Who doesn’t love a beard? Whether it’s short and neatly-groomed a la Drake, or the wild, anything-goes variety Jason Momoa proudly rocks, the beard is a grooming mainstay that looks great on any guy. That is, any guy who can grow one. Facial hair tends to be governed by our genes, which means we’re more or less stuck with the beards we’re given. More or less. Yes, there are ways to cheat a beard. Chief among them is Minoxidil, the active ingredient in Rogaine that has been proven to stimulate hair growth on our heads. But before you put it on your face there are caveats. We talked to two experts in the field to find out: Dr. Robert Finney, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Entière Dermatology, and double-board certified plastic surgeon Dr. David Shafer of the Shafer Clinic in New York City. Here’s what you need to know.
What, exactly is Minoxidil?
Nowadays, the apparent success of products containing minoxidil, such as Rogaine, practically warrants its own aisle at most drug stores. So what is it? “Minoxidil works by shortening the telogen phase [the resting phase] of hair growth and lengthening the anagen phase [the growing phase] of hair growth,” explains Dr. Shafer. He also said it can help improve blood flow to the scalp to help supply growing hairs with essential oxygen and nutrients. Still, we’re not totally clear on why minoxidil works. “There have been studies that show an increase in growth factors, especially vascular ones, in cultured hair cells after treatment with minoxidil,” Dr. Finney said. “Other studies just show its effects on the hair growth cycle and nothing elucidating the cellular mechanism of action.” But still nothing definite. “There have been many hypotheses as to why it helps, but currently no concrete and cohesive answer.”
The short of it: for most guys, minoxidil works.
Can minoxidil help grow a beard?
Yup. “[Minoxidil] can be used to help grow a beard,” Dr. Finney said. “We know from scalp studies that minoxidil use will promote hairs to stay in the growing phase longer. If applied to the beard, by promoting as many hairs to stay in the growing phase and less to rest, the result is a fuller looking beard.” To support his claim, Dr. Finney referred to a clinical trial that showed significant improvement in hair counts compared to placebo when using topical minoxidil in the beard area. And that’s not all. He also quoted a study that suggested minoxidil could help improve hair growth in the eyebrow area. (We are not, however, suggesting you apply minoxidil on your eyebrows or anywhere near your eyes, for that matter).
What other beard growth products are available?
Dr. Shafer pointed out that, by and large, minoxidil has been mainly studied for its use on male pattern baldness (although it has been shown to work for women as well), therefore conclusive scientific data on its effectiveness in the beard area is still elusive. Could you go out right now and buy a product containing minoxidil and slather it on your beard? Sure, just be aware that minoxidil doesn’t come without several side effects, which we’ll get to later. You could spring for good old Rogaine, which comes in both a foam and serum formulation ($28.99), or opt for a specialty brand like Hims, which offers products containing both minoxidil and finasteride, an oral pill that has been clinically proven to address hair loss and regrowth.
How to use minoxidil to regrow a beard
Adding a minoxidil-laced product to your daily routine takes only seconds. After washing your face, apply your minoxidil-containing product to damp beard skin. Not wet, just damp, as products tend to penetrate better into damp skin. Gently massage it in, focusing on the areas in which you want thicker, denser hair. Once it’s in, wash your hands and continue with the rest of your skincare, being careful not to spread the product onto the rest of your face (unless you want to end up looking like an at-home version of Teen Wolf…we kid). While you may be tempted to use it more frequently, thinking it’ll make the hair grow faster, don’t. Just follow the twice-a-day instructions most brands recommend and let the juice do its work.
How long does it take?
When using minoxidil to help thicken your beard, the last step in your daily routine should be patience. If it works for you, it may take several months before you see any new growth. “Give it at least 4-6 months before judging results,” Dr. Finney said. “It is also best to take a before photo and after photo. Sometimes real results can be subtle, especially if you are watching your beard daily.”
Are there side effects to using minoxidil on your beard?
Like most formerly prescription-only drugs, minoxidil is not for everybody. Dr. Finney said one of the most common side effects for most guys who start using minoxidil is skin shedding, which may last up to a month. Dr. Shafer added that beyond that initial shedding, some guys may experience dry or scaly skin, irritation, changes in hair color or texture, weight gain, and dizziness, however most of these side effects resolve as the body acclimates to the minoxidil. Also consider that in many cases, results can look worse before they look better. Avoid minoxidil altogether if you experience any skin allergies or kidney failure. At any rate, it’s best to consult a doctor before trying minoxidil at all.
Minoxidil didn’t work for me—now what?
Aside from genetics, Dr. Shafer said there are a number of other ways to help boost beard growth including eating a balanced diet, avoiding smoking, and maintaining healthy skin through a solid skincare routine. There are also a few medical disorders, from hypothyroidism to hormonal balances, which may affect healthy hair and beard growth, so consider seeing a doctor before embarking on your beard growth odyssey to rule those out.
If you try and discover minoxidil isn’t for you, that’s ok too. There are plenty of non-minoxidil alternatives out there, like Copenhagen Grooming’s beard growth products. You could even take the natural route and grow your beard out a bit longer than you normally would in an attempt to cover up the sparse spots. Just because full beards get the most attention doesn’t mean you can’t rock your unique style with aplomb.
The bottom line
While the facts may still be a bit hazy, more and more guys are jumping on the minoxidil bandwagon to help thicken their beards. So if you’ve got the patience and sure you’re not at risk for any nasty side effects, there’s nothing standing between you and the prospects of some pretty fabulous face fluff.