Although some men prefer to be clean-shaven, for others, a full, thick beard is a sign of masculinity and virility. While many men might want a beard, growing full facial hair isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone.
Fortunately, there are treatment options available if you’d like a beard but have had difficulty growing one on your own. Among the treatment options are surgery, such as a beard transplant, and some medications.
If you’re interested in medication to grow a mustache or beard, here’s what you should know about the options out there and how they compare to surgical hair restoration.
The Basics of Beards
Before reviewing the details of a beard transplant or medications list, it can be helpful to take a look at facial hair, what causes it to grow, and why some people seem to grow it more easily than others.
What is Facial Hair?
Facial hair is hair that grows on the face. While many people think of only mustaches and beards when they think about facial hair, this category also includes the sideburns and hair that grows on the neck. Although eyebrows grow on the face, they usually don’t get included in the category of facial hair.
It’s often assumed that facial hair is something that only men develop. But women can also grow facial hair. On many women, the hair that grows on the upper lip, chin, and cheeks is little more than peach fuzz and is barely visible to the naked eye.
Some women do develop thicker, darker facial hair, though. Usually, when women have more prominent facial hair, it’s a result of hormonal imbalances. Women with higher-than-usual levels of androgens (aka male hormones) tend to have more visible facial hair.
Women with a condition called hirsutism often have dark and prominent facial hair. According to Healthline, up to 10% of women might have the condition. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can also contribute to facial hair growth in women.
Some women notice that their facial hair becomes darker or more visible after they go through menopause.
Men can have the opposite problem from women. While many women want to remove or hide any visible facial hair, plenty of men wish that they had more or that they could grow a thick, full beard.
During puberty, male facial hair typically starts to come in. Although the exact age varies, many boys start to notice the initial signs of hair growth between the ages of 13 and 16.
As male facial hair begins to grow, it first appears on the upper lip, then the sideburns, cheeks, and chin, according to Gillette. Finally, some boys grow facial hair on the neck.
Facial hair is often thicker, usually twice as thick, as scalp hair. It also grows faster, at an average rate of 1/4 mm every 24 hours.
Factors That Affect Beard Growth
Some men grow thick, full beards almost effortlessly while others seem to remain baby-faced their entire lives. It can also be the case that some guys grow hair on some areas of their face but not others. Patchy beard growth isn’t uncommon.
How much hair you can grow on your face is usually affected by several factors. These include:
Just as guys who have dads or grandparents who had male pattern baldness are more likely to have male pattern baldness, guys who have dads or grandparents who could grow thick beards are also more likely to grow thick beards.
One of the biggest factors that determines how much or how little facial hair you’ll have is your genes. Your genes influence the ability of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) to bind to certain receptors in the hair follicles, according to Healthline.
DHT is a hormone produced from testosterone. The enzyme 5-alpha reductase turns testosterone into DHT. Some men have hair follicles that are very sensitive to DHT, meaning that their body easily stimulates hair growth on the face.
There’s not much you can do to change your genes, so either you’re born naturally receptive to DHT or you’re not.
One thing to take comfort in, if thick, full beards don’t seem to run in your family is that while DHT encourages facial hair growth, it also plays a significant role in male pattern baldness. Too much DHT weakens the hair follicles on the top of the scalp, leading to thinning hair.
Speaking of DHT, hormones play a big role in determining the amount of facial hair a person has. Just as women with higher-than-average levels of testosterone are more likely to develop unwanted facial hair, men with lower-than-average testosterone levels are likely to struggle to grow a beard.
Low testosterone levels, also called hypogonadism or low-T, develops when the testes don’t produce enough testosterone, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It affects around 40% of men, usually over the age of 45.
Several factors can contribute to low levels of testosterone, including excess alcohol consumption, weight, and medications. Although a loss of body and facial hair is a common sign of low-T, it’s not the only symptom. Men with low-T might also have depression, a decreased sex drive, and difficulties concentrating.
To diagnose low-T, a doctor will usually test testosterone levels several times, as the hormone levels can fluctuate throughout the day. Usually, the doctor will order a blood draw in the morning, as that is when testosterone levels tend to be at their highest.
If low-T is contributing to facial hair issues and other problems, hormone replacement therapy, usually with injections, a patch, or a gel, can help to raise testosterone levels and improve symptoms.
