While minoxidil is commonly celebrated as an effective hair loss treatment, many individuals experience side effects related to the product’s ingredients, namely the alcohol content.
In this post, I’ll discuss the ill effects that alcohol-containing hair products can have on your scalp.
You’ll learn a bit about the different types of alcohols, including the ones which are present within minoxidil-containing products. Then, I’ll show you how you can easily make your own alcohol-free minoxidil treatment at home.
With this information, you can then work on stopping your thinning, and perhaps even reversing it.
The Effects of Alcohol on Your Scalp
Alcohol is present in many shop-bought hair products. This includes those that are meant to treat pattern baldness, but also everyday use items, such as shampoo, conditioner, and serum.
While some individuals have no trouble whatsoever, those with more sensitive scalps may benefit from avoiding such products. Why? Alcohol can lead to a number of unpleasant scalp-related symptoms. Let’s take a look.
Alcohol is used in many products to speed the process of drying. This means that alcohols evaporate from your scalp quickly.
Unfortunately, alcohol can sometimes bring other things – including scalp sebum – with it. This can lead to dry, brittle hair that is unmanageable. In addition, this can dry out your scalp.
A common symptom of scalp drying is flaking. As alcohol present in hair products can cause dryness, flaking is not an uncommon side effect of such products.
Flaking occurs when the scalp’s moisture levels are low. This happens in the absence of natural scalp sebum, and this can cause itching and redness. In addition, flaking itself is an embarrassing symptom.
As a result of the dryness and flaking associated with alcohol application to the scalp, irritation can occur.
Alcohol isn’t exactly known for its gentle properties. Instead, alcohol is known to strip moisture from the skin and scalp and this can lead to irritation. Such irritation includes burning, tingling, itching, and throbbing.
In the video below, Javi talks about using minoxidil (for beard growth.) He makes it clear how the alcohol causes the skin to sting, and also causes severe dryness. So much so that he has to use a moisturiser lotion after (more chemicals.)
A Look at Short-Chain and Fatty Alcohols
You may be surprised to learn that alcohol can be harmful to the scalp and hair. After all, you can find it in almost all shop-bought hair products, even those claiming to be moisturizing. So, what’s the deal?
Well, not all alcohols are created equal.
There are actually two different categories of alcohols found in hair products.
When you think of alcohols, this is the type you’re most likely to think of. Such alcohols include ethanol, SD alcohol (and its variants), and isopropyl alcohol.
These are all alcohols which are small (in terms of chemical structure) and slightly miscible (able to mix) in water. This miscibility also means that they’re able to break down oils and other ingredients that aren’t miscible with water.
These alcohols are added to hair products in order to speed the drying process of such products when applied to the hair.
Unfortunately, this can leave the hair shafts dry and damaged (as oil evaporates along with the alcohol). The drying can also spread to the scalp, and leave the scalp with patches of dry, itchy skin.
Unlike short-chain alcohols (which contain only 1-3 carbon molecules per chain), fatty alcohols are long-chain alcohols and contain anywhere from 4-26 carbons. A few examples of such alcohols include lauryl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, and stearyl alcohol.
Fatty alcohols are largely derived from natural sources, such as vegetables and, historically, animal fats. However, as vegetable oils provide a larger variation of chain lengths, they are the preferred source.
When speaking of carbon molecules, it’s important to understand that more molecules means an oilier substance. As such, fatty alcohols are commonly used as emollients in hair products.
This means they penetrate and moisturize the hair shaft, and this leaves your locks soft and manageable.
Alcohols in Minoxidil: Short Chain or Fatty?
When speaking of hair products, including minoxidil, it’s safe to say that short-chain alcohols are the most likely cause of adverse skin reactions. Let’s take a look at the ingredients of minoxidil’s most popular brand name product, Rogaine:
One of the most common small-chain alcohols, SD alcohol 40, is present.
Another common short-chain alcohol, while not present in all minoxidil formulations, is propylene glycol.
This is an ingredient commonly associated with irritation, and many users of minoxidil have had luck switching from the liquid formulation (which contains propylene glycol) to foam (which doesn’t contain propylene glycol).
However, there are still alcohols present in the foam formulation, so you may have trouble if you’re particularly sensitive.
