A typical Minox Beard Journey starts early in the morning. After all, the first steps alone will take you four hours to complete.
You begin by washing your face. Plain water is fine. Next, you apply Minoxidil (the over-the-counter medication also sold as Rogaine) — either via liquid (with the aid of a dropper) or foam. Your massage the drug into your existing beard with water-cooled fingers. It’ll take 10 minutes for the solution to dry. For the aforementioned next four hours, avoid touching cats: Minoxidil is toxic to them. Also verboten: Kissing, sunscreen (at least on your face), swimming and/or sweating. When the four hours are up, you wash your face a second time, and apply moisturizer. (Dry and itchy skin are common side effects.) Repeat the whole process again in 10 to 12 hours — and every day thereafter for the next couple of years (bare minimum).
As a trans man, I’ve worn a beard since transitioning at age 24. On the rare occasions in the 20 years since when I’ve shaved it off, I’ve immediately regretted it. In a group for trans men I administer, one member recently commented that “growing a beard is the defining gender statement for many trans guys.” It’s a sentiment, though, many cis men share, too. A beard signals maturity and masculinity. And so, whatever the reason a man can’t grow a beard, some still aren’t content to live without it. Until his face tells the world with whiskers that he’s tough, in charge, authentic and ready for commitment, he lives at odds with himself.
To close this gap, such men seek out facial-hair enhancers. Jamaican black castor oil, beard-grooming products free of DHT blockers (DHT is dihydrotestosterone, a powerful androgen) and vitamin supplements like L-carnitine are just some of the dozens of “miracle products” you can buy that promise thicker, longer beards. As for Minoxidil, it’s the most popular pharmaceutical solution to a beardless life.
To that end, men who have decided to try to grow a beard using Minoxidil have formed a subculture online, in which older and more experienced beardsmen guide the new guys through the ins and outs of sprouting facial hair this way. In particular, beard-growth support forums are filled with before-and-after photos, recommendations and progress reports. The Minox Beard Spot is the most popular such forum on Facebook, with more than 50,000 members. In one typical post, a member writes, “Before and after shots for motivation lol. I don’t look like a kid anymore. Beard on guys!”
Scientifically speaking, Minoxidil has been shown to restore hair on the crown of the head in about half of users. “Medical literature describes it as shortening the follicular telogen (or resting) phase to stimulate hair growth,” says Eric Meininger, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. (One of Meininger’s areas of specialty is transgender medicine.) Topical treatment with Minoxidil is most successful in younger men who have lost hair in a relatively small area within the past three to five years.
Still, for both trans and cis men, Meininger explains, “The pubertal beard usually comes in gradually with prolonged androgen exposure. I’m not sure that Minoxidil would make it come in any faster.” He says of trans men in particular that Minoxidil “would be unlikely to stimulate significant beard growth prior to starting testosterone.”
That said, as reported in online forums, a side effect of Minoxidil is increased body hair growth. The drug was originally developed to treat high blood pressure by enlarging the diameters of peripheral blood vessels. Pilgrims on the Minox Beard Journey believe that it’s this vasodilation effect that feeds the growth of hair follicles, bumping puny vellus hair producers up a weight class toward terminal. Through phases of shedding and regrowth, members assure one another, peach fuzz can be gradually converted to thick beard hair.
Basik Ali is considered a founder of the Minox Beard community. As such, I ask him to break down the science behind Minoxidil and beard growth as he sees it. “Minox, in a sense, stimulates the growth of vellus hairs, which over time, given enough blood flow and DHT, will shed and be replaced with terminal hairs.” DHT is a strong androgen that our body makes from testosterone. While DHT signals androgen receptors to make hair follicles grow softer, finer hair on our scalps, it does the exact opposite on our faces: Instead, DHT stimulates terminal beard hair growth. According to Ali, Minoxidil “gets rid of DHT in the scalp” through the same increased blood flow as it brings more DHT to the beard area.
It’s important to note that the FDA hasn’t approved the use of topical Minoxidil on any other part of the body except the scalp. In a published letter on a small study of Minoxidil on beard growth in the Journal of Dermatology, the authors report modest gains, obtained almost entirely from new vellus hairs.
Nonetheless, a relentless positivity bonds online Minox Beard communities. Every new vellus hair is celebrated as a gain, and every hair lost is written off as temporary “shedding.” Even better is that Rogaine is fairly inexpensive — you can get a three-month supply for about $40 — with most of the commitment being one’s time. And most of the side effects aren’t serious, if reports of heart palpitations and fatigue don’t bother you.
Between one and two years of use is commonly recommended to achieve permanent results. A guide linked from the Minox Beard wiki promises that if you follow its instructions, you’ll see results within roughly that time period. Unfortunately, after two years, you may have seen all the results you’re likely to get, though some users find reasons to continue for longer. The company that makes Minoxidil also says that vellus hairs gained from treatment will fall out if you discontinue use, making this an endless journey.
Again, though, none of this seems to bother the always enthusiastic members of The Minox Beard Spot, which recently featured a post asking why they wanted a beard in the first place. There were many answers, including to transform a baby face into a rugged, manly visage and simply to be more attractive (in their eyes). But sometimes, the journey is the destination, too. Case in point, this newly thick-whiskered man: “I just feel like the beard was the missing piece of the puzzle. Also the dedication that it’s taking to ‘create’ an awesome beard makes it all the worthwhile when you get that line up or when you see those terminal hairs after months of staying the course.”
Justin Cascio writes about health, identity and family. He last wrote about what it’s like to go through TSA screening as a trans guy.
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