Rogaine Foam Vs Liquid: What You Need to Know to Make the Right Decision

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If you’re unsure whether to go for Rogaine liquid or Rogaine foam, then this is the post for you.

Rogaine started its life as a treatment for hair loss in a rather surprising manner. It turned out that patients being treated with minoxidil for high blood pressure reported hair growth in unusual places, like the back of the hand, cheeks and even on the forehead.

Keen to find an application for this surprising side effect, researchers started developing a product specific for hair loss back in the 80s (1). Solutions of 2% and 5% minoxidil were approved in 1988 and 1991, respectively; and a 5% foam with once daily application was approved in 2014 (1). Today, Rogaine is recognized as an excellent treatment for hair loss, ideal for those experiencing hereditary alopecia.

In this article, we’ll explore which product – Rogaine liquid and Rogaine foam – may be the best option for you. We’ll look in detail at how the active ingredient, minoxidil, works and how this can be influenced by liquid and foam applications.

To help you make the right decision for you, we’ll look at different parameters for Liquid vs Foam, such as ease of application, potential side effects, and effectiveness.

How Does Rogaine Work?

When it comes to the mechanism of action, the truth is that nobody really knows how Rogaine works (2). There are several hypotheses, but nothing has been proven beyond doubt.

Researchers believe the most likely way minoxidil works is by pushing hair follicles out of the resting phase and into a growing phase. The resting phase lasts about 6 weeks, so it’s vital to continue using Rogaine during that period to see any effects. In fact, studies have shown that it may take up to 16 weeks to detect any improvements (2, 3, 4, 5)

The hair growth cycle
It’s thought that minoxidil pushes the hair follicle from telogen (the resting phase) to anagen (the active growth phase).

Hair growth occurs as minoxidil dilates blood vessels in the scalp, allowing more nutrients and oxygen to reach the follicle, thus encouraging the hair to start growing again. As a consequence, Rogaine also increases the diameter of the hair shaft leading to thicker and stronger hair (2, 3, 4, 5).

Other possible mechanisms of action include:

  • Rogaine is also a potassium channel opener and a vasodilator. The theory is that Rogaine can open potassium channels and widen blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to reach the hair follicles. This means that, as hairs fall, they’re replaced with thicker and stronger hairs.
  • Stimulates epithelial cells in the scalp (increases cell proliferation and reduces cell death)
  • Promotes the activity of several growth factors

Now let’s discuss the product availability of Rogaine products.

What Products are Available?

The US Food and Drug Administration originally approved Rogaine (with minoxidil as the active ingredient) for treatment of baldness in men back in 1988. The product was also extended to women in 1991 and, in 1995, it became possible to purchase these products without prescription. Finally, in 2014, the company introduced a foam preparation (6).

Currently, men can purchase both liquid and foam options at 5% minoxidil, while women can also purchase the foam, but are limited to a 2% liquid solution.

  • Men: Rogaine 5% unscented foam and 5% solution
  • Women: Rogaine 5% unscented foam and 2% solution

Oral forms of minoxidil have not been approved by the FDA to treat hair loss, but some studies are starting to test this approach as an alternative to current treatments (2).

How to Use Rogaine

Whether you’re using the foam or liquid formulation, it’s important to know how to apply them in order to maximize results and limit the risks of side effects. For example, the improper application may lead to hypertrichosis of the forehead or face, where hair start to grow in unwanted places (8).

Both products require different applications, explained as follows:

Applying Rogaine Liquid

Applying Rogaine in the liquid form is not difficult, but there are some procedures to follow:

  • For best results, use twice daily with a 1 ml dosage each time.
  • Product is applied to dry hair with a dropper to ensure maximum absorption: fill the dropper and apply directly to the desired areas
  • Ideally, start at the crown of the head and then move to other areas
  • Measure the necessary amount and apply evenly to your hair
  • Massage your scalp using your fingers
  • Leave to soak for at least 4 hours

The most important point when applying Rogaine liquid is to leave it in for the recommended period. Minoxidil uptake is about 50 percent after an hour, and it increases to 75 percent after 4 hours (2).

Applying Rogaine Foam

Applying Rogaine foam is not as time-consuming as the liquid formulation, but it’s still important to follow the correct procedure to ensure maximal absorption.

  • The product needs to be applied to dry hair
  • In contrast to the liquid solution, there is no applicator and foam is applied directly with your fingers
  • The foam needs to get to the scalp – if you have some hair, you can part it in sections before applying the product.
  • Hold the can upside down to make sure the foam comes out under pressure (failure to do so means the contents will come out as liquid)
  • The foam breaks down as soon as it comes in contact with skin
  • Move your hands in a sweeping motion and massage the foam into your scalp. This way you’re maximizing its absorption into the scalp to get better results.