Alopecia refers to hair loss. One particular type of alopecia that can affect facial hair growth is alopecia areata.
When a person has alopecia areata, the immune system attacks the hair follicles. The condition causes hair to fall out in patches that are usually about the size of a quarter, according to WebMD.
Some people with alopecia areata only lose hair from the scalp. Others have alopecia areata universalis, which means they can lose hair all over the body, including on the face.
The exact cause of alopecia areata isn’t known but often, people with other conditions that affect the immune system, such as allergies or asthma, are at an increased risk of developing it. There’s no cure for the condition but management and treatment options are available.
Similar to your genes, your ethnic background can also play a part in determining how much facial hair you have or whether you can naturally grow a beard at all.
For example, people from the area around the Mediterranean Sea tend to have thicker beard growth than people of other ethnicities, the Cleveland Clinic notes. Some studies have found that Chinese men often have less facial hair growth than white men.
The pattern of hair growth can also be affected by ethnicity. Chinese men are more likely to have hair growth on the upper lip rather than all over the face, for instance.
How old a man is can also affect how much facial hair he has. Usually, guys start to grow facial hair during puberty. As mentioned above, the hair tends to grow in stages, with the earliest hair appearing above the lip and then in other areas of the face.
This can mean that the amount of facial hair you have at age 16 is considerably less than the amount of facial hair you will have at age 18.
Even if you’re technically beyond puberty and are in your 20s or early 30s and still don’t have thick or full facial hair, your facial hair might still be developing. Some men see their facial hair coverage continue to thicken or expand up until about the age of 30.
If you’re past age 30 and aren’t happy with your facial hair coverage, then it might be time to take action so you can grow a beard you feel proud of.
Beard Growth Medications
Trying to grow a beard or mustache when your hair comes in patchy all over or doesn’t seem to grow at all can be a frustrating experience. There are many medications available that promise to help hair grow.
Can beard skin medication help encourage hair growth? Or are you better off trying another option, such as a beard transplant? Let’s take a look at a few hair loss medications and see how they stack up if used to encourage facial hair growth.
Often better known by the brand name Rogaine, Minoxidil has a long history of helping hair grow. The product is FDA-approved for use on the scalp and can be used by both men and women.
While minoxidil isn’t FDA-approved for use on the face or to encourage beard growth, some have wondered if it can help them grow thicker facial hair. The jury is still out on that, and it’s likely that there are more effective treatment options. Here’s a closer look at minoxidil.
When minoxidil first became available, it wasn’t a medication approved to treat hair loss. Instead, it was marketed to treat high blood pressure. As the Pharmaceutical Journal notes, when used to treat hypertension (aka high blood pressure), minoxidil had a lot of unpleasant side effects.
It also had one unexpected, positive side effect: taking the oral form of the medicine often leads to hypertrichosis or excessive hair growth.
Curious about the cause of the hypertrichosis, researchers decided to pursue clinical trials investigating the effects a topical form of the medicine could have on atrophied or weakened hair follicles. The studies found that the medicine was able to enlarge the hair follicles, stimulating hair growth.
While it’s not clear how minoxidil encourages hair growth, the medicine is part of a class of medications called vasodilators, which help the blood vessels become wider. The product is available over-the-counter in two concentrations: 2% and 5%.
It’s available for both men and women and comes in a liquid form and a foam form.
How to Use Minoxidil
Minoxidil is a topical medication, meaning you apply it to the skin in the areas where you want hair to grow. When used on the scalp, the medicine is usually massaged into the areas where hair is thinning or patchy. Both the hair and scalp need to be clean and dry before you use the medication.
Since minoxidil can transfer to other surfaces or to other parts of the body, it’s important to let it fully dry before styling the hair or before lying down. If the medicine gets on another area of the body, such as the nose or arm, and there are hair follicles in that area, the product could stimulate hair growth there.
At the moment, minoxidil is labeled for use on the scalp only, not on other areas of the head or the face. As Healthline points out, there isn’t much research that’s been done examining minoxidil’s effectiveness or safety when used as a medication to make your beard grow. It’s possible that it would cause unpleasant side effects.
