Minoxidil vs. Rogaine: What's The Difference for Hair Growth?
Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Sheryl George
Growing up, you may have longed for the new cool Nikes, but instead your parents got you the knockoffs that were on sale. Truth is, both sneakers were likely comfortable and got the job done, and we doubt that either actually helped your jumpshot.
You’re older (and hopefully wiser) now. And you likely know that many times, the generic stuff is as good as the brand name— no matter what 12-year old you believed. If male pattern baldness or hair thinning is something you’re currently dealing with, researching hair loss treatments can feel overwhelming. Don’t worry, we’re here to help.
In this article, we’ll break down the efficacy of generic minoxidil (also commonly sold as the brand name Rogaine®), along with other popular hair loss treatments for men.
Ready to bookmark another excellent guide? Save this guide on Rogaine ingredients for even more in depth know-how on what’s in this favored hair loss treatment.
How Effective is Rogaine vs. Minoxidil?
If you’re seeing a receding hairline, some diffuse thinning over the top of the head or a wider part, chances are you’re dealing with male pattern hair loss (also known as androgenetic alopecia), the most common form of hair loss in men. But many different types of hair loss can occur, from the stress-related hair loss known as telogen effluvium to traction alopecia, which can be caused by tight hairstyles.
Whether it’s used in its FDA-approved form for androgenetic alopecia or off-label for other causes of hair thinning, minoxidil is a gold standard among dermatologists for treating hair loss.
It was originally developed as an antihypertensive drug — increased hair growth was basically a happy accident, which led to the hair growth formulations you see today. While its mechanism of action isn’t totally understood, there are some things we do know.
Topical minoxidil works as a hair growth stimulator — think of it like fertilizer for your roots. This medication shortens the telogen (resting) phase, which causes dormant hair follicles to enter into the anagen, or growth phase earlier than they otherwise would. It also makes the anagen phase last longer, so hair has more time to grow. This allows for increased hair length and diameter.
Yes, sign us up now, please (just kidding, we’ve already subscribed of course).
Adding to its effects is minoxidil’s function as a vasodilator, and its ability to open up the potassium channels of hair follicles. It is believed that by widening the blood vessels and opening up the potassium channels, minoxidil allows more nutrients, blood and oxygen to flow into the hair follicle.
This stimulates circulation near the hair follicles, which may lead to hair growth. It may also prevent androgen (a male hormone) from affecting your already androgen-sensitive follicles. And as a foaming agent or topical solution, minoxidil can also directly stimulate hair follicles and delay their aging.
We’ve been using “minoxidil” here, but now you may be wondering who reigns supreme — Rogaine® or minoxidil? Or is Rogaine® minoxidil in a different form?
Rogaine®, which is well-known for treating hair loss, is a brand name drug that has minoxidil as the active ingredient. But minoxidil is also sold in its generic forms by various brands, including Hims. So whether you go brand name or for the generic, both contain the same active ingredient.
That said, minoxidil comes in different strengths, so that may be where you see a difference in how your hair responds.
In one 48-week randomized study, 393 men used either a 2% minoxidil solution or 5% minoxidil solution for treatment of androgenetic alopecia. The study concluded that the 5% solution was superior and led to a higher hair count than the 2% solution. It’s also worth noting that these 5% solution users had an increase of pruritus (otherwise known as itchiness) and local irritation. Ah, the price of beauty.
You can learn more about which formula might be right for you in our guide to minoxidil foam vs liquid.
In another study to test how effective minoxidil is for treating hair loss along the hairline (the frontotemporal region) and around the highest point of the scalp toward the back of the head (the vertex), 70 men were given 5% minoxidil or a placebo treatment.
Twenty-four weeks after using either product twice daily, the patients who used the 5% minoxidil formulations had a significant increase in hair density and width.
What Works Better Than Minoxidil (Rogaine)?
Alright, alright, we think we’ve made the point that minoxidil is basically the Leonardo DiCaprio of hair loss treatments — versatile, easygoing and superrrr popular (with the girls, too). That said, there are some great supporting actors to consider for thinning hair, especially finasteride.
Another popular pick for male hair loss, finasteride stops hair loss in a different way than minoxidil. If you’re dealing with androgenetic hair loss or male pattern balding, blame it on the hormones — this type of hair loss happens when testosterone converts to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), causing androgen-dependent miniaturization of scalp hair follicles. Translation: your follicles shrink and produce thinner and thinner hairs over time.
That’s where finasteride comes in — it inhibits type II 5alpha-reductase, which is what converts testosterone to DHT. In one study, men with male pattern hair loss who took finasteride at dosage of 1mg daily had an improvement in hair growth and increased hair count in clinical trials over two years.
Deciding between finasteride and minoxidil is really a personal choice and your dermatologist or healthcare professional can help you determine what’s right for you. You can also learn more in our guide minoxidil vs finasteride for even more intel on these popular hair loss treatments.
An interesting thing to note, however, is that finasteride and minoxidil can be used together, as confirmed by many studies. One such study of 450 Chinese men with male androgenetic alopecia tested finasteride, minoxidil and the combined medication of finasteride and minoxidil. The study reported that the combined medication had the best end results for patients.
If you’re still unsure, check out our guide on other alternatives to minoxidil to find your hair loss treatment soulmate.
Hims has helped thousands of men regrow their hair
Side Effects of Minoxidil vs Rogaine
Remember, minoxidil and Rogaine have the same active ingredient, so they’ll have the same side effects. While long-term studies have shown minoxidil to being safe and well-tolerated, some side effects can include:
Irritant contact dermatitis
These side effects may occur either because of an allergic reaction to the inactive agent — propylene glycol — or to the minoxidil itself. This condition has been observed most frequently with the 5% minoxidil topical solution.
Also, when you first start using minoxidil, you may experience some hair shedding. But hold tight — it does get better. Minoxidil shortens the telogen phase, which may induce telogen effluvium when you first start using it. This shedding will stop, and new (and hopefully more!) hair will grow in its place.
Get the full scoop in our guide to minoxidil side effects if you want to dig a little deeper.
Shop by treatment options
No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
The Verdict on Minoxidil vs Rogaine
Here’s the thing — when it comes to hair loss, you can do nothing and hope it grows back (unlikely, tbh), or you can try a hair loss treatment that has the research to back it up and see if that lush head of hair can be restored to its former glory. Doesn’t that second one sound better?
Remember that minoxidil and Rogaine® have the same active ingredient, so you’ll likely get the same great results whether you go brand name or generic. Some options you may want to consider:
Topical finasteride & minoxidil spray. Like we mentioned above, combining these two ingredients basically make a supercharged two-in-one spray to help encourage new hair.
Minoxidil foam. This 5% strength foam can be easily distributed onto the scalp. And remember, all the studies show that 5% formulation is where you’ll see the biggest difference.
Minoxidil solution. If you have a sensitive scalp, then this 2% strength formula with easy-to-use dropper might be the right fit for hair regrowth. It’ll likely cause less irritation for your scalp.
Volumizing shampoo and conditioner. Regardless of which hair loss treatment you try, the right hair care can make a difference, too. Keeping your scalp clean and healthy is the foundation to healthy hair. A volumizing shampoo and conditioner will give limp strands some height and body.
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, no sweat. An easy (and free) hair consultation will give you an expert-backed recommendation quickly.