When it comes to hair loss treatment, Rogaine is a name that everyone knows. However, the generic minoxidil brands can be just as effective (in addition to being cheaper).
This article will discuss:
- the differences between Rogaine and generic minoxidil.
- side effects and considerations
- where to find and purchase different generic brands.
Rogaine (Minoxidil) To Treat Hair Loss
To understand how Rogaine differs from its various generics, it is necessary to understand its history and how it works.
Development & Use
Minoxidil is a drug that was originally developed in the late 1950s to treat ulcers. While it failed against ulcers, it did prove itself to be an effective vasodilator.
As a consequence, in the 1960s and ’70s, it was developed as a treatment for high blood pressure (hypertension) (1). It was marketed under the name Loniten, and it was prescribed orally starting in 1979.
An Unexpected Side Effect
Another unexpected use of the drug – discovered during initial trials – was its effectiveness in the treatment of hair loss.
It was not long before word of this got out. Very soon, doctors were prescribing it off-label to treat their patients who suffered from male-pattern baldness (MPB).
In 1988, the FDA approved the product as a hair growth treatment, under the brand name Rogaine. In 1991 it approved a solution for women.
Finally, the product was approved as an over-the-counter formula in 1996.
How Does It Work?
While there is still a bit of debate surrounding minoxidil’s exact mechanism, it is believed its vasodilating effects are the most likely cause of its positive effects (2).
In individuals with MPB (medically referred to as Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA)), a sensitivity to DHT causes inflammation of the hair follicles.
Men’s bodies produce DHT from the interaction between testosterone (the male sex hormone) and 5-alpha-reductase (an enzyme). It is a natural hormone present in all healthy men. Unfortunately, a genetic predisposition to AGA can put some men at risk for DHT sensitivity, and this can lead to hair thinning and loss.
As DHT attaches to the androgen receptors at the follicles, the follicles near the front of the scalp and vertex react by undergoing a process known as hair follicle miniaturization. They shrink in size, until they become so small that the hair shaft cannot even protrude from the scalp.
As the follicle miniaturizes, the hair growth cycle also shortens. This eventually leads to thinning and, if not treated, permanent baldness.
During this process, the blood flow to the hair follicle also diminishes. The follicles are not receiving the amount of oxygen and nutrients they need to thrive. This further contributes to the miniaturization process.
As a vasodilator, minoxidil widens the blood vessels (3). The necessary elements can then once again make their way to the follicles (even those affected by DHT) and hair growth can occur.
Rogaine vs. Generic Minoxidil: What’s the Difference?
When a product such as Rogaine is patented, the originating company has exclusive rights to its formulation for 20 years (in the US, UK, and Canada). Once the patent runs out, other companies can then use the original formulation (with minor tweaks) for their own brands.
This is great for consumers, as the manufacturer of Rogaine no longer has exclusivity on the minoxidil market.
Consumers can now purchase other brands. Most of these will be cheaper than the brand-name Rogaine. These other brands are known as generics.
Two of the most popular generic brands are Kirkland (Costco) and Equate (Walmart). However, many stores have their own branded minoxidil products.
What is the difference between the original brand (Rogaine) and its generics? The simple answer is, “not much.”
The active ingredient minoxidil is the same within each product. The difference is that each generic brand varies when it comes to inactive ingredients. This can change consistency and, therefore, how each product applies.
This means that even though all these products contain minoxidil, you may find brands that work better for your scalp than others.
For example, many users of Kirkland Signature Minoxidil (a Costco generic) find it greasier than Rogaine. On the other hand, some users find Rogaine to be too drying.
When it comes down to it, the one you pick will depend entirely on preference and hair type.
How to Apply
Applying minoxidil is similar, regardless if you use the name brand Rogaine or a generic.
To apply the liquid, you use the applicator tool attached to the lid. Simply collect 1 milliliter of the liquid in the tool and apply the drops to the balding areas of your scalp. Work the liquid in with clean fingertips. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Do not shower or apply other products (including mousse, gel, or hairspray) for at least four hours.
The foam is easier to apply, and it also dries more quickly. Use the foam applicator to put a dollop of foam in your hand. With your fingers, apply the foam to the balding areas of your scalp. Rub until the foam absorbs fully. Allow the foam to dry completely before styling. Wash your hands after, to remove the product from your fingers.
Side Effects & Considerations
Common Side Effects
For many individuals, the symptoms improve as use continues. Other times they don’t improve but are not severe enough to discontinue use. However, some people will be more sensitive to the product than others.
If symptoms continue or worsen, it is best to stop use and speak with a physician.
More Rare Side Effects
On rare occasions, some users might experience more severe reactions. Of particular concern are symptoms of an allergic reaction. These may include hives, rash, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat. If you experience a severe reaction, seek medical attention immediately.
In addition to adverse effects, there are also a few things to consider before using Rogaine or any other minoxidil products:
- Minoxidil is not a hair loss cure.