Once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. However, if it’s your first time, make sure you spend some time reading through the instructions and follow them with care. This is the only way to obtain the best results.

What Conditions Can Be Treated with Rogaine?

Uses for Rogaine, both liquid and foam, include (8):

  • Androgenic alopecia, which is the only FDA-approved indication.
  • Alopecia areata, where minoxidil has been shown to produce good results, either alone or in combination with other treatments.
  • Alopecia induced by chemotherapy in patients undergoing cancer treatment, and minoxidil can limit hair loss and promote regrowth.
  • Before and after a hair transplant, to minimize hair loss. Treatment should stop three days before the intervention to prevent bleeding.
  • As minoxidil has a slight anti-scarring effect, it can be used in scarring alopecia.

Formulations are usually used to treat cases of alopecia in adult patients (2, 8). Users need to commit to long-term use, as if they stop, hair loss will continue (8).

Which Product is Easier to Use?

Comparing both liquid and foam products, users claimed foam is easier to apply and less messy (9). In this study, foam comes out on top as more straightforward to apply, with less dripping, quicker absorption, and the ability to fit in with a daily routine.

In contrast, the liquid version was described as greasy and leaving a residue in the hair. For the researchers, this ease of use makes users more likely to use the foam on a regular basis as recommended, where they may shy away from applying the liquid product every day (9).

Despite the negative points, one clear advantage that liquid has over foam is a much better way to measure the amount to use. On the other hand, measuring foam with any accuracy is virtually impossible, which means dosage applied will vary from day to day.

It seems like if you’re looking for something easy to apply and that can fit in with your daily routine quickly, the foam may be it. However, there is one case where the foam may not be the best option: if you have long hair.

In this case, the dripping liquid product may work in your favor. Especially if you still have a lot of hair, then getting the foam to reach the scalp is virtually impossible. On the other hand, applying liquid is more controlled and allows you to visualize exactly where the product is going (10).

Are Liquid and Foam Products Any Different in Terms of Side Effects?

Like all medication, Rogaine can cause side effects in some people (2). As a general rule, both liquid and foam options are well tolerated, but a small percentage of users will experience adverse effects.

Before your first application, it’s always a good idea to apply the solution on a small patch on the inside of your wrist to ensure there is no allergic reaction. Ideally, leave for 24-48 hours before applying to the scalp to spot any cases of dermatological side effects like itching, dryness, irritation, etc.

The most common side effects include (2):

  • Skin irritation, usually accompanied by a burning sensation.
  • Scaling of the scalp, typically due to irritation or dermatitis.
  • Isolated itching.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis, with eczema and itching.
  • Localized or generalized hypertrichosis, where hair starts growing in unwanted areas. This is more common with oral treatments (used exclusively for the treatment of hypertension) but can also occur with topical applications.

Some of these side effects are not caused by minoxidil directly but are a consequence of the inactive ingredient propylene glycol. This chemical is known to cause a variety of skin issues, from itching and redness to dermatitis and dry scalp (11).

As a way to mitigate these effects, Rogaine developed the foam product, which is propylene glycol-free.

At the moment there are no comparison studies looking at both liquid and foam options, but it is likely that there will be a decrease in side effects reported after using foam.

Liquid Versus Foam: Which Is More Effective?

In terms of the liquid product, several studies have shown a strong dose-response, with better results with 5% compared to the 2% formulation in both men and women (12, 13, 14, 15).

It’s important to note that positive effects are more pronounced in cases of alopecia less than 5 years, where the hair follicles are not strongly miniaturized (2, 16)

It’s possible that the liquid product is able to produce good hair growth results in part due to the presence of alcohol and ethylene glycol.

These compounds actually cause a certain degree of damage to your scalp, enough to allow minoxidil to reach the hair follicles. By breaking through the scalp, this product stands a better chance of getting under the skin and promoting hair growth (2).

An irritated scalp
Propylene glycol, an inactive ingredient in liquid Rogaine, may cause itching and irritation.

The problem with this approach is that these compounds can cause redness and itchiness, making the product unbearable to use. Recognizing this issue, researchers developed a foam product, which doesn’t include either alcohol or ethylene glycol in its formulation (2).

The product operates like any other foam product: volatile components evaporate and within 30 seconds there is no residue left on the skin. The aim is to concentrate the active ingredient at the surface of the skin to facilitate penetration (17).

Studies so far show that foam products are well tolerated, with almost three-fourths of participants reporting minimal side effects and good results after 24 weeks in terms of hair growth (18, 19).

