Q: Can women use the higher-strength Rogaine formula, approved for hair loss in men?
A: Yes, with some caveats. Technically, only the 2 percent Rogaine (minoxidil) formula is approved by the FDA for use by women. The men’s formula is 5 percent minoxidil.
But many dermatologists recommend the 5 percent formula for women, too, as long as it’s used under medical supervision to monitor potential side effects. And several other countries have approved the higher concentration for women. Minoxidil is available over the counter.
According to a 1994 study published in the Archives of Dermatology, 2 percent minoxidil produces minimal hair regrowth in 50 percent of women after 32 weeks, and moderate re-growth in 13 percent. Whether women get significantly better results with higher-strength minoxidil is unclear, however.
In another study, in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2004, women rated the 5 percent solution more favorably than the 2 percent—though when the researchers evaluated actual hair growth, they found no significant differences.
A downside of higher-strength minoxidil is that it may cause more side effects, including dermatitis, itching, dry scalp, unwanted hair growth (such as peach fuzz on the face) and headaches. On the other hand, the 5 percent foam formula (which has no propylene glycol) may be less likely to cause dermatitis than liquid solutions.
You may want to consider the 5 percent foam if you don’t respond to the 2 percent solution, or start with the higher concentration and then continue with the lower one.
Whichever concentration you choose, be aware that it can take up to four months to see if it’s working. Minoxidil should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.