Benefits of Minoxidil
When used as directed, minoxidil has several benefits. One of the most notable benefits is that it can help stimulate hair growth and minimize areas of thinning hair or bald spots on the scalp.
It can take a few months before you notice a change when using minoxidil but many people start to notice fuller, thicker hair after about three months. With continued use, the hair will continue to grow. Along with encouraging hair growth, the medicine also thickens the hair.
Risks of Minoxidil
Minoxidil does have some side effects. Some of the more common side effects include irritation of the scalp, usually in the form of redness or itching. Some people develop acne in the treatment area or experience swelling.
Interestingly, a side effect of minoxidil used to treat thinning hair on the scalp is an increase in hair growth on the face. More severe side effects can include dizziness, rapid, unexplained weight gain, and a racing heart. If you have any of those side effects after using the medicine, stop applying it and contact your doctor right away.
Some people shouldn’t use minoxidil at all, whether they want to increase the hair on their scalp or stimulate facial hair growth. The treatment isn’t recommended for pregnant women. Nor is it recommended for people with a history of allergic reactions to any of its ingredients or to people with certain chronic medical conditions.
One thing worth noting about minoxidil is that you need to keep using it to maintain any results you get. Once you stop applying the medicine, hair growth will slow and the hair will return to the way it was before you started using the medication.
Will Minoxidil Help You Grow a Beard?
While minoxidil can help hair grow and might increase hair growth on the face, it’s usually not the best option for stimulating facial hair growth, for a few reasons.
First, it’s not FDA-approved for beard growth, meaning there haven’t been extensive studies examining the product’s effectiveness when it comes to increasing facial hair. Second, there’s a chance that the topical product will cause facial skin irritation, increasing redness, itching, or even contributing to acne.
Another thing to consider is that you might not have the hair follicles needed for minoxidil to work. The product stimulates hair growth in weakened follicles and some men just don’t have that many hair follicles on their face, due to genes or their ethnic background. Without the necessary hair follicles, there’s no way for hair to grow.
Your best bet is to use minoxidil on your scalp if you’re concerned about male pattern baldness and talk to a hair restoration specialist about other ways to stimulate facial hair growth.
Finasteride has two functions. It can help to treat hair loss due to male pattern baldness and it can help to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, aka an enlarged prostate. While the medication can help restore hair on the scalp, it’s less effective at encouraging facial hair growth.
Like minoxidil, finasteride didn’t begin life as a medicine to treat hair loss. Instead, it was first approved to treat enlarged prostates in 1992, according to the National Library of Medicine.
When used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, finasteride helps to reduce the occurrence of urinary difficulties. It also reduces the need for prostate surgery.
The medication works by blocking 5-alpha-reductase, the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT. DHT can enlarge the prostate and shrink certain types of hair follicles. Finasteride also helps to increase levels of testosterone in the body, which also helps to improve the health of certain hair follicles and can shrink the prostate.
How to Use Finasteride
When used to treat male pattern baldness and stimulate hair growth, finasteride is often sold under the name Propecia. It can also be sold in generic form. The medicine is taken orally and is available in tablet form.
You need to get a prescription from your doctor to take finasteride for hair growth. The most common dosage is 1 milligram, taken once a day. Your doctor might adjust your dose as they see fit, based on your hair loss and how you respond to the medicine.
As with any prescription medicine, it’s important to take finasteride as prescribed. Try not to miss doses. If you do forget to take the pill one day, don’t double up the next day.
Often, the best thing to do is just skip the missed dose and take the medicine as prescribed the next day. Taking higher than prescribed doses of finasteride can increase your risk of developing side effects. Missing doses regularly can mean the medicine doesn’t work as it should
Benefits of Finasteride
The primary benefit of finasteride, when taken for hair loss, is that it helps to reverse the effects of male pattern baldness by blocking DHT. Men who take the medicine as prescribed and who continue to take it often see improvement in hair growth on the scalp.
Risks of Finasteride
Using finasteride isn’t without its risks, though. Some of the more common side effects of the medication include chills, dizziness, and confusion. Some men also report that the medicine affects their libido, leading to a decrease in their sex drive or an increase in erectile dysfunction.
The medicine can also cause severe side effects, including facial swelling, hives, and trouble breathing. Some men experience gynecomastia, or enlargement of the breast tissue. Infertility can also occur in men who use finasteride.