Unfortunately, in the literature, there is no direct comparison between liquid and foam products in the same study with human participants (20, 21). However, there are a few animal studies looking at these two products.

In hamsters, for example, 5% foam showed a greater uptake than 5% liquid products (22). In monkeys, it was a similar story with better results with 5% foam versus 5% topical solution (23).

It’s important to emphasize that these results cannot be extrapolated to humans. More results are needed to assess how foam and liquid products behave (24).

Who Shouldn’t Use Rogaine?

Rogaine products are usually safe for most users. However, for patients with a story of hypersensitivity to minoxidil or any of the components present, such as propylene glycol, it may be contraindicated. In addition, its use is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women (2).

Do I Need to Tell My Doctor?

Rogaine is now a product that can be purchased over the counter, so it’s not absolutely necessary to tell your doctor.

However, it’s a good idea to inform your physician that you are using Rogaine. They can check you regularly to spot any scalp changes or abnormal amounts of hair growing in undesired locations (2).

Is Rogaine Toxic?

Accidental ingestion of minoxidil – more likely with the liquid solution if you’re not careful – may result in mild cases of vomiting and doesn’t usually require medical assistance or hospitalization.

However, it’s important to note that some cases of hypotension and irregular heartbeat have been reported.

In the case of massive ingestion, the most likely treatment involves a gastric wash and activated charcoal to prevent toxicity spreading (2).

Things to Consider Before Deciding to Use This Product

Whether you go for liquid or foam, there are a few important aspects to consider:

  • Discuss with your doctor about possible side effects, including the differences between liquid and foam products (25, 26).
  • Be prepared to wait — it can take three to six months to see any results (25, 26).
  • It may not work at all (25, 26)!
  • Susceptibility to hypertrichosis may be individual-specific, and you should discuss with your doctor (25, 26).
  • Be warned that during the first months of treatment, a transient increase shedding may occur.
  • Do not attempt to use Rogaine if you’re not sure what is causing your hair loss. There’s a long list of conditions that can cause hair loss, many of which have an underlying medical condition that needs to be treated. Especially if you started losing large amounts of hair suddenly or in patches, speak to your doctor.

Deciding to use Rogaine, either liquid or foam, should not be an impulsive decision. Make sure you consider all the above points before you make a decision.

What to Choose: Foam or Liquid

The choice between liquid or foam is not an easy one.

The foam seems easier to apply and the risks of side effects may be limited due to the absence of alcohol and propylene glycol. However, the lack of these compounds may restrict skin penetration and, for some users, it can provide less than adequate results.

There is also some anecdotal evidence to suggest that foam has a tendency to get “stuck” in the hair (21, 27).

When it comes to the liquid product, the same alcohol and propylene glycol which may cause itchiness and redness are also ideal to promote absorption of minoxidil in the scalp, delivering medication right where it’s needed. These compounds enable minoxidil to penetrate below the skin and directly reach the hair follicles (2).

A man suffering from scalp tension and hair loss

The downside is that it is time-consuming to apply and tricky to add to a daily routine. This means users are more likely to forget or ignore treatment, which is highly likely to affect the end result (9).

Then there’s the way each product is applied, which may also be a factor to consider when you’re choosing which product to use.

The liquid product is typically applied with a dropper in small areas of the scalp, while the foam is applied with your fingers throughout your head (7). It’s up to you to decide which one feels more comfortable.

 

  Liquid Foam
Rogaine products available 5% for men

2% for women

5% for men

5% for women

Type of application Dropper With fingers
Ease of use Greasy

Time-consuming

Harder to fit in with normal routine

Easy to use

Quick

Easy to fit in with normal routine

Effectiveness* Effective, using alcohol and ethylene glycol to improve absorption. Possibly less effective than the liquid form, as the absence of ethylene glycol and alcohol make it harder to absorb in the skin.
Side effects Side effects include itching and redness, dermatitis. These are most likely caused by ethylene glycol and alcohol. Any side effects caused by ethylene glycol and alcohol are gone, but there is still a risk of developing some side effects.
Contraindications Not recommended for pregnant of breastfeeding women
Toxicity Low toxicity
Indications Similar between liquid and foam

* No actual studies have been conducted with human participants to compare effectiveness in liquid and foam products. This comparison is based on some animal studies and speculation about the presence and absence of alcohol and ethylene glycol.

It Comes Down to Personal Preference

At the end of the day, your choice between liquid or foam comes down to personal preference. In fact, there’s no reason why you can try both and see which one adapts to your life better.

Make sure you pick carefully as – if it works – you may be using this product for a very long time.

Do you have any questions about Rogaine products? Be sure to leave a comment below!