As the leading hair loss treatment on the market, Rogaine is used by men and women alike.
In this guide, I’m going to provide an introduction to Women’s Rogaine. This will include a look at the most common (and some rare) harmful secondary effects experienced by women who use this product.
I’ll also share some ways you can boost the effects of Rogaine, and these same techniques can be used even if you choose to forgo using it.
Are you ready? Then let’s get started!
Rogaine for Female Pattern Baldness
Minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine) was initially developed and prescribed for the treatment of hypertension (1). It was soon discovered to have another beneficial ‘side effect,’ and that was hair growth.
As a hair loss treatment, minoxidil works as a vasodilator by dilating the capillaries present within the scalp (2).
These capillaries deliver blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the hair follicles. As a result of the dilation, blood flow is increased. This improves the function of the follicles and it may even stimulate hair growth (3).
Rogaine was originally formulated for men. However, it soon became increasingly common that women were using the product, too. After all, hair loss is not a phenomenon specific to men; in fact, women make up 40 percent of the hair loss population in America (4)!
With this in mind, manufacturers created a similar product just for women.
The difference between Men’s Rogaine and Women’s Rogaine? There’s none. However, having a hair treatment product on the market targeted just for women did make women more likely to buy the product themselves.
How Is It Used?
In both sexes, Rogaine is applied directly to the scalp. There are different formulas available over-the-counter – including liquid and foam.
Interestingly, the FDA does have different dosage recommends for men and women.
The 5 percent foam is recommended as a safe treatment for both men and women. However, only men are recommended to use the 5 percent solution.
The 2 percent solution was approved for use in women in 1992 (5). This is because women have shown to be more susceptible to minoxidil’s adverse effects (including lightheadedness, allergic dermatitis, and unexpected growth of facial hair) than men.
For best use, the manufacturer recommends twice daily application. In the morning and at night, use half a cap full of the solution and massage into scalp. Avoid washing or applying other hair products for at least four hours.
Does Rogaine Work? The Science
Rogaine has been the industry-leading hair loss treatment product for nearly three decades.
Brand longevity spanning decades simply isn’t possible when a product doesn’t work — the market and consumer experience weeds out the crappy products over time. Only the winners prevail.
A 2004 study of 391 women ages 18-49 with female pattern hair loss showed that over 48 weeks of use, 5 percent minoxidil outperformed 2 percent minoxidil (6).
Also, the 2 percent minoxidil significantly outperformed the placebo (as was to be expected).
Recent long-term studies on men using minoxidil show substantial results after 5 years of use (7).
While the causes of male and female hair loss are not always the same, there are similarities in cases where the source is hormonal, or due to excessive DHT, or a result of stress, illness, or even a result of medication or chemotherapy.
Read more about the causes of female hair loss here.
So, in short: yes. Rogaine works. The higher dose is best, but the 2 percent dose of minoxidil performs better than nothing. Best of all, minoxidil seems to work well in the long-term.
Ultimately, to really know if something will help protect your hair and grow new hair FOR YOU is to try it out yourself.
What to Expect From Use
While you may be looking for a miracle cure, it’s important to understand that Rogaine is just a hair growth aid.
In advanced cases of alopecia, Rogaine may have little to no effects at all. Even in mild cases, the growth you see may be minimal and underwhelming.
Of course, you can combine Rogaine with other treatments (such as Propecia). This may yield better results. All in all, I recommend you go into treatment without specific goals in mind. You may be more impressed by results in this way.
You can also read my review of Kirkland (a cheaper minoxidil product) and how it compares to Rogaine.
Common Adverse Effects of Use
The majority of side effects experienced – both by men and women – are bothersome, but not harmful.
Itching of the skin and appearance of a rash are the most common (8). While this can be a side effect of minoxidil itself, it can also be reaction to propylene glycol.
This is an additional ingredient in the Rogaine solution, but is not found in the Rogaine/minoxidil foam. As such, you may try switching to foam to see if your symptoms lessen.
Another common adverse effect is shedding (9). This occurs in the beginning of use, and it happens as hairs in the telogen phase shed to make room for healthier, anagen phase hairs.
Telogen effluvium is the technical term for this, and it’s temporary.
For some, however, the initial shedding phase was too much.
Rare Secondary Effects
As mentioned, the majority of unintended effects associated with Rogaine use are not life threatening. However, it’s important to know the signs of a more serious allergic reaction (10). These include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the tongue or lips
For users of Minoxidil 5 percent solution, another possible effect is hypertrichosis (11). This isn’t dangerous – all it means is an excessive growth of hair on parts of the face – but it can be embarrassing.
Women have a higher incidence of hypertrichosis than men, so this is something to keep in mind (12).
In addition, women may be more susceptible to such adverse effects as:
- Chest pain
- Fast/irregular heartbeat
- Swelling of hands/feet
- Unusual weight gain
The exact reason why women are more susceptible is unknown. Perhaps it’s linked to hormone levels, or other such factors.
However, I urge you to keep this susceptibility in mind. If you decide to go forward with use, keep track of any symptoms and speak with your doctor if they become too bothersome.
