Finasteride (or Propecia) is the most commonly prescribed hair loss medication globally and one of the few treatments which have scientifically been proven to reduce hair loss and in some cases even led to regrowth of hair.

We have compiled an easy to understand guide around everything you need to know about Finasteride. Have a read below to understand what Finasteride is, how it works, who it is intended for and what the potential side effects are.

What is Finasteride?

Finasteride is an MHRA-approved medication for the treatment of male pattern baldness. Finasteride is the active ingredient in Propecia, the more well-known brand name for Finasteride, which was developed by Merck and approved for the treatment of male pattern hair loss (also known as androgenetic alopecia) in 1997.

In the UK Finasteride is only available on private prescription and not through the NHS.

What is the Difference Between Propecia and Finasteride?

There is effectively no difference between Propecia and generic Finasteride. The only difference is in the price. Propecia can cost as much as £60 for a monthly supply, while generic Finasteride tablets are available for as little as £25 when purchased online. Other than that, Propecia and Finasteride are medically identical and hence equally effective.

What is Male Pattern Baldness?

Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia, is the most common form of hair loss in men. Most men will experience a certain degree of hair loss starting between the ages of 20-25 and by the age of 35 affects about 2 out of 3 men.

In a healthy hair cycle, hair grows from the follicle and lasts on average three to five years after which the hair falls out. The follicle remains inactive for up to three months and the growth phase (anagen phase) is repeated. For men experiencing male pattern baldness, the hair follicles progressively produce fewer and thinner hairs until the follicles stop producing any hair.

Male pattern baldness is caused by a combination of genetic and hormonal factors. A hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) causes a change in the hair follicles. DHT is believed to reduce the growth phase (anagen phase) of the hair cycle.

How Finasteride Works

Finasteride belongs to a class of medication known as 5α-reductase inhibitors and works by blocking the conversion of testosterone into Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the hormone that is responsible for hair loss. An enzyme called 5α-reductase is responsible for the conversion of testosterone into DHT.

Hence, Finasteride is also more commonly referred to as a DHT-blocker. As a result, Finasteride prevents hair loss and in some cases has shown evidence to show enhanced hair growth.

DHT is blocked only as long as Finasteride is active in your body, so for Finasteride to have the full effect on male pattern baldness, one 1mg tablet must be taken every day. Once you discontinue taking Finasteride, you will start to convert testosterone to DHT again and as a result, your hair loss will continue.

What does Finasteride do to your hair?

Finasteride can prevent hair loss and in some cases help regrow hair. It is most effective for regrowth on the crown and the middle of the head.

Finasteride has to be taken one 1mg tablet per day and should begin to show results after about three months. However, results in some men take longer to develop and hence it is important not to drop the treatment too early on. On the other hand, if you see no positive results after 12 months of use, it is likely that Finasteride will not show any effect going forward and is recommended to discontinue the treatment.

Does Finasteride work?

Finasteride is one of the few medications which have been proven to work against male pattern baldness. Research has found that 90% of Finasteride-treated men either maintained (no further visible hair loss), or sustained visible improvement in hair growth over five year period. 65% of men have seen an increase in hair count after taking 1mg Finasteride daily over a five year period.

Note that Finasteride is unlikely to work for men who suffer from severe hair loss (i.e. men who have very little hair left). Also important to bear in mind, that for Finasteride to take full effect it needs to be taken over a long period of time.

What are the potential side effects of Finasteride?

Like all prescription medications, you may experience side effects when taking Finasteride.

Research has shown that Finasteride is a safe and effective hair loss treatment with some sexual side effects. About 1.5% of men that use Finasteride might experience side effects such as a reduced sex drive or erectile problems. Data from the FDA shows that for the majority of men the side effects stop once treatment with Finasteride is discontinued.

Who should use Finasteride?

Finasteride is intended for men with male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia). It’s most effective for hair regrowth around the crown and the middle of the head.

It is unlikely that Finasteride will be effective when taken by men who:

  • experience advanced stages of severe hair loss (i.e. very little hair left)
  • are not suffering from male pattern baldness, other types of hair loss (i.e. stress related)

What happens if you stop using Finasteride?

Finasteride is only effective as long as it is active in your body, so for Finasteride to have the full effect on male pattern baldness, one 1mg tablet must be taken every day.
Once the treatment is discontinued, it should be expected that the hair which was preserved will start to fall out again.

Who should not use Finasteride?

Finasteride should not be taken by women. It can affect hormone levels, so it is very important that women who are pregnant, could become pregnant, or are breastfeeding do not undergo treatment.

If your partner is or can become pregnant, a condom should be worn during sexual intercourse and they should not handle Finasteride tablets that are crushed or broken.

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