“Minoxidil was originally developed as a treatment for ulcers.”

In the fight against hair loss, one of the most effective tools at our disposal is Minoxidil. It usually comes in the form of a solution that you apply to your scalp twice a day. It is very effective in strengthening hair follicles and preventing hair from falling out, especially around one’s crown. But have you ever wondered about the discovery of Minoxidil?

The Discovery of Minoxidil

Minoxidil was originally developed by a company called Upjohn in the late 1950s as a treatment for ulcers. Upjohn’s scientists were disappointed to find that the treatment did not cure ulcers. However they were surprised to see that medicine had the unexpected effect of widening blood vessels – what’s known clinically as vasodilation. These results led the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve Minoxidil tablets as a treatment for high blood pressure in 1979.

After further studies on the effects of Minoxidil, scientists noticed that some of the patients were reporting unexpected hair growth. Before long, researchers learned that making Minoxidil into a liquid and applying it directly to the scalp promoted hair growth. By the 1980s doctors were widely prescribing Minoxidil to their balding patients and in 1988 the FDA approved Minoxidil as a treatment for hair loss. Until recently, Minoxidil was a patented medicine that was exclusively sold by the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. However, the patent for the medicine has now expired, and Minoxidil is now widely available under its generic name. As of today, Minoxidil remains the only FDA-approved topical product for treating androgenic hair loss.

But Minoxidil isn’t the only medicine whose discovery was an accident. Here are few more notable examples:

Penicillin came from unwashed dishes

In the world of science there are many examples of experiments with unexpected results, and the discovery of Minoxidil is only one of them. One well-known example is Alexander Fleming’s discovery of Penicillin in 1928. Fleming had a reputation for keeping a messy laboratory at St Mary’s Hospital in London, with piles of unwashed utensils and petri dishes. One day he returned to his lab and noticed that amongst the petri dishes with fungus growing on them, there was one petri dish where the fungus didn’t grow. And so penicillin and antibiotics were born.  

Viagra was a failed heart medicine

Another example is Sildenafil (brand name Viagra) – which scientists initially developed as a treatment for angina, a heart condition that tightens the blood vessels in the heart. Although the medicine did not dilate the vessels in the heart, it did have the curious side effect of giving the male test subjects erections! As you might expect, Sildenafil, or Viagra, would later become one of the biggest ‘blockbuster’ medicines of all time.

LSD was born in a laboratory

In 1938, 32-year-old Albert Hofmann had been working hard to find a chemical compound that would stimulate respiration and circulation. He created 25 of these compounds, the last of which he labelled LSD-25 for laboratory reference. He tested the compound on animals and noted that the animals got highly excited during the experiments. However, Hofmann had to discontinue testing as the substance did not arouse any special interest in the other scientists. Five years later, in 1943, Hofmann decided to synthesise LSD-25 again and accidentally exposed himself to the substance in his lab. He soon felt a dizziness and had to go home from work. He later wrote to his boss about the experience: “In a dream-like state, with eyes closed, I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Diazepam is the result of experiments to create a new kind of dye

Another example of a lucky medicine discovery is Valium, also known as Diazepam. Its discoverer, Leo Sternbach, was a Polish immigrant in the US. In the 1950’s, he was reviewing a number of chemical compounds that he had synthesised more than 20 years earlier in Poland. He was experimenting with these compounds with the hope of creating new dyes. Although the dyes were a failure, Sternbach discovered that one of the compounds had an unexpected sedative, muscle-relaxing effect on animal subjects. Over the next couple of years, Sternbach developed Diazepam. It became one of the most popular medicines of a generation, with doctors writing over 40 million prescriptions of Valium and similar substances each year by the mid-1970’s.

So what’s the moral of the story?

These examples show that in science, as in life, luck plays no small role. Without a bit of good fortune, many of these revolutionary medicines would not have existed. Thanks to the serendipitous discovery of Minoxidil, we now have a very effective treatment for hair loss.

The best course of action is to start using Minoxidil twice a day while you still have hair. We recommend building it into your daily routine, much like brushing your teeth. Just apply a few drops onto your scalp and you’re good to go – no need to wash it out. With science-backed hair loss solutions available with just a few clicks, why would you leave your hair loss to chance?