Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/22/2021
Male pattern baldness is a common issue that the majority of men will have to deal with at some point in life.
In fact, according to research published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery, 53 percent of men aged from 40 to 49 have moderate to extensive hair loss.
Up until a couple of decades ago, hair loss was something that guys just had to accept and take in stride.
As a daily-use medication, finasteride offered men with hair loss the option of slowing down, stopping or even, in some cases, reversing baldness.
If you’re starting to lose your hair, you may have looked into using finasteride, either by itself or in combination with other treatments, to shield yourself from further hair loss.
Below, we’ve explained what finasteride is, as well as the basics of how it works as a treatment for male pattern baldness.
We’ve also explained what you can expect in terms of finasteride results, from how long it takes to produce improvements to the type of regrowth and general success rate you can expect from finasteride.
Finally, we’ve shared a few practical, science-based tips and techniques to help you get the best possible results from finasteride.
Finasteride is a medication that’s used to treat male pattern baldness. It works by stopping the conversion of testosterone, your body’s main male sex hormone, into dihydrotestoterone (DHT), the hormone that causes male pattern baldness.
DHT is produced as a byproduct of testosterone. If you’re prone to male pattern baldness, DHT may bind to receptors in your scalp and cause your hair follicles to gradually miniaturize.
Over time, this can lead to everything from a receding hairline to near-total baldness.
Our guide to DHT and male pattern baldness discusses this process and the effects of DHT on your hair’s health and appearance in more detail.
Originally, finasteride was approved by the FDA as medication for benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH -- a form of non-cancerous prostate enlargement -- under the brand name Proscar®.
Several years later, it was approved for hair loss and sold as Propecia. Today, both versions of finasteride -- the higher-dose version used to treat BPH and the lower-dose version that’s used for hair loss -- are available as generics under a variety of brand names.
Research shows that finasteride works, often very well. In long-term, placebo-controlled clinical trials, 90 percent of men with hair loss who used finasteride either maintained their hair or saw improvements in hair growth.
In comparison, 75 percent of men who used a non-therapeutic placebo experienced worsening hair loss over the same period.
Finasteride is effective, but there’s one catch: it doesn’t work overnight. To get consistent results from finasteride, you’ll need to have a long-term outlook and take it consistently over the course of several months.
On average, it takes three to four months before you’ll usually be able to see any improvements from finasteride.
This isn’t because the medication isn’t working. In fact, finasteride starts reducing DHT levels as soon as it’s absorbed by your body.
However, your hair takes time to grow, meaning you’ll need to be patient before the effects from finasteride become visible.
Data from clinical trials shows that most guys experience improvements from finasteride after a year of consistent use.
In short, once you start using finasteride, you can expect to see some change in your hair after a few months.
After one year of continuous use, you should be able to see more “final” results from finasteride.
So, what does finasteride actually do? Below, we’ve gotten a little more specific and explained what you can expect if you use finasteride to treat male pattern baldness.
By stopping the conversion of testosterone to DHT, finasteride helps to shield your hair follicles from DHT-related damage.
Research shows that finasteride reduces serum DHT levels by more than 70 percent.
This can significantly slow down the progression of male pattern baldness, meaning that if you’re starting to lose your hair, the process won’t occur at its normal speed.
Most men find that their hair loss completely stops after they start using finasteride -- a topic we have covered in greater detail below.
At the very least, you can expect your hair loss to slow by a significant amount after you start using finasteride.
Research shows that the overwhelming majority of men who use finasteride experience no hair loss during treatment.
In a review published in the journal Drugs, researchers found that 83 percent of men with male pattern baldness experienced no change in their hair count after using finasteride over a period of two years.
In comparison, only 28 percent of men who used a non-therapeutic placebo did not experience any change in hair count.
Put simply, finasteride’s suppressive effect on DHT helps to stop hair loss from getting worse in most men.
You can think of finasteride as something like a pause button for your hair loss. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll grow back your hair, the overwhelming majority of men who use finasteride find that their hair loss doesn’t become more severe during treatment.
Although some people may fear waking up one morning without any hair, the reality is that male pattern baldness is almost always a gradual process that happens over the course of years and decades.
If your hair loss isn’t severe, using finasteride may help you to regrow hair in areas of your scalp that only have mild thinning.
In a large-scale clinical trial published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers found that men who used finasteride to treat male pattern baldness experienced a clinically significant increase in their average hair count over a period of two years.
At the beginning of the study, the men had an average hair count of 876 hairs per square inch of balding vertex scalp.
After two years of treatment with finasteride, this increased to an average of 1,014 hairs per square inch, or approximately 16 percent more hair per inch of skin.
The men that took part in the study reported that finasteride increased hair growth and improved the general appearance of their hair.
A different long-term study of finasteride carried out in Japan found that more than 99 percent of men with male pattern baldness experienced no worsening of their hair loss during treatment.
In this same study, 91.5 percent of the men experienced improvements in their hair growth while using finasteride.
In short, while not everyone who takes finasteride regrows hair, many men experience a modest but noticeable increase in hair growth.
Finasteride is an easy medication to use. It comes in tablet form and only needs to be taken one time per day, either with or without food.
However, taking a few extra steps, such as using finasteride with other hair loss treatments, can increase your success rate with finasteride and speed up your results.