- Your hair loss can (and likely will) resume once you stop using minoxidil.
- Minoxidil doesn’t work for everyone.
In addition, it is very common to experience shedding in the first few months of minoxidil use. This is a normal part of the process, as the hair follicles are cycling from telogen to anagen phase much more quickly.
For the majority of users, the excess shedding will subside in a few months. However, some users are so bothered by this that they discontinue treatment prematurely.
Availability and Cost
The majority of drug stores, both online and brick-and-mortar, have their own brands of minoxidil products available for purchase.
The cost will vary based on location, solution (liquid or foam), and strength (2% – 5%).
Some of the more popular brands, such as Kirkland and Equate, can be purchased online. On the Costco website, for example, you can purchase a 6-month supply of Kirkland Minoxidil Solution 5% for $16.99.
A Natural Alternative to Minoxidil Products (2 Steps)
It is common to want a quick fix when looking for hair loss treatment. However, treatment options such as minoxidil do not treat the underlying cause of hair loss.
If you want to address the hair loss as its root, then consider the steps below.
1. Find the Cause
While MPB can be genetic, this does not mean there are no other causes contributing to the issue. To find these causes, you should consider the following.
Do an Elimination Diet
While certain foods can be more likely to trigger hair loss, you may also have underlying allergies or sensitivities that are causing inflammation. This inflammation can further your odds of hair loss.
An elimination diet is a multi-step program that involves cutting out many food groups and then slowly reintroducing them into your diet. As you introduce the food groups, you keep a journal tracking any symptoms.
Revamp Your Hair Care Routine
Whether you are suffering from full baldness, or your hair has only begun to thin, you may not be aware that chemicals in popular hair products can further contribute to your hair loss woes. Not only can shop-bought products – including shampoos, conditioners, and styling cremes – cause damage to your hair but they can also further hair loss in people with AGA.
That is not to say you should stop using over-the-counter products altogether. Many may help you to combat hair loss. It is important to know exactly what you are putting on your scalp and how it may affect hair growth in the long run.
There are more natural formulations, such as Hairguard, that work to clean the scalp while also stimulating the follicles. And they can even be combined with more mainstream treatments (including minoxidil and finasteride), or similar alternatives.
There are other steps you can add to your routine, though, that also contribute to a healthy scalp.
For example, a daily ten-minute scalp massage and a weekly microneedling session can increase blood flow to the scalp. This boost of oxygen and nutrients will support stronger hair and may even help combat the effects of many hair loss conditions.
Scalp massage has also been shown to reduce scalp tension – a likely contributor to pattern balding – and microneedling has been shown to induce collagen production and skin proliferation (5, 6, 7). These two simple additions are just one way to revamp your routine with scalp health and hair growth in mind.
2. Treat the Issue
With a better understanding of your hair loss triggers, it is now time to treat the issue at its source. The actual treatment route you take will depend on the cause.
Alopecia Areata (AA), for example, is an autoimmune hair loss condition that often requires working closely with a dermatologist (8). Steroids or anti-inflammatories may be prescribed, but you can also work with your doctor to find a more viable long-term solution (such as a diet change).
AGA is similar in that it is best to work with a dermatologist.
The most common treatment routes are minoxidil and finasteride but, as mentioned, these do not treat the underlying problem. Instead, it may be more beneficial to take a look at other triggers (e.g. diet, environment, lifestyle) and alter those.
That does not mean minoxidil and other mainstream options cannot be part of an effective treatment plan, but they should not be seen as the only way.
Your Diet and Hair Loss: How Deep Is the Connection?
As mentioned above, food sensitivities can cause inflammation and keep you in the hair loss cycle. However, other aspects of diet may be causing more harm.
While the modern-day diet has strayed far from human’s ancestral diet, there is one thing we can still do just like them: Eat foods that will heal the body. By altering your diet – aligning it better with the diet of your ancestors – you can treat a significant trigger of hair loss.
Here are a few steps to get started.
Reduce Your Intake of Unhealthy Fats
Fats are a necessary part of a healthy diet. However, modern foods are full of unhealthy oils, and they offer little in the way of nutrition or benefit.
It is important to reduce your intake of unhealthy fats – such as those found in fried foods, in packaged snacks, and in high-fat cuts of meat.
Instead, you should focus on the consumption of natural foods that contain fats as a major part of their composition. For example, coconut, avocado, nuts (almond, chestnut, cashew), seeds (pumpkin, flax), and fish (especially cold water).
Increase Your Intake of Fiber
The health of your gut plays a key role in the health of your body. As such, it is important to increase fiber intake to clean out your intestines and keep your sugar levels even (9). High-fiber foods are also more filling, and this can help you to cut back on junk foods.
Rogaine is a popular brand associated with the drug minoxidil, but it is not the only brand available. There are many store-brand minoxidil products available on the market, and the majority work just as effectively as Rogaine.