Most women are familiar with the concept of the pink tax — that extra amount females are charged for products and services that men can purchase for less money. As it is, women spend an average $144 per year on beauty products and services, many of which aren’t part of the societal expectation for men. But when it comes to purchases both women and men have to make, women are typically forced to pay more simply due to their gender. From clothes and toiletries to dry cleaning and car repair, women statistically make less but are often forced to pay more. Now, one study has found that women are being charged substantially more than men are for the exact same hair loss medicine.
Approximately 21 million women in the U.S. are currently experiencing hair loss. But if they want to purchase Rogaine (or the generic version), they’d be financially smarter to buy the one that’s marketed to men. Both the male and female versions of Rogaine — or minoxidil, in its generic form — contain the exact same ingredients. The only difference is that women have to pay 40% more, on average, for the same product.
The study, published in JAMA Dermatology, looked at 21 different pharmacies across four different states. At Target, CVS, Kroger, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart stores in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, and Ohio, researchers found that the drug is typically priced much higher for women. While women’s foam Rogaine is sold at an average $11.27 per ounce, the men’s version sells for $8.05 per ounce on average.
Lower-cost, generic versions of the drug are available, but since Rogaine owns the patent on the women’s foam formula, non-brand versions of the drug are marketed towards men only. Worse still, an older version of liquid minoxidil (available as generic or brand name) has a lesser strength for the women’s version (2%, compared to the men’s 5% strength). While these versions are priced about the same, women then have to pay the same amount for a less effective product.
While a Rogaine spokesperson told Health that the company’s foam is priced the same for men and women when purchased from their website or in wholesale orders, pharmacies are left to their own discretion on retail pricing. In addition, men’s and women’s versions may be sold in different sizes and quantities, and some products give drastically different application directions and frequencies.
Whether they’re being forced to pay more for identical products or pay the same amount for one that doesn’t work as well, senior study author Dr. Jules Lipoff notes that, “Ethically, it seems pretty questionable.”
Lipoff and his colleagues noted in their paper that the findings “may reflect the larger issue of gender-based pricing” present in all kinds of personal and health care products. He told Reuters Health that most dermatologists he personally knows recommend the men’s foam version to patients solely because of the price difference.
“I tell all of my patients I’m treating for hair loss not to buy Women’s Rogaine,” said Lipoff. “I explain to them that it’s the same product, but you pay more because you’re a woman.”
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