Finasteride is only approved for use by men. In fact, the medicine shouldn’t even be handled by pregnant women, as there is a risk of it causing birth defects in male fetuses. It’s also not approved for use by children.
Like minoxidil, the benefits of finasteride will only last for as long as a man continues to take the medicine. Once you stop using it, the enzyme will no longer block DHT and the hormone can once again weaken or shrink certain hair follicles.
Will Finasteride Help You Grow a Beard?
At the moment, finasteride is only approved to treat hair loss due to male pattern baldness. It most likely won’t have any impact on your facial hair, as the follicles on the face aren’t susceptible to DHT like the follicles on the scalp are.
Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years. You might have seen it marketed as a “vampire facial” when it is used to help reverse the signs of aging on the face. PRP might also help to stimulate hair growth, both on the scalp and on the face.
What Is PRP Therapy?
PRP therapy is a multi-step treatment that uses your body’s own platelets to stimulate healing and growth. The process works something like this:
- A doctor takes blood from your body.
- The doctor separates the platelets from the blood.
- The platelets are injected into the treatment area.
To understand how PRP can work, it’s important to understand what platelets are. Platelets are small fragments of cells that play an important role in helping your blood clot. They also produce growth factors, which aid in the healing process.
It’s thought that platelets, when injected directly into an area, can speed up healing, stimulate follicle growth or improve cell turnover. Along with use as a hair restoration treatment, PRP therapy has been used to help rejuvenate the skin and help athletes heal from injury.
Can PRP Therapy Help Encourage Beard Growth?
Compared to other medical treatments for beard growth, PRP therapy looks promising. The treatment can stimulate the hair follicles, helping facial hair to grow.
It’s important to note that there needs to be enough follicles on the face and in the area where you’d like a beard to grow for PRP therapy to be effective. For that reason, you might find that combining the treatment with surgical hair restoration helps you get the results you want.
How to Grow a Beard With Acne Medication
Spironolactone is another medicine that follows a pattern similar to minoxidil or finasteride, in that it wasn’t specifically created to treat hair loss. Instead, spironolactone’s initial purpose was to treat fluid retention and high blood pressure. It’s an aldosterone receptor antagonist, AKA a water pill or diuretic.
Another use of spironolactone is as an acne medication. The medication blocks certain androgens, which can help it to clear up acne.
Blocking androgens can also help the medicine treat hair loss. Currently, the medication is used to treat hair loss in women but not men, according to Healthline. In many cases, the acne medication is combined with minoxidil to improve results.
That means you might not be able to grow a beard with spironolactone.
Along with not being particularly effective, there are a few other reasons to reconsider using an acne medication in an attempt to grow a thicker beard. Spironolactone can have some unpleasant side effects.
Since it is a diuretic, it will make you have to pee more. More frequent urination can mean you get dehydrated more easily and feel thirsty more frequently. Increased urination can also affect your kidney and liver function.
Supplements for Beard Growth
Take a stroll down the vitamin aisle at any drug store and you’re likely to see plenty of products promising to help you grow a fuller, thicker beard. Are beard-growth supplements worth your money?
It’s hard to say, as so many factors can affect your facial hair growth. While some vitamins, such as B vitamins and vitamin D, have been connected to improved hair growth or thicker hair growth, they won’t do much to help you if you don’t have the hair follicles already.
Instead, it’s probably better to focus on making sure you eat a balanced diet and ensuring that your nutritional needs are met for overall health rather than search for a magic bullet that will make your beard grow.
Do Surgeons Recommend Medication to Grow a Full Beard?
If you were to book a consultation with a hair restoration surgeon, would they recommend medications to you to help your facial hair? Since no hair growth medicines, including minoxidil or finasteride, are approved for beard growth and might not have much effect on your facial hair, the odds are likely that a surgeon wouldn’t recommend them.
Medicines also have other drawbacks, such as the fact that you need to keep taking them to see any improvement and the risk of side effects. A plastic surgeon can discuss more permanent and effective options for facial hair restoration, such as a beard transplant, however.
Should You Avoid Medications to Make Your Beard Grow?
Generally speaking, medications won’t do much to help improve your facial hair. Supplements might make your hair feel thicker, but they won’t solve the problem altogether.
