Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/19/2021
Rogaine® has a well established reputation in the hair space for men. The brand-name medication has been around for decades, meaning that, at this point, it (or a generic version of it) has probably helped fathers, sons and maybe even grandsons with their hair loss problem.
Just because something has been around for a long time, though, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what’s in it.
When it comes to Rogaine, knowing what its main ingredient — minoxidil — is, how it works to treat hair loss and what you can expect from it is a worthwhile endeavor.
Before we do that, let’s explore some helpful facts about hair loss that might make this all easier to understand.
Before we talk about one of the most popularly used medications for hair loss, we should address the difference between balding and “normal” hair loss.
Shedding is a normal phase in your hair’s three-phase cycle, which includes the anagen phase, the catagen phase and the telogen phase.
Don’t worry about the big words. What you need to know is this: ninety percent of your hair should be in the growth (anagen) phase at any given time, with the remainder falling into the declining (catagen) phase and the resting (telogen) phase.
The telogen phase should account for roughly nine percent of your follicles — that means that normally, as much as 10 percent of your hair is either resting or hibernating.
Hair loss, then, is just an interruption of the cycle’s return from telogen phase to anagen phase again.
It can be caused by a number of factors, from injury and disease to hormones.
Rogaine is a brand-name version of a medication called minoxidil, which is thought to stimulate hair growth by improving blood flow to your follicles.
Typically, minoxidil is sold as a topical medication in a liquid form, used twice-daily unless otherwise stated.
Minoxidil can take a while to work. It’s not expected that you’ll see results for at least a few months, and it may be up to a year before you see effects.
Minoxidil side effects can include forms of irritation and are generally relatively mild. They may include scalp itching, dryness, scaling, flaking, irritation or burning.
Side effects that are more serious include chest pain, lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or joints and weight gain, and if you experience any of these you should contact a healthcare professional immediately.
Topical minoxidil could interact negatively with drugs for hypertension, which could cause problems.
For this — and many other reasons — you should tell your healthcare provider before using minoxidil, especially if you’re taking other medications.
Rogaine is a well-established effective medication.
One study, conducted over a 48-week period, found that minoxidil (generic Rogaine) was able to boost hair growth and thickness by around 18 percent.
Minoxidil is actually available in both topical and oral delivery systems in some countries, but the U.S. does not currently allow oral minoxidil.
The topical version of minoxidil has been on the market since the 1980s, and is a mainstay in treating baldness in men.
It is typically available in 2% and 5% concentrations, and neither require a prescription — it’s all available over the counter.
Prices vary across the different brands. As you might suspect, brand-name Rogaine is typically sold around $30, while other versions may be more or less expensive.
Hims’ 5% Topical Minoxidil has the same active ingredient for $15, and is safe and effective like Rogaine when used as directed.
According to Rogaine’s website, their formula contains 5% minoxidil as the active ingredient.
This is found in generic versions as well.
Inactive ingredients are where generics and brand-name Rogaine differ.
Rogaine appears to have the largest list of inactive ingredients. Many of these ingredients, like polysorbate, are simply to make the compound more deliverable, as it’s a food-grade emulsifier.
Medications often need stabilizers and delivery agents (like alcohol) to make sure it can be stored safely for a period of time and applied safely and effectively.
Inactive ingredients in Rogaine include:
SD alcohol 40-B
Typically, generic versions have fewer ingredients. For instance, one generic version lists just alcohol, propylene glycol and purified water as its inactive ingredients.
This can also depend on the type of application, which can include rub-on applicators, as well as large and small spray applications.
Minoxidil is just one of the recommended products for regrowing hair, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Another is finasteride.
Finasteride works differently than minoxidil — it targets the hormone DHT, which is one of the primary causes of androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness).
It protects your hair by keeping the hormone from forming. In fact, studies have shown that daily use of finasteride can reduce DHT levels as much as 70 percent.
It’s also one of several useful compounds for hair growth that might be found in shampoos—our What to Look For in a Men’s Hair Loss Shampoo guide has more information if you’re interested.
Despite decades on the market, Rogaine doesn’t hold a monopoly on hair regrowth products. It has many challenges these days.
What’s more important than a brand name, however, is your health and safety. For this reason, it’s best not to jump into using medications like Rogaine without first consulting a healthcare professional.
That should be your first step in treating hair loss, largely because there are many causes of it besides the traditional culprits in male pattern baldness.
A healthcare professional may instead look at other causes, like certain diseases, illnesses and lifestyle factors, which means another form of hair loss treatment may be better.
Speaking of, consider checking out our guide to hair loss symptoms for more information.
If you already know that you’re fighting male pattern baldness, we have resources to help you learn more about that too.
Our DHT and male hair loss guide is a great place to start. For more information on two of the most popular treatments for male pattern baldness, check out our explainer on how minoxidil and finasteride can work together.
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