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What Every Man Should Know About Finasteride for Hair Loss

Michele Emery, DNP
Medically reviewed by Michele Emery, DNP Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 9/08/2020

You’ve suspected it for some time, but now it’s undeniable — you’re losing your hair. Whether your hairline is receding, you’re developing a bald spot or your hair is thinning all over your head, hair loss is never a good thing. As a man, your hair is part of your identity and your hairstyle is a testament to your personality. But losing your hair doesn’t have to mean losing yourself.

Though there are many over-the-counter hair loss treatments on the market, a lot of them don’t offer any real or lasting results. Surgery, steroid injections and hair pieces are often expensive or may not give you the results you want. What does that leave you with?

Finasteride is a prescription drug FDA-approved for the treatment of hair loss — and for most men, it works. If you’re ready to stop losing your hair and regain your luscious locks, here’s what you need to know about finasteride.

Which Types of Hair Loss Can Be Treated?

A little bit of hair loss is completely normal. Most people lose between 50 and 100 hairs per day. This level of hair loss is so insignificant that it’s usually not even noticeable. If you’ve begun to experience noticeable hair loss, however, it could be a problem. 

There are many different forms of hair loss, each caused by different things, and they can affect men and women in different ways.

Male pattern baldness, or androgenic alopecia, is the most common form of hair loss in men and is typically an inherited condition. As the condition progresses, the natural hair growth cycle begins to weaken and your hair follicles actually begin to shrink, causing your hair to become shorter and finer. 

Eventually, hair growth stops altogether. The exact cause for this type of hair loss is unknown, but it is related to the production of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Treatments that inhibit production of DHT are sometimes effective in slowing, stopping or reversing hair loss due to androgenic alopecia.

Though male pattern baldness is often treatable, other forms of hair loss either cannot be treated or they resolve themselves on their own. Telogen effluvium, for example, is a temporary form of hair loss typically induced by severe stress. Once the stressor has been removed, many people grow their hair back. 

Alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition, is another story. Scientists aren’t sure what triggers the immune system to begin attacking the hair follicles, but it is thought to be a combination of internal and external factors. For some people, oral or topical treatments work to reduce hair loss, but autoimmune conditions like this can never be fully cured.

What Treatments DON’T Work or Cost Too Much?

There are countless men out there who are desperate to stop their hair loss, so they try everything the can. Unfortunately, many of the hair loss treatments on the market either don’t work or are prohibitively expensive for most of us. Here is an overview of some of the hair loss treatments you may have seen that don’t really work or are just way too expensive:

  • Laser Combs — This treatment consists of a comb paired with a low-level laser light. You simply comb it through your hair to deliver low-dose laser light to the hair follicles, theoretically stimulating new growth.
  • Hair Oils — Essential oils, Moroccan oil, argan oil and even coconut oil have all been marketed as hair loss remedies at some point, but there is little clinical evidence to suggest that these oils do anything for your hair other than leaving it feeling greasy.
  • Corticosteroids — Corticosteroid injections are usually used to reduce hair loss caused by inflammation. These treatments sometimes help with alopecia areata, but they need to be repeated frequently and the hair loss is likely to continue once treatment stops.
  • Topical Corticosteroids — Steroid creams and ointments are also a popular treatment for hair loss, but their long-term benefits have not been studied.
  • Surgery — Hair transplants, scalp reduction and artificial hair implantation are the most common forms of hair loss surgery. These options do usually work, but they are often painful and super expensive.

Out of all the hair loss remedies out there, there are only two which have been proven to be effective and backed by FDA approval for male pattern baldness — finasteride and minoxidil. The former is a prescription drug that blocks the action of DHT and the latter is available in a foam or serum form, often used to supplement the benefits of finasteride.

How Does Finasteride Work for Hair Loss Treatment?

Finasteride is an FDA-approved medication for the treatment of hair loss in men. Also sold under the brand name Propecia®, finasteride belongs to a class of drugs known as 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors. It works by preventing testosterone from breaking down into DHT, the hormone that is thought to cause male pattern baldness. You can get this medication with a prescription from a licensed physician.

Available in tablet form, finasteride is designed for long-term use. You may not see any significant results until you’ve been taking the product continuously for a few months. Men who have used finasteride to treat hair loss have reported an increase in the number of hairs, as well as improvement in hair quality. Keep in mind that finasteride only works if you keep taking it. If you stop using finasteride, the hair you’ve regrown will eventually fall out.

What About Side Effects? 

Though the instance of side effects in men taking finasteride is relatively low, all drugs come with a risk of side effects and it’s important to know the potential risks before taking finasteride

Men taking finasteride have reported experiencing rashes, breast tenderness and enlargement, depression, anxiety, problems with ejaculation, testicular pain, neurological problems like mental fogginess and sexual side effects like erectile dysfunction, decreased libido and lower ejaculate volume levels.

Healthcare professionals recommend that NSAIDS — like Aleve®, Motrin®, Advil®, etc. — be avoided while taking finasteride, as there could be an increased occurrence of sexual dysfunction when the two are mixed.

It’s worth noting that these side effects generally disappear once you stop using the medication. It’s also worth noting, however, that in rare cases, men who experienced side effects while taking finasteride continued to experience them even after stopping treatment.

Although low, there is also an increased risk of getting a more serious form of prostate cancer, called high-grade prostate cancer. There have been reports of a slight increased risk (1.8 percent with 5mg finasteride dosage versus 1.0 percent placebo) of High Grade Prostate Cancer for men over age 55 years old. Again, this is at a much higher dosage (5mg versus 1mg ) than we prescribe for hair loss.

Finally, men who have chronic liver disease should not take finasteride. 

Losing your hair is never easy but, fortunately, it isn’t something you have to live with! If you’re experiencing hair loss due to male pattern baldness, don’t fall victim to marketing schemes for gimmick products and therapies that don’t work or dip into your life savings — stick with one of the only hair loss treatments that is both FDA-approved and proven to be effective — finasteride.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.