Tretinoin & Minoxidil: A Secret Way To Treat Your Hair Loss?

Medically reviewedby Dr. Ahmad Chaudhry M.B.B.S.
WrittenbyLuat Duong
Last updated

Like most people, you've probably heard of tretinoin and minoxidil but aren't sure what they are or what they do.

Tretinoin is a prescription medication that comes in a cream or gel and treats acne.

Minoxidil is a topical solution used to promote hair growth in people with baldness or thinning hair.

In this blog post, we'll discuss the differences between tretinoin minoxidil.

We'll also talk about the potential side effects of each medication and when it is best to use them.

So, if you're curious about tretinoin and minoxidil, keep reading!

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What is tretinoin?

tretinoin applied on skin

Tretinoin is a form of vitamin A that helps the skin renew itself. The body naturally produces tretinoin but can also be made synthetically in a laboratory. Tretinoin is most commonly used to treat acne and hair loss, but it can also be used to reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles, dark spots, and rough skin.

When applied to the skin, tretinoin works by increasing the production of new skin cells. This revitalizes the skin and gives it a more youthful appearance. In addition, tretinoin helps to break down old skin cells, resulting in a smoother and more even complexion.

Tretinoin works by suppressing the regulation of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which helps this substance counteract the destruction of elastic and collagen fibers in the skin. Tretinoin also stimulates prolidase and MRC2 for increasing the recycling of collagen type 1. Individuals treated with tretinoin exhibit an increase in procollagen synthesis.

In addition to treating wrinkles, tretinoin is also useful for improving skin dyspigmentation. It performs this function by inhibiting the catalytic activity of tyrosinase, reducing the transfer of melanosomes, and increasing the elimination of keratinocytes that contain melanin.

Tretinoin also facilitates the penetration of hydroquinone in the skin, which is effective for the treatment of hyperpigmentation.

woman hair loss

While tretinoin is generally safe and effective, it can cause side effects such as dryness, redness, and peeling. Other common side effects of tretinoin include scaling and burning sensation. These adverse effects are related to the mode of application, frequency, and concentration of tretinoin or tretinoin-containing formulation.

As with any medication, it is essential to speak with a healthcare provider before using tretinoin.

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Does tretinoin work for hair loss?

There is no definitive answer to this question. Anecdotal evidence of tretinoin has been shown to promote hair growth in some people but not others.

Although tretinoin is approved for the treatment of dermatological conditions, its off-label use includes the treatment of hair loss. While it is typically used to treat acne, the question arises that whether tretinoin works for hair loss.

Studies on tretinoin and hair loss


Studies have shown that tretinoin can help to stimulate hair growth in both men and women. For example, in one study, men with androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) who used a 0.1% tretinoin cream for 12 weeks had an increase in hair density of 16%.

Tretinoin was originally developed for acne vulgaris in the 1970s. Still, researchers found that one of the side effects was hair growth.

In another study, women with alopecia areata (an autoimmune condition that causes patchy hair loss) who used a 0.025% tretinoin cream for 16 weeks had an increase in hair density of 19%.

A clinical trial published in 1986 assessed the use of topical tretinoin in promoting growth among the study participants. 56 study participants with androgenetic alopecia were given topical tretinoin alone and a combination of 0.5% minoxidil and topical tretinoin.

The results of this clinical trial revealed that the combined formulation led to terminal hair growth whereas topical tretinoin alone stimulated some regrowth of hair in 66% and 58% of the study participants, respectively.

Tretinoin works by increasing the growth phase of the hair cycle and by decreasing the shedding phase. It also thickens the hair shafts, which makes the hair appear fuller. Tretinoin promotes vascular proliferation, improves differentiation in the epithelium, and regulates cell proliferation.

It's thought that the medication may work by stimulating blood flow to the scalp and by increasing the production of new cells. However, more studies are needed to confirm these effects. If you're considering tretinoin for hair loss, talk to your doctor about the potential risks and benefits. Together, you can decide if this treatment is proper for you.

What are the side effects of tretinoin?


Tretinoin, also known as Retin-A, is a topical medication that is usually used to treat dermatological conditions, however, it is also considered in the treatment of hair loss. It is a form of vitamin A that speeds up cell turnover and prevents pores from becoming clogged.

Although it's an effective treatment for acne and hair loss, tretinoin can cause several side effects. These include skin irritation, dryness, redness, peeling, and burning. In some cases, tretinoin can also cause photosensitivity. This means that the skin becomes more sensitive to sunlight. As a result, it's essential to use sun protection when using tretinoin.

The side effects of topical use of tretinoin can be minimized by altering or modifying the drug delivery systems. Unilaminar vesicles with a negative charge have improved skin penetration, tretinoin retention, patient profile, and minimal side effects.

Tretinoin is available by prescription only, so be sure to talk to your doctor about whether it's right for you.

Is tretinoin safe to use?

side effects

Tretinoin is a widespread acne and hair loss treatment, but some people are concerned about its safety. While it's true that tretinoin can cause some side effects, such as dryness and irritation, these are typically less intense and go away with time.

In addition, tretinoin is one of the well-studied acne and hair loss treatments, and its safety profile is well-established. So if you're looking for an effective acne treatment that is also safe, tretinoin is a good option.

What is minoxidil?


Minoxidil is a peripheral vasodilator agent. This was initially developed as an oral pharmaceutical formulation for treating refractory hypertension.

During the use of oral minoxidil for refractory hypertension, the users developed hypertrichosis, which led to the development of topical minoxidil for the treatment of hair loss.

Owing to its working mechanism, you can use minoxidil for men and women.