We’ve listed several of these techniques below.
Research shows that finasteride is more effective when it’s used in combination with minoxidil, a topical medication for treating hair loss and stimulating hair growth.
Minoxidil works slightly differently from finasteride. Rather than blocking DHT, it functions locally and encourages your hair to enter into the anagen, or growth, phase of the hair growth cycle.
It also stimulates blood flow to your scalp, which may help to supply your hair follicles with extra nutrients and improve growth.
In one study, researchers found that 94.1 percent of men with male pattern baldness who used finasteride and minoxidil at the same time experienced hair-related improvements.
In comparison, the rate of improvement was 80.5 percent for men who used finasteride and just 59 percent for men who only used minoxidil.
You may have heard of minoxidil under the brand name Rogaine®. It’s available as a foam and as a liquid and is designed to be applied directly to your scalp.
While using minoxidil at the same time will give the biggest boost to your finasteride results, it’s also possible to improve your hair growth with other products. These include:
Hair loss prevention shampoo. Shampoos made with ingredients like ketoconazole or saw palmetto, such as our hair thickening shampoo, may also help to stimulate hair growth and protect your follicles from the effects of DHT.
Biotin supplements. Biotin, an important B-vitamin, doesn’t appear to stop male pattern baldness. However, it plays an important role in the growth process of your hair and may be a good addition to your hair care routine.
Conditioner. A quality conditioner plays a supporting role in the hair growth process by keeping your hair strong, hydrated and healthy. Our Thick Fix Conditioner is formulated with niacinamide to bolster and stimulate your hair for a thicker, fuller look.
Our guide to hair growth products goes into more detail about non-pharmaceutical products that you can use to keep your hair in optimal condition.
You probably think that the notion of scalp massages being able to improve finasteride’s results is about as far-fetched as they come, but there’s actually science to back it up.
Research on scalp massage in Japanese male subjects found that daily four-minute massages over the course of 24 weeks were able to stimulate hair growth and boost hair thickness.
Now, it’s important to point out that this study was small in size -- it only featured a total of nine men.
However, other research into the effects of scalp massage on hair growth has produced similar findings.
In a study published in the journal Dermatology and Therapy, researchers concluded that SSM, or standardized scalp massage, appears to stabilize hair loss in healthy men with male pattern baldness.
The survey used in this study was much larger, with a total of 327 men that attempted the scalp massage techniques.
How and why scalp massages are able to stimulate hair growth remains a mystery, but experts speculate that it may have something to do with softening the skin and increasing blood flow.
Male pattern baldness is primarily genetic and hormonal, but this doesn’t mean that your habits and lifestyle can’t play a role in healthy hair.
If you’re losing your hair, making certain changes to your lifestyle may promote hair growth and general hair health, improving your results from finasteride and minoxidil.
Lifestyle-focused steps that you can take to prevent and reduce hair loss include:
Quitting smoking. Although smoking doesn’t appear to increase DHT levels, the toxins found in cigarette smoke may damage your hair follicles at the DNA level.If you smoke, make an effort to quit. You can learn more about the best ways to give up the habit in our detailed guide to quitting smoking.
Eating a balanced diet. Healthy hair growth requires a steady supply of vital nutrients, including zinc, iron and protein. Try to eat a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein.
Avoiding harsh hair products. Many hair care products, including certain shampoos and styling products, contain harsh ingredients that can irritate your scalp and prevent healthy hair growth.Try to avoid shampoos that contain harsh ingredients such as sulfates, and instead opt for a shampoo that’s designed to promote growth and prevent hair loss.
Limiting exposure to stress. Although stress doesn’t cause male pattern baldness, it can contribute to a form of temporary hair shedding called telogen effluvium. Try to minimize your exposure to stress. This could mean making changes to your work habits, making use of therapeutic resources to improve your mental health or practicing meditation to gain more control over your feelings of stress and anxiety.
Finasteride is effective, but it isn’t a magic baldness-erasing pill. To continue blocking DHT and protect your hair, you’ll need to keep taking it every day to fully benefit from its effects.
The same is true of other hair loss treatments, such as minoxidil. To maintain your results, you’ll need to continue using these medications over the long term.
Finasteride is a safe and effective medication that’s used by millions of men around the world to treat and prevent male pattern baldness.
Most men who use finasteride don’t experience any problems. However, a small number of men develop side effects while using finasteride, including some potential sexual side effects.
In clinical trials of finasteride, 1.3 percent of users experienced erectile dysfunction, 1.8 percent experienced a decrease in libido and 1.2 percent experienced an ejaculation disorder.
Other side effects associated with finasteride include changes in the breasts, such as increased size, lumps, discharge or pain, as well as testicular discomfort and depression.
We’ve discussed these side effects, their risk and the steps you can take if you experience any issues while using finasteride in our guide to finasteride side effects.
Finasteride is an effective medication that can slow down, prevent and even reverse the effects of male pattern baldness, but it does have its own limitations.
While there are ways to speed up and improve the effects of finasteride, you shouldn’t expect to wake up one day only to find your hair grew twice as thick overnight.
Finasteride and other hair loss medications, like minoxidil, work gradually and require long-term commitment for optimal results.
To get the best results from finasteride, make sure to combine it with minoxidil, a balanced diet, a healthy lifestyle and good hair care habits.
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