Nanoxidil vs Minoxidil: What’s the difference?

Minoxidil works for many men with hair loss. But Nanoxidil, a recently developed alternative, may be even better. We dive into the science behind both.

Last updated: Jan 3rd, 2023
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In this Review

Nanoxidil vs minoxidil in a nutshell
Nanoxidil vs minoxidil for ease of use
What is minoxidil?
What is nanoxidil?
Side effects and safety: nanoxidil vs minoxidil
Nanoxidil vs Minoxidil Guide

If you struggle with hair loss, you’re not alone. Half of all men will experience some form of hair loss before they reach 50. The good news is that there are plenty of effective strategies to stop hair loss and even regrow hair.

Minoxidil is one such strategy, and it has a proven track record of helping men with androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) and other forms of hair loss. Minoxidil has been around as a hair loss treatment for nearly 40 years, but it’s certainly not perfect. Nanoxidil, by comparison, is virtually brand new. It doesn’t have the same amount of research behind it, but early studies indicate a similar efficacy as minoxidil in addition to a lower side effect profile.

Nanoxidil vs minoxidil in a nutshell

nanoxidil and minoxidil molecular differences

Molecularly, nanoxidil and minoxidil are nearly identical. Ultimately, nanoxidil has one less carbon atom and two fewer hydrogen atoms. That gives it a lower molecular weight and an extremely slight size advantage over minoxidil. In practice, this allows it to absorb into your skin slightly faster than minoxidil, giving it more penetration before evaporating.

How exactly such a subtle difference in structure can make such a significant difference in side effects is unclear at this point. Still, early studies look favorably on nanoxidil, with no reported adverse effects from using nanoxidil.

It’s very important to note that minoxidil has been studied rigorously for decades, while nanoxidil is in its infancy, having only been part of the landscape of hair loss treatments for a decade. But if the results of these few studies hold up in future trials, we could definitively say that nanoxidil is superior to minoxidil.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of each:

Our recommendation for most people: Minoxidil

Right now, we believe minoxidil to be the easiest to recommend of the two. Given the higher cost and lack of diverse options on the market, nanoxidil is still somewhat of a niche product in the hair loss space. It’s very promising, while minoxidil is tried and true. Since there have been decades of clinical research into the safety and efficacy of minoxidil, its side effect profile shouldn’t necessarily scare you away.

However, if you have a sensitive scalp, have had irritation from using minoxidil, or are simply interested in avoiding possible side effects and don’t mind spending a little extra money, nanoxidil could be your ideal place to start.

Top pick for minoxidil

Minoxidil from Keeps is a safe and effective choice for hair loss treatment and prevention.

Getting minoxidil from Keeps is very simple with their online interface, and you can choose between solution or foam. Their product is clinically proven and delivered straight to your front door.

Top pick for nanoxidil
DS Laboratories Nanoxidil

DS Laboratories is not just the best place to get nanoxidil – it’s the only place to get nanoxidil right now. Start your hair regrowth journey today.

A trustworthy pioneer in hair and skin care, they also offer minoxidil. Nanoxidil treatments include beneficial botanicals as well. Choose from a variety of nanoxidil-based hair loss solutions and enjoy free shipping too.

Nanoxidil vs minoxidil for ease of use

Applying either minoxidil or nanoxidil is a straightforward process (though the application of minoxidil does depend on whether it’s in a liquid or foam form). The two treatments are similar enough that the instructions for one apply identically to the other. Follow these simple steps, and you should see positive results:

  1. Ensure that your hair and scalp are completely dry. You don’t have to bathe or shower before application, but if you do, make sure to dry thoroughly.
  2. Apply the prescribed amount of solution directly from the dropper to the scalp. If using foam, apply the foam to your fingers first.
  3. Gently rub the solution or foam into your scalp. It won’t completely absorb during this step. Absorption and drying take up to four hours.
  4. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  5. Wait at least four hours before washing your hair, wearing a hat or helmet, or going to sleep.

What is minoxidil?

Before becoming part of Pfizer, the Upjohn Company developed minoxidil in the late 1950s to treat ulcers. The company found that it failed to produce the desired effect on ulcers in its initial trials but noticed its proficiency as a vasodilator. After several more years of development, they landed on what we know as minoxidil. It took until 1979 for them to gain approval from the FDA for minoxidil as a blood pressure medication marketed under the name Loniten.