Minoxidil 5% vs. Minoxidil 2% Side Effects
Is it safe to assume that the higher the dosage, the higher the risk of harmful secondary effects? A 2004 study performed by Lucky et. al. set out to answer this very question (13).
The study consisted of 381 women with varying degrees of Female-Pattern Hair Loss (FPHL). The women were split into three groups: Group 1 received 5 percent minoxidil solution; Group 2 received 2 percent minoxidil solution; and Group 3 received a placebo solution. All groups were instructed to apply the solution twice daily for 48 weeks.
Researchers tracked progress by looking at three primary efficacy measures. These included change in nonvellus hair count, patient assessment of hair growth/change, and investigator assessment of hair growth/change.
Unsurprisingly, the 5 percent topical solution showed superior results to both the 2 percent topical solution and the placebo solution:
As assumed, the 5 percent minoxidil solution did lead to more adverse effects experienced by users.
As explained by researchers, these adverse events included pruritis, dermatitis, hypertrichosis, and scaling. Pruritis was the most common, and it was seen in 5 percent of the 5 percent minoxidil solution group as opposed to only 0.6 percent of the 2 percent minoxidil solution group.
In addition, 7 patients from the 5 percent minoxidil group dropped out of the study in comparison to 4 patients from the 2 percent minoxidil group. These dropouts were related to local intolerance (itching, dryness, and scaling).
This shows that while 5 percent minoxidil solution can be more effective, it can also lead to increased risk of adverse events in women.
Further Complications to Consider
Prior to beginning treatment (if that’s the route you choose), there are a few things to consider.
First, expect shedding to begin almost immediately upon starting use. While this may seem counterproductive – after all, Rogaine is supposed to grow hair – the shedding is temporary.
This is a result of telogen effluvium, as mentioned above.
Second, expect any positive effects you’ve experienced – such as hair growth and thickened hair – to stop when treatment stops.
Unfortunately, FDA-approved hair loss drugs (such as Rogaine and Propecia) only work while being used. Once treatment ends, so too do the results.
After scouring the web for reviews, let’s just say there is no shortage of interesting stuff to read. Reviewer tones vary from ecstatic to regretful.
It’s immediately obvious that women have strong feelings about Rogaine based on their experiences.
What stands out perhaps the most is the surprise from women who have used the product for a few months, after there’s measurable improvement to the thickness, amount, and strength of their hair.
As always, treatments have the best chance of being effective if they are geared BOTH to the cause of hair loss as well as treatments that promote hair growth. What this means is that if your hair loss started after a hypothyroid diagnosis, you need to take your thyroid medication AND hair regrowth treatment.
Likewise, if your hair loss was caused by a vitamin deficiency, you have to take your supplements as well as a hair regrowth promoting treatment like Rogaine.
Addressing both the cause of your hair loss as well as the effect with regrowth agents is the most comprehensive solution giving you the highest chance of success.
How to Improve Minoxidil Results
If the possible adverse effects and complications haven’t deterred you, you’ll want to ensure that you’re using minoxidil as effectively as possible. This will boost results, and it can make the minor adverse effects worth it for some users.
Let’s look at just a few ways you can do so.
Use a Microneedling Tool
The number one way to improve results is with microneedling.
Microneedling is a process that involves the use of tiny needles. The needles penetrate the scalp, and this both improves absorption of minoxidil and increases blood flow to the hair follicles (14).
While microneedling is practiced by dermatological professionals, you can also perform this at home with a dermaroller. This nifty little tool makes microneedling simple, and you can use it daily for greatest results.
Don’t believe that microneedling is the answer? Take a look at the results of this 2013 study below (15):
Both of the groups compared above used minoxidil for the 12-week study. However, the group depicted in green also used a dermaroller.
As can be seen, the dermaroller group saw a significant increase in mean hair count over the minoxidil-only group. This is because microneedling improves the delivery of minoxidil directly to the follicles.
But is microneedling the only way to boost results? No!
Add In Daily Scalp Massages
A simpler way to increase blood to the scalp is to add daily scalp massages to your daily routine.
Scalp massage is manual stimulation of the scalp using either your fingertips or a specialized massage tool. But even more than that, this method has been proven effective at stimulating the growth of healthy hair (16).
Just like microneedling, the increase in blood flow that’s triggered by scalp massage can help to deliver minoxidil more thoroughly. And it can also help to break down any calcification (a natural result of prolonged inflammation) that occurred as a result of miniaturization of the hair follicles (17).
All you need is to take 10 minutes per day to follow the routine in the video above, and you can begin seeing benefits similar (but not quite extensive) as those produced by microneedling.
As side effects vary widely – and long-term effects aren’t known – it’s important to go into treatment with your eyes wide open. This means understanding that you may not see the results you hope for, and you may have to stop use should the symptoms become too worrisome.
Before using minoxidil, I have two pieces of advice. First, consult with your physician. Second, learn more about the cause of your hair loss.
The more you know about the causes of your hair loss, the greater the chances of you being able to regrow it.
*This article was reviewed by Dr. Anil Simhadri