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Rogaine Extra Strength vs Regular: What's The Difference

Rogaine® has a well established reputation in the hair space for men. The brand-name medication has been around for decades, meaning that it (or a generic version of it) has helped fathers, sons and maybe even grandsons with their hair loss problems.

Rogaine comes in a couple different strengths, it is available as both a foam and a liquid and has a diverse — but manageable — range of potential side effects.

When it comes to Rogaine and Rogaine Extra Strength, it’s important to understand the difference between these products and what they’re both used for.

Hair Loss: Quick Facts

Before we talk about hair loss treatments, it’s important to understand the difference between normal and problematic hair loss. 

According to the  American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), normal hair loss happens every day. 

In fact, you might shed as many as 100 hairs a day on average. 

Shedding is part of your hair’s three-phase cycle, which is made up of the anagen, the catagen and the telogen phases.

What you really need to know is this: at any one time, about 90 percent of your hair should be in the anagen or growth phase, with the remaining follicles being in the catagen phase (declining phase) and the telogen phase (or resting phase). 

The experts say that the telogen phase should account for nine percent (or thereabout) of your follicles, which means that, including the catagen phase, as much as 10 percent of your hair could be either resting or hibernating at any time.

Hair loss, simply, is an interruption of the cycle, typically expressed as a failure to return to the anagen phase from the telogen phase. 

When that happens, Rogaine may be an effective solution to the problem of fewer active follicles.

What Is Rogaine?

Rogaine is the original brand-name version of a medication called minoxidil which, when used correctly, can increase blood flow to hair follicles, with the goal being to stimulate growth. 

It’s typically available as a liquid or a foam, in topical form, to be applied to the area where you want hair to grow. 

Minoxidil is available in some countries as an oral tablet, but oral minoxidil is currently not approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Minoxidil and Rogaine can take a while to work, and results can take a few months — it may be a year before you see effects.

One study, conducted over a 48-week period, found that minoxidil boosts hair growth and thickness by as much as 18 percent when used as directed.

Though Rogaine (and minoxidil) are generally well tolerated, side effects of minoxidil can include irritation to the skin, which is generally relatively mild. 

Other side effects may include scalp itching or dryness, scaling, flaking, irritation or burning of the affected area. 

More serious side effects include chest pain, lightheadedness, increased or rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or joints and even weight gain. 

If you experience any of these side effects you should contact a healthcare professional immediately — they may tell you to discontinue use.

You should tell your healthcare provider about any medications for hypertension that you’re using, as blood pressure side effects may come from minoxidil, and those interactions could be very unsafe.

Rogaine and Extra Strength Rogaine

Rogaine has been on the market since the ‘90s, as have some of its competitors. It is typically available in 2% and 5% concentrations. 

Neither formulation requires a prescription and both are available over the counter (OTC), as well as online.

Research has shown that 2% minoxidil is less effective at providing the desired results in hair growth than the 5% formulation. 

However, the difference between 2% and 5% is irrelevant to the question of Rogaine Men’s products, as Rogaine’s “Extra Strength” classification is not based on concentration, but on the delivery system.

Rogaine offers two products for men: a 5% solution and a 5% foam. Rogaine brands their solution “Extra Strength,” and the foam is left as a normal strength default. 

It’s likely that Rogaine has branded two as such not because one formulation is more effective, but because the solution may carry a higher risk of irritation.

There have been no comparative studies between the liquid and foam delivery methods (at least, none that we could find), but the risk of using the liquid solution is that it may cause more serious irritation in the form of contact dermatitis. 

In both cases, further study is needed to determine more about the best delivery method.

One of the theories is that the increased irritation from the solution may be caused by propylene glycol, which is not in the foam versions on the market. 

The foam version, then, might be considered a gentler version, but not due to its minoxidil content. Check out our guide to the differences between liquid and foam minoxidil for more.

Other Medications For Hair Growth

Rogaine and Minoxidil are just one of several American Academy of Dermatology Association recommended products for regrowing hair, and a healthcare professional might suggest others either in lieu of or alongside minoxidil. 

Another frequently recommended product is finasteride.

Finasteride works differently than minoxidil. It’s taken orally and specifically targets the hormone DHT, which is understood to be one of the primary causes of male pattern baldness. 

Finasteride keeps the hormone from being created and studies have shown that daily use can reduce DHT levels as much as 70 percent — which is roughly 70 percent better for your hair’s survival than using no treatment at all. 

There are other DHT fighters on the market, with admittedly less science behind them. Saw palmetto also reduces DHT levels, according to some studies. 

Typically, saw palmetto is found in shampoos, many of which make hair loss related claims you should check out on your own — our What to Look For in a Men’s Hair Loss Shampoo guide has more information if you’re interested.

Using Minoxidil For Hair Loss

Rogaine and extra strength Rogaine might not make much difference in terms of safety concerns or success, but that doesn’t mean you can use them with abandon. 

Extra Strength may be branding language, but the risks are real. And both versions are still medications with some pretty gnarly potential side effects if used incorrectly.  

That’s why, as always, your first step should be speaking with a healthcare professional about any new medications you want to use, prescription, OTC or otherwise. 

It’s better to be safe than sorry in this case, and it’s better to be informed than being injured in any case.

Speaking of information, we can help you learn plenty more about your hair. Consider our guide to hair loss symptoms

Want to know more about male pattern baldness treatments? Our DHT and male hair loss guide is a great starting place. 

Check out our explainer on how minoxidil and finasteride can work together for more information on two of the most popular treatments for male pattern baldness.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.