In later studies to test Loniten’s potential to treat hypertension, study administrators found unexpected hair growth to be a common and baffling side effect. That caused a significant shift in minoxidil trials, which would subsequently focus almost exclusively on treating hair loss. After nearly a decade of doctors prescribing Loniten off-label for hair loss, the FDA approved minoxidil specifically for hair loss and marketed under the brand name Rogaine.

Doctors often recommend minoxidil for balding at the crown or vertex; receding hairlines often fail to respond to it. Some users report success in treating frontal baldness with minoxidil, but we consider these anecdotal reports insufficient to recommend minoxidil for frontal hair loss. That said, numerous studies verify its efficacy and safety for its intended target at the crown and vertex.

How to use

You should apply minoxidil twice daily. We recommend finding a routine that you can keep to with ease, such as one application before heading to work and another before dinner. You should not sleep less than four hours after applying minoxidil, as the solution can migrate to your pillow and then to other unintended areas of the body.

Chemistry and mechanism of action

Chemically, minoxidil acts as an adenosine 5'-triphosphate-sensitive potassium channel opener, though its exact mechanism of action is the subject of some debate in the scientific community. The prevailing theory is that it allows more oxygen, nutrients, and blood to reach your follicles than would otherwise be the case.

There’s also reason to believe that minoxidil may act as a nitric oxide agonist, causing your weak follicles in the telogen phase to fall out (a process we call shedding). As your follicles enter a new anagen phase, they come in much more robustly thanks to the increased delivery of blood, oxygen, and nutrients. The process results in the revival of dormant follicles and a thickening and strengthening of existing hair.

Our recommendation

There are a lot of outstanding online providers from whom you can get minoxidil. In our opinion, Keeps is currently the best place to get minoxidil for hair loss. They provide it as either a foam or a solution, and their prices are hard to beat.

Keeps also provides its patients with free access to their prescribing physician through a simple messaging interface. That way, if you have any questions or concerns before or after you begin treatment, you can get the information you need quickly.

What is nanoxidil?

In 2011, Divine Skin Inc. developed nanoxidil specifically to fight hair loss. This was more than 30 years after the FDA first approved minoxidil for blood pressure. Divine Skin intended to create a product with greater efficacy and tolerability, so even patients with sensitive scalps could use it. Early studies indicate success, with an efficacy profile at least as significant as minoxidil and a generally superior level of tolerability.

Divine Skin’s subsidiary, DS Laboratories, is the only company offering nanoxidil products to consumers. The company also provides minoxidil treatments and a host of additional products geared toward fighting hair loss. You can read more about DS Laboratories in our complete review.

DS Laboratories claims nanoxidil will work for hair loss at the crown or vertex and at the front of the scalp. This makes it a potential replacement for finasteride, which studies show works well on receding hairlines but also comes with unpleasant risks.

How to use

Like minoxidil, nanoxidil operates on a twice-daily regimen. You’ll apply your nanoxidil solution once in the morning and again in the evening. You also don’t want to go to bed before your application has a chance to dry completely, which takes about four hours.

Chemistry and mechanism of action

Divine Skin based nanoxidil on the molecular structure of minoxidil, so it should act in much the same manner when you apply it. It will likely serve as an adenosine 5'-triphosphate-sensitive potassium channel opener with noteworthy effects in circulation and oxygen and nutrient delivery.

To date, the studies indicate that nanoxidil produces similar results in a similar timeframe as minoxidil. Given the similarities in performance and molecular structure, we feel it’s safe to assume that the mechanisms of action are also similar, but further study is needed to make any such declaration.

Our recommendation

Since there is only one reputable provider for nanoxidil at the time of this writing, we recommend them: DS Laboratories. We think the fact that they offer both minoxidil and nanoxidil speaks to their credibility, as they aren’t exclusively trying to undercut the market for a competitive medication. We also appreciate that they include botanical supplements in their nanoxidil formula to maximize its efficacy.

Side effects and safety: nanoxidil vs minoxidil

Side effects with minoxidil are both rare and mild but may include the following:

  • Itching or rash
  • Burning of scalp
  • Acne
  • Increased hair loss
  • Swelling of face
  • Changes in vision
  • Chest pain
  • Sore roots
  • Lightheadedness
  • Facial hair growth
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Reddened skin
  • Fainting
  • Unusual heartbeat
  • Flushing
  • Headache
  • Rapid weight gain

If you experience any of these side effects, you should discontinue use and consult with your physician.

Meanwhile, at this point in the research, there are no established adverse effects from nanoxidil. It’s too early in the studies to conclude that there will be no side effects in the short or long term for all users – nanoxidil has been but these initial results are very encouraging.