If you lack a lovely beard and are well past puberty, could you use a hair growth treatment to create one?
Tales of people using Rogaine to paint on a beard sound believable, but is there any scientific validity to them? Let's investigate how minoxidil, the active ingredient in Rogaine, works in the human body — then we'll see if there is any hope for baby-faced individuals who would like magnificent beards.
How Minoxidil Works
If you are well past puberty without a patch of hair on your face and desperately desire a beard, you've probably heard a couple of odd recommendations for beard growth. Massaging your face regularly to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to hair follicles and shaving more often are commonly tossed around as simple ways to stimulate beard growth, whether the tactics actually work or not. But could you take a more proactive route using an over the counter pharmaceutical?
Minoxidil (sold under the brand name Rogaine) is approved for use to stimulate hair growth and stall balding. Minoxidil is an interesting little molecule - if a solution of minoxidil comes in contact with a cat's skin , expect a visit to your local pet cemetery in the near future.
Minoxidil works to grow hair on the human scalp by widening blood vessels in the skin and opening potassium channels, but the exact method of action is unknown. The drug takes quite a while to work - a user can expect to apply the solution to their scalp multiple times a day for four months to a year before growth begins. The low price of the drug (~$75 for a year's supply of the generic form) also helps, leading some to venture out and see if Rogaine will initiate beard growth.
Painting It On
Individuals aiming to grow a beard using minoxidil paint the solution onto their face in the form of the beard, repeating the process hundreds of times before substantial growth begins. This application itself is troublesome, as the face cannot be washed for four hours after application in order to give enough time for dermal absorption.
Biochemically, applying minoxidil to the skin makes sense - widening of the blood vessels would increase blood flow to the skin and bring more nutrients to follicles in the area. The vast majority (85%) of your hair are in the anagen phase, either growing or waiting to grow, and the additional nutrients could certainly help ones lying in wait just under the skin. Genetics will still play a role in growth, but if you are in our 40s and lack facial hair, your genes are not likely rooting for a bearded version of you.
Reports of severe facial dryness in those using minoxidil to grow a beard correlate with listed side effects of minoxidil when used for scalp growth, lending support to their stories. The facial dryness becomes a problem for many attempting to grow a beard using this pharmaceutical approach, leading a secondary ritual of moisturizer application to prevent pain and scarring.
Finasteride (sold under the brand name Propecia), is another popular medicinal treatment of hair loss. Finasteride is administered orally, removing the ability to specifically grow facial hair. Finasteride stimulates scalp hair growth by preventing the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone within the body.
Dihydrotestosterone prevents hair growth by shrinking hair follicles, but the hormone is responsible for the appearance of secondary sex characteristics in puberty like facial hair. Because of this duality, finasteride is a poor choice for those wanting to promote beard growth. Also, if you are a professional athlete looking to grow a beard, it could cause you to fail a drug test thanks to the resulting increase in testosterone levels.
Taking supplements of biotin, a small molecule scientifically shown to increase hair and nail growth, might be a better route if you are looking to fill out a patchy beard with little or no side effects.
While no scientific studies exist to show that minoxidil will spur on beard growth, minoxidil's ability to widen blood vessels and open potassium channels support the possibility. When this is combined with evidence from internet testimonies, I cannot rule out the idea that one could grow a beard with consistent applications of minoxidil. The process might not work for everyone and it sounds pretty tedious and painful, but if you really want to turn your baby boy face into a bearded one it might just work.
Top image from Touchstone Pictures' The Royal Tenenbaums. Additional image courtesy of RonFez.net. Sources linked within the article.