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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On Minoxidil and "Not for Women" Warnings

More a biotin beard than a minoxidil beard,
but I wanted a trans man beard photo for this.
I follow a couple of minoxidil-related forums for trans men who use it on their faces, seeing if it will increase facial hair growth.  For transparency I will mention that through some miracle of the Gods I have pretty good looking facial hair acquired through years of HRT and good old genetics, so although I occasionally consider minoxidil elsewhere (I usually decide against it... because I'm lazy about it) I haven't used it on my face.  But I'm always interested in what other trans men are trying, especially pre-T and non-T trans men, because there are so many who are either trying to avoid hormones or who don't have access to them.

Minoxidil (also known as Rogaine) is a topically-applied medication that stimulates hair growth and regrowth in people who are experiencing hair loss.  In relation to beards, it's most often used by trans men who are on hormones but who aren't getting the beard growth they want.  I've also seen it used on chests and other body parts.  What follows is what I know about minoxidil based on my limited use of it and the stories of others.

Is Minoxidil Off The Table Because It's "Not For Women?"

Recently there was a popular forum (I'm not in it but have seen the posts) that banned talk of minoxidil for health-related purposes.  The main reason?  "It even says on the bottle not to have contact with women and children!"  So I wanted to address that, because the reasoning here is heavily flawed, speaking as somebody trying to study herbalism explicitly to benefit trans people.

lot of medications out there--including testosterone--have very strict warnings regarding using them in women.  The thing is, though, trans men aren't women.  So rather than just assume that there's some biological reason we can't take these medications, we need to individually look at why women aren't supposed to use these drugs.

Sometimes it's because the drug is known to cause birth defects.  This will be relevant for folx who are intending to get pregnant, but if you aren't--especially if you have gotten sterilized--this alone shouldn't be a concern for you.  Sometimes it causes damage or changes to reproductive organs, in which case it all depends on whether or not you want to keep those organs.

But a large amount of the time, the reason these drugs aren't recommended is because they have some sort of masculinizing effect.  If you read the information pamphlet coming with a vial of testosterone, which is used for some conditions in women, you'll find a list of side effects including, notably, growth of facial and body hair and deepening voice.  Basically, the reason they want to be extra careful with women who use testosterone is because they want to make damn sure they don't wind up looking like men, something most women do not desire or need.  For us, these aren't side effects, but the intended purpose of the medication.

Minoxidil has a similar issue.  It came under fire years ago because women would try using it for female-pattern baldness and report it made them grow facial and body hair.  This is why minoxidil for women is formulated with a different concentration of the medication... because if accidentally put on the face or in higher than needed concentrations it can give women facial hair, which most women do not want.

There are, to be sure, other side effects with minoxidil.  But trans men have been using it for a long time, and doctors have even occasionally prescribed it to us for use on our faces and chests, so as far as being a major bogeyman drug, it really isn't.

But Does It Work?

Minoxidil works, but--just like everything else--is limited.  I've seen some fair results in trans men taking it instead of testosterone, but there's a huge genetic component to that.  Many women and trans men naturally grow at least some facial hair without any additional help; the reason people assume we don't is because most women spend their lives trying to remove said hair and so we don't notice.  I come from a long line of women able to grow some facial hair, and in fact before I came out I went through a nice hippie phase where I let all my hair grow out and found I could grow some too.

Because of this, sometimes it's on the fence whether or not a pre- or non-T trans man's facial hair growth is actually minoxidil magic.  It may very well be that he's been trying to hide his facial hair for so long he didn't know he could grow one to begin with, or that he naturally had a lot of potential to grow facial hair due to genetics that was just popped into place with the minoxidil.  I'm actually--minus the minoxidil use--a great example of this:  I was keeping my facial hair to a small chin circle for years, because I thought I couldn't grow anything else.  It wasn't until I started dating somebody who loved facial hair that I let anything else grow out, only to find that unbeknownst to me I had obtained the ability to grow sideburns and a moustache!

In addition, minoxidil hair growth when you aren't on testosterone tends to look very different from typical male facial hair; it may be finer and lighter.  Obviously this is not a judgment call... if you just want facial hair and don't care if it looks a little different from the outside, then by all means go for it.  Another complicating factor is that it won't change your voice or other aspects of your appearance, so if you're trying this as an alternative to testosterone you may need to work on your voice through other means.

Since it's so limited, most people on minoxidil are also on testosterone.  Generally it's something I see in people who have been on T for a couple of years and aren't satisfied with the patchiness of their beards.

What Alternatives Are There?

Minoxidil is probably the most effective thing for growing a beard other than pharmaceutical testosterone, but it also has a lot of contraindications and side effects.

My own technique now that I'm off hormones is to supplement with biotin and eat a lot of undercooked egg yolks.  I've been doing this for a couple of months and some areas of my face are filling in now... but I'm not sure what would have just naturally happened.  Ironically I started this for nail growth so I could have pretty manicures rather than for beard growth.

In the future I'm considering trying a specially formulated beard supplement (which has a lot of biotin in addition to other hair-friendly herbs and vitamins.  When I start that--if I choose to--I'll let you know, but I want to make sure I know the particular herbs before I start that journey.

Of course, you can also just use glued hair.  Amazon has some good looking theatrical beards, the problem being they don't always look great close-up.  With practice, though, it's something to look into.

Anyway, if I get any more information on this I'll update.  Happy trails!
-- Jackson