Does Finasteride work for hair loss?
There are only three treatments that have actually been cleared by the FDA and supported with clinical studies: finasteride (commonly marketed as Propecia), minoxidil, and laser treatments. And, since finasteride is prescription-only, we are left with two.
Finasteride was originally used to treat enlarged prostrate glands in men and it was marketed as Proscar. While it was being tested in clinical trials, researchers discovered that men who took Proscar experienced a side effect: the growth of hair. Due to this serendipitous discovery, the manufacturers developed Propecia, which is a lower dose of finasteride to treat hair loss in men.
Propecia was appproved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1997 to treat pattern baldness in males who have higher levels of DHT than those males who do not. DHT causes hair follicles to shrink and this leads to baldness.
It takes about three months to see results from Propecia. You take it daily as a pill. Many men taking finasteride experience a slowing of hair loss, and some may show some new hair growth. You need to keep taking it to retain benefits. Finasteride may not work as well for men over 60.
How Does Finasteride Work ?
Finasteride is not a cure for male pattern baldness but instead only blocks the hormone linked to hair loss in men (DHT). It can effectively lower dihydrotestosterone or DHT levels in the scalp by as much as 60% when taken daily. The American Hair Loss Association recommends finasteride as the first line of attack for all men interested in treating their male pattern baldness. It is the only prescription treatment approved by the FDA for male pattern baldness. A study has also shown that 83% of the 1,500 male participants who took finasteride for two years reported startling hair growth, a full stop in hair loss, or both.
Finasteride is FDA and Health Canada approved for men with hair loss. Although it’s not formally FDA approved for use in women, the medication has been prescribed to women with androgenetic alopecia for nearly two decades. When a physician prescribes finasteride for androgenetic alopecia in women, it’s only done on a case by case basis.
There are many views among physicians on finasteride. Some physicians will never prescribe this medication to women while others will prescribe it only to post-menopausal women. There are some who will it prescribe to some pre-menopausal and some post-menopausal women – but only on a case by case basis – and counsel them on its risks and benefits.
Medical consultants do not recommend finasteride for pregnant women or those who are thinking of getting pregnant. This medicine is unsafe for them because it triggers genital abnormalities in a male fetus. Crushing or breaking up finasteride tablets is also not advisable for these women because the skin can still absorb it.
Women who took finasteride also reported a few adverse side effects like hot flashes, sweating, headaches and increased body hair. There could also be less serious side effects like swelling of your lips, tongue, throat or face, or dizziness.
To date there is no good evidence to suggest that finasteride increases a woman’s risk of cancer.
A word of caution for women who want to take Propecia. As it is metabolized in your liver, you should talk to your doctor about the risks of using Propecia.
There’s some evidence that suggest that it only works well for men and is less effective in women, so you may want to discuss other treatment options with your physician. The good news is that there are other ways for you to deal with hair loss. Finasteride may be an effective treatment option for hair loss in women, but you can consider using it in combination with other solutions (such as minoxidil) as a treatment to regrow your hair.
Finasteride “pros” and “cons”
Because male pattern hair loss is essentially a cosmetic problem, it is important to be fully informed of both the “pros” and “cons” of finasteride before treatment decisions are made. Talk to you doctor to find out if Propecia might help slow or reverse your hair loss. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of this hair loss treatment for your individual situation.
The potential benefits of Propecia include:
- Simplicity. There is no fuss involved with using Propecia. You take the medication in the form of a tablet once a day.
- Effective: increases hair growth and prevents further hair loss. The vast majority of men using finasteride experience some benefit from its use.
- Lack of drug interactions. Finasteride has not been shown to interfere with other medicines.
- Suitable for long-term treatment. Follow-up studies have reported that it is safe and effective over the long-term.
- Not a cure for hair loss. Unfortunately, Propecia does not ‘cure’ male pattern hair loss. Any benefits are lost when the medication is stopped.
- Not suitable for women. Finasteride has not been proven to be effective in postmenopausal women.
- A small percentage of men will experience sexual side effects, namely loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, and decreased ejaculate volume. These are some of the potential side effects of Propecia. However, keep in mind that each of these side effects occurs in less than 2 percent of men taking Propecia.
- The good news is that side effects go away as soon as they stop using finasteride
- High cost. The cost of Propecia varies, depending on the pharmacy you use. In general, the average retail price of Propecia is about $220 for a 90-day supply, but shop around to find the best deal. You may also want to enroll in the Propecia Persistence Program to receive special discounts from the manufacturer.
So you are advised to consult your doctor first before taking finasteride and this will help you determine if the drug is really safe and effective for your situation.
I hope you have found my article on finasteride useful and if you have any experience with this drug, I welcome your comments on it. Please leave any questions and comments below.