Where to Buy Alcohol-Free Minoxidil
You may be surprised to learn that finding store bought alcohol-free minoxidil is quite difficult. There is one brand in particular – Aquagaine by Hair Restoration Lab – that seems to have the alcohol-free minoxidil market cornered.
Developers claim the product is:
Silicon-Free, Alcohol-Free, Ammonia-Free, Contains Vitamins, Cruelty-free/No Animal Testing, Formaldehyde-Free, Paraben-Free, Perfume-Free, Sulfate-Free
However, as far as I can tell these claims aren’t backed by the FDA or any other such compliance agency.
So, if there aren’t many alcohol-free minoxidil products on the market, what are your options?
The cream formulations may also be an option, since they are less likely to contain alcohol, but they are also harder to find.
How to Make Your Own Alcohol-Free Minoxidil
If natural and effective is what you’re looking for, I recommend that you make your own alcohol-free minoxidil at home. A homemade product ensures quality, and it’s much cheaper than buying an unknown product online.
1. Start With a Scalp Peel
Your scalp comes into contact with an alarming amount of chemicals and pollutants everyday. These include shop-bought hair products and DHT, just to name a few.
Unfortunately, such buildup can reduce the effectiveness of any hair growth products you apply. This includes Rogaine and Propecia, but also any homemade products, such as the one detailed below.
There is a way, however, to remove the buildup from your scalp – gently and naturally. This is with a salicylic acid peel, and here’s how:
- Salicylic acid (15% solution or less)
- Coconut oil
Begin by shampooing your scalp as usual (preferably with a homemade cleansing shampoo). Dry your scalp, and then apply coconut oil and allow to sit for 30 minutes.
Take an eye dropper, and apply the salicylic acid to problem areas of the scalp. This includes any areas with noticeable thinning, but also other signs of hair issues, such as itching, flaking, and irritation.
Allow the acid to dry for at least 10 minutes. Rinse completely, and gently peel any remaining acid with your fingers. (You can also use a hair brush, but do so gently).
2. Use a Dermaroller for Improved Results
A dermaroller is a device that contains tiny needles. These needles puncture the scalp, and they create microwounds. As these wounds heal, the scalp generates new, healthier hair follicles. This is known as microneedling.
And the results are impressive when compared to using minoxidil alone. Just look at this graph below:
But what makes this technique so effective? Aside from the new, healthy hair follicles, it also increased blood circulation. This means that your hair can receive the oxygen and nutrients it requires, and any waste can be properly removed from the area.
3. Make Your Own Alcohol-Free Minoxidil
What You’ll Need:
- Hyaluronic acid (6 parts)
- Emu oil (2 parts)
- Pumpkin seed oil (1 part)
Mix the three ingredients in the ratios of your choosing. This enables you to make as much (or as little) as you’d like.
Pour the mixture into your palms, and then rub into your scalp. Pay special attention to the hairline and temples, and any other patches with thinning. Let the mixture sit on your scalp for 5-10 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water.
As the base of this mixture, hyaluronic acid delivers vital nutrients and minerals, and it also removes waste and buildup from the scalp. This waste can include leftover hair product chemicals, environmental pollution, and DHT.
This carrier oil works mouisturizing the scalp, as well as enabling the hyaluronic acid and pumpkin seed oil to penetrate deep into the hair follicles. This improves the effectiveness of both.
Pumpkin Seed Oil
However, pumpkin seed oil can also be used topically to target DHT present on the scalp. With less DHT, the hair follicles can continue their usual hair growth cycle.
This will improve the overall growth seen, and may even reverse thinning hair caused by hair miniaturization.
If you do have a very dry scalp, caused by the alcohol, consider trying a hair mask.
This yogurt and egg hair mask gently hydrates and soothes a dry scalp. Remember, healthy scalp = healthy hair, so if your scalp is dry and irritated it almost certainly means your hair will be brittle and break off easily.
In addition, irritation leads to inflammation which then leads to fibrosis and reduced blood circulation to the hair follicles, which then increases DHT. This then causes hair follicle miniaturisation.
Alcohol is present in many shop-bought hair products, including those which are meant to regrow your hair (such as Rogaine and Propecia).
The presence of alcohol can have ill effects on the scalp, however. This can mean that the product doesn’t work as intended, or the side effects are too much to continue use.
Fortunately, you can still see the same positive effects associated with minoxidil by making your own alcohol-free alternative at home. The best part? The ingredients you use are all-natural, and this means better long-term results.