which coincided with the shag years, I was already prematurely graying. At first, I quite enjoyed the novelty of it. Strangers would stop me and remark on my “courage” for not coloring my hair. A hairdresser, Tony Ray, and I even co-wrote a book called The Silver/Gray Beauty Book that can still be found from second-hand booksellers.

My 30s: Salt and Pepper Shag
When I hit my 40s, the attention ceased. I realized why when I saw myself on television while I was promoting a different book I’d written. I was no longer prematurely gray: I’d grown into my hair and now I was just a 40-ish woman with drab, colorless hair that just blended with my pale, Celtic skin tone. So began the strawberry/ash/champagne/baby blonde years: I tried them all. I should have bought shares in L’Oreal and Clairol. My hair turned out to be extremely color resistant and needed strong chemicals, which fried it and caused it to look even thinner.

My 40s: The Blonde Years
When, when my hormones left, they took a whole of what was left of my hair with them. In an attempt to make it appear fuller, I permed it and it took on the attributes of an unraveling Brillo pad. I wore it long and up; I cut it boy short; I tried bangs. But there was no disguising my receding hairline and visible patches of scalp.

I was pretty much on the verge of despair every time I looked in the mirror. Truly, this was affecting my quality of life. I was beginning to think I’d have to become one of those elderly women who wears a wig or never leaves the house without a hat. I would sometimes sit behind women with thinning hair in the theater, or stand behind them in the market checkout line, and empathize with the obvious machinations they’d been through to try and disguise the problem. I got to recognize the butch, spiky cut on women trying to be defiant about the fact that they no longer have girlish tresses. Then there were those who grew what they had long and wore it in tortured up-dos, the female equivalent of a comb-over.

My 50s: Hair So Bad Had To Wear a Helmet

Then I met a friend’s mother—a wise and beautiful woman in her 70s—with great, thick hair. I wailed to her about how lucky she was. “Oh, no,” she said, “Mine used to be just like yours.” And then she whispered the magic word in my ear: “minoxidil.”

OMG! It was like learning the old broad’s secret handshake.

I’d heard of minoxidil, of course, and also by its brand name, Rogaine. What I knew was that it’s largely marketed to men as remedy for male pattern baldness. A women’s version came out later but there was talk about it being less effective. But my friend told me it really does work for some women, including her, and I’m happy to report it really worked for me.

It takes dedication: you have to apply it religiously twice a day and don’t start to see results for a few months. I had a fairly quick response. About two months after I started using it, I saw little dark dots along my hair line. They turned out to be stubble. My hairline filled in very quickly and I grew out my bangs for the first time in years. The rest of my hair also thickened. I was so happy with my new head of hair that I stopped dying it blond to discover that my new natural color is pure silver. Now, almost unbelievably to me, I actually get compliments on my hair! This is for the first time, at 60; who would have thought it?

My 60s: Got My Hairline Back
No More Bangs!
Before you all rush out and buy some minoxidil, there are caveats. One downside is that you’ll likely grow a beard. After some trial and error, I discovered the way to avoid this is to not apply the second daily dose at bedtime because it rubs off on your pillow and subsequently on your face. I apply it around dinner time so it dries before I go to bed. And I wash my face thoroughly right up the hairline before hitting the sack to make sure any residue is gone. Another reason to do this is because the minoxidil stains fabric. If you get it on your pillow cases or sheets, it leaves an indelible orange mark that looks as though you’ve been drooling Tang.

When I first started using minoxidil, it also caused my scalp to itch. I gutted it out and that eventually passed. (I found that shampoos that don’t have laurel sulphates helps.) Also, you have to use the minoxidil forever. I buy the men’s version because it’s stronger and the women’s has a perfume-y smell and costs more. If you stop, the re-grown hair falls out again. At least that’s what the manufacturer says and it might well be a marketing ploy. But I’m not taking any chances: I plan to be buried with a bottle clutched in my cold, dead hand and my full head of hair spread out alluringly around my face. Well, that's my vision anyway!


  1. I had to look up paean ;-)

    Loved the pic of you in your 20s! And loved all the pics after that, too.

    What a vision of your way to go!

  2. I remember telling you in the Amazon that you have AMAZING hair...only to be told it came from the bottle! :)

  3. I read online that you can remove minoxidil stains with white vinegar, but never to use bleach as it interacts with the chemicals in minoxidil to create that lovely yellow color. Of course, I learned this after ruining a half dozen pillow slips. ;-)

  4. I think this is one thing many don't think about before starting Minoxidil:

    For the rest of their life they have to either use a bathing hat to bed (what if your experience with this?)... or go through pillow slip after slip... and it is the end of your loved one coming to your side of the bed kissing your hair, saying I love you, and putting her head on your pillow (with (perhaps unnoticable... until she grows a beard..) minoxidil residue.

    Same as people who consider a hair transplant... don't consider that they probably have to take propecia in order not to lose the other hair they already had. All in all - it might be far scarier for some (I for one..) to use Propecia than getting a hair transplant. But getting a hair transplant without wanting to accept the risk of Propecia's side effects (anxiety, depression etc.) is not good.

    1. My solution to this problem is not to apply it at bedtime but around dinner time, which for me is about 7pm. By the time I go to bed it's completely dry and you don't have to deal with all that residual goo. Since I apply it when I get up in the morning around 7am, I figure that's a 12-hour spread. Of course, this only works if you are home at that time; but still, it helps if you can do it most of the time. Good luck!

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  6. Hi Angela, do prefer the minoxidil spray or the foam?

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  8. How do you remove the stain from white hair?