Additionally, you can use minoxidil for traction alopecia, minoxidil for receding hairline, minoxidil for frontal baldness and minoxidil for temple hair loss.

Topical minoxidil is available in two formulations – minoxidil foam and liquid.

The current uses of minoxidil include androgenic alopecia, alopecia related to chemotherapy, scarring alopecia, alopecia areata, hereditary alopecia, and monilethrix. There are cases where patients are recommended to use minoxidil after hair transplant.

Oral minoxidil for hair growth is also used occasionally.

How does minoxidil work for hair growth?

Minoxidil is covered in minoxidil sulfate and this conversion is catalyzed by the enzyme in the scalp known as sulfotransferase.

Minoxidil works by shortening the span of the telogen phase of the hair growth cycle, which causes the quiescent hair follicles to progress to the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle prematurely. Minoxidil prolongs the anagen phase.

Minoxidil stimulates the potassium channels present in the hair follicles and vascular smooth muscle. This stimulates vasodilation, increased the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), increases hair growth directly by functioning as an epidermal growth factor, and also activates prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase one for stimulating hair growth.

How effective is minoxidil for hair growth?

minoxidil derma roller man

Statistically, minoxidil only works on 6 out of 10 of users - which means for 4 people, minoxidil is not working.

Many factors affect this, however.

Minoxidil starts working immediately, but can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months to show visible result.

If you apply minoxidil correctly once a day, you should be able to see these minoxidil results.

If you want to boost its effectiveness, you can use minoxidil with dermaroller.

What are the side effects of minoxidil?

man with hair shedding from minoxidil

Minoxidil is a well-tolerated pharmaceutical formulation.

The most visible one is probably when you start seeing hair shedding from minoxidil - called minoxidil shedding.

The adverse effects observed in some patients include isolated pruritus, skin irritation (seborrheic dermatitis exacerbation, erythema, and discomfort), minoxidil-induced telogen effluvium, allergic contact dermatitis in susceptible individuals, and localized or generalized hypertrichosis.

The use of minoxidil may also be associated with some drug interactions. Systemic cyclosporine can further enhance the side effects of minoxidil such as hypertrichosis.

More severe ones are minoxidil side effects sexually, mentally and physically.

These symptoms improve upon stopping the topical application of minoxidil.

The co-administration of topical minoxidil and baby aspirin can affect the efficacy of minoxidil. The underlying mechanism is the suppression of sulfotransferase by baby aspirin.

See 7 best alternatives to minoxidil to avoid nasty side effects

Should you take tretinoin, minoxidil or both?

tretinoin minoxidil before and after results

If you're looking for an answer to the question, "Should you take tretinoin, minoxidil or both?" the answer is a small yes.

Tretinoin is a retinoid, which is a powerful type of vitamin A that helps to encourage cell turnover and keep pores clear. Minoxidil is a vessel dilator that widens blood vessels and improves blood flow.

These ingredients are essential for keeping hair follicles healthy, so taking them together is often the best way to promote hair growth.

Of course, other products on the market contain these ingredients, but taking them in pill form ensures that you're getting the proper dosage of each one. However, you shall consult your doctor prior to the intake of these medications.

So if you're looking for the best way to promote hair growth, taking tretinoin and minoxidil together is probably your best bet.

But, this is not a medical consensus. Please consult your doctor before doing so.


Tretinoin is a form of vitamin A that is generally used for the treatment of different dermatological conditions such as acne and the visible signs of aging.

Tretinoin works by improving cell proliferation, preventing the destruction of elastic and collagen fibers in the skin, and treating dyspigmentation of the skin.

The off-label of tretinoin include its use for the treatment of hair loss. It improves cell proliferation as well as promotes blood supply to the hair follicles by mediating vascular proliferation.

Tretinoin can be paired with topical minoxidil for accelerating hair growth and combating hair loss.

You consult your doctor before doing so - your doctor might prescribe nanoxidil or finasteride instead of minoxidil.

See a guaranteed and safe solution to your hair growth


Shin, H. S., Won, C. H., Lee, S. H., Kwon, O. S., Kim, K. H., & Eun, H. C. (2007). Efficacy of 5% Minoxidil versus Combined 5% Minoxidil and 0.01% Tretinoin for Male Pattern Hair Loss. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 8(5), 285–290.

Sharma, A., Goren, A., Dhurat, R., Agrawal, S., Sinclair, R., Trüeb, R. M., Vañó‐Galván, S., Chen, G., Tan, Y., Kovacevic, M., Situm, M., & McCoy, J. (2019). Tretinoin enhances minoxidil response in androgenetic alopecia patients by upregulating follicular sulfotransferase enzymes. Dermatologic Therapy, 32(3).

Badri T, Nessel TA, Kumar D D. Minoxidil. [Updated 2021 Dec 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:

Sitohang, I., Makes, W. I., Sandora, N., & Suryanegara, J. (2022). Topical tretinoin for treating photoaging: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. International journal of women's dermatology, 8(1), e003.

Bazzano, G. S., Terezakis, N., & Galen, W. (1986). Topical tretinoin for hair growth promotion. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 15(4 Pt 2), 880–893.

Raminelli, A. C., Romero, V., Semreen, M. H., & Leonardi, G. R. (2018). Nanotechnological advances for cutaneous release of tretinoin: an approach to minimize side effects and improve therapeutic efficacy. Current medicinal chemistry, 25(31), 3703-3718

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Luat Duong

Luat Duong is a Copenhagen-based writer and content strategist specializing in hair loss and health. His work has been featured in MyHealthGuide, The Right Hairstyles, and Woman's Era. He is a graduate of Vaasa University. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.