Unless a surgeon or other medical professional specifically tells you to try medicine to grow your beard, your best bet is to consider other options. Medications can be expensive and often involve unwanted side effects.
How to Grow a Beard Without Medication
If your genes or family background have worked against you, keeping you from getting the beard of your dreams, you have options. A beard transplant can take follicles from one part of your body and transfer them to your face, helping you grow a thick, full beard.
Benefits of a Beard Transplant Over Medication
Although a beard transplant is a surgical procedure, it does have several benefits over medication for the right person. For one thing, the results you get from beard restoration are permanent. You don’t have to see a plastic surgeon for follow-ups nor do you have to take medication for the rest of your life.
If you decide that you don’t want a beard anymore after a successful transplant, you can do what men have done for years and shave it off.
Another benefit of a beard transplant over medication is that it’s a specially designed procedure just for facial hair. When a hair restoration specialist performs beard restoration, they are taking the specific needs of the facial area in mind.
There’s also a reduced risk of systemic side effects following a beard transplant. Some people have swelling and itching in the scalp or facial area after the surgery, but those issues usually resolve quickly.
Is a Beard Transplant Right for You?
If your goal is to get a full, thick beard and you don’t seem to be able to grow one naturally, a beard transplant might be a good option for you. Some things to consider to help you decide if hair restoration is a good choice include:
- The amount of hair on your scalp or body: The hair used during a beard transplant has to come from your own body, not a donor’s. If you have alopecia areata universalis or have limited head or body hair, you might not have enough hair for the transplant to succeed.
- Your schedule: You’ll want to take at least a day or two off for a beard transplant and might need a few more days following the surgery to recover.
- Your budget: A beard transplant isn’t likely to be covered by your insurance, so you will most likely have to pay out of pocket. Financing is available to help the transplant fit into your budget.
Other Tips to Help You Grow a Beard
While there’s no magic bullet or simple solution that will encourage facial hair growth, there are some things you can do to help improve the health of your beard, either before or after a beard transplant.
One thing to try is to improve your diet. Certain vitamins and minerals play an important role in the health of your hair.
For example, vitamin D might help improve follicle health, according to Healthline. Eggs and fish are both good dietary sources of vitamin D.
B vitamins, such as B12 and biotin, can also help improve the health of your hair. Food sources of biotin include nuts and whole grains, while fish and meat are good sources of vitamin B12.
Another tip that can potentially help improve facial hair growth is to remember to relax. High stress levels can contribute to hair loss, due to an increase in cortisol. Stress also affects your overall health, which can have a negative effect on hair growth.
While there are hair loss medications available, including minoxidil for men and women and finasteride for men, no medications are specifically approved to help improve facial hair growth. Medication used to grow a mustache or beard is typically used off-label.
Generally speaking, it’s better to consider other options, such a beard restoration surgery, than to try medications for beard growth.
Many medications have side effects, including those you might use to stimulate beard growth. Side effects can range from skin irritation and redness to a loss of libido, depending on the medication you try.
In some cases, patience is all that you need to encourage facial hair growth. Beard growth can develop up through the age of 30. If you have patchy or thin growth after age 30, a beard transplant can help you get the thick, full beard you want.
Some vitamins, such as vitamin D, B12, and biotin, might help your hair. But it’s important to consider the value of supplements for your overall health, rather than try to “spot treat” using them.
Yes, it’s possible to have a beard transplant and PRP therapy together. PRP therapy might help improve the results of your beard transplant by stimulating the follicles. A plastic surgeon can help you decide if combining the two treatments is right for you.
A beard transplant might not help to restore hair loss due to alopecia areata, as the cause of the hair loss is the immune system attacking the follicles. Transplanted hair could be affected if the condition isn’t controlled. Likewise, beard alopecia medication is likely to be ineffective.
A beard transplant can help you overcome your genes or family history of sparse or patchy facial hair. Talk to a plastic surgeon to learn more.
Discuss Your Beard Restoration Options
Dr. Anthony Bared is a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon and hair restoration specialist with a renowned practice in Miami, Florida. He offers beard transplants and PRP therapy to help patients grow thicker, fuller beards and facial hair. To learn more about how you can get the beard of your dreams, call 305-912-9646 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Bared today.