Finasteride for Hair Loss: Does It Really Work?
A noticeably thinning hairline or a looser-than-usual ponytail is enough to send you to your phone to google if and why your hair is thinning and, more importantly, if there’s anything you can do to stop it (or even grow it back).
Pretty quickly, you’ll find information about finasteride.
Finasteride is an oral prescription medication that is used to treat men’s hair loss — usually at a dose of 1 mg per day.
The medication, approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has been one of the most popular treatments for hair loss for the last 20+ years.
Yet it’s natural to approach any medication with some healthy scepticism. So let’s answer your questions. In this article, we’ll cover (among other things):
- How studies have proven that finasteride works to help regrow hair
- How finasteride works by reducing the levels of a certain type of testosterone (DHT) in your scalp
- What to do about the most common side effects, which are experienced by less than 2% of patients
Before we get into it, we know what you’re wondering.
Does The Hairy Pill® contain finasteride?
The TGA has regulations that prevent us from listing the active ingredients for The Hairy Pill® online. But it’s no secret formula. Contact us today and we can tell you via email or over the phone.
Does Finasteride Work?
By and large the research shows that finasteride helps stimulate hair regrowth while stopping the progression of hair loss — particularly among men with male pattern hair loss. Let’s look at what the studies say.
Decreases DHT levels
A 1999 study found that doses of finasteride as low as 0.2 mg per day decrease the levels of DHT in the scalp skin and serum. A 1 mg/day dose of finasteride reduces scalp skin DHT levels by almost 65% and serum DHT levels by more than 70%.
Stops hair loss
A 1999 review confirmed finasteride’s efficacy in stopping hair loss. 83% of men who were treating male pattern hair loss with finasteride experienced no further hair loss after 2 years, compared to just 28% of those who took a placebo.
In 1998, researchers published the results of long-term clinical trials that found that after 2 years of finasteride treatment (1 mg/day), the average hair count on the balding vertex scalp increased 16%, from 876 to 1,014 hairs per square inch.
Long-term trials in Japan in 2019 found that more than 90% of men with androgenetic alopecia still saw improvements after 10 years’ treatment with finasteride.
Female pattern hair loss
In a year-long trial involving postmenopausal women with female pattern hair loss, a 1 mg dose of finasteride per day did not increase hair growth or slow down the progress of hair thinning.
How Does This Hair Loss Medication Work?
We’re going to explain how finasteride for hair loss works but for that, we need to give you a quick biology lesson.
Bear with us.
Whether you’re male or female, your body contains testosterone. Some of that testosterone gets converted into dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
It shrinks genetically-sensitive hair follicles, making it harder for hair to grow and causing androgenetic alopecia (or hereditary pattern hair loss).
Your body also contains an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase (sometimes written as 5α-reductase).
There are two types of 5-alpha-reductase but type 2 is the important one here — it turns testosterone into DHT.
This is where it all gets interesting for hair loss.
Without 5-alpha-reductase type 2, your body won’t be able to produce DHT. And as we’ve established, without DHT, your hair follicles have a better chance of thriving.
Finasteride is an 5-alpha-reductase type II inhibitor (often just abbreviated to 5-ARI).
As the name suggests, it stops the 5 alpha-reductase type 2 enzyme from converting testosterone into DHT.
Male Pattern Baldness & Finasteride
Alongside topical minoxidil, finasteride is the most common treatment for male pattern hair loss (androgenetic alopecia).
Male pattern hair loss, or male pattern baldness (MPB), is the most common type of hair loss for men.
It is also a hereditary condition.
That means that men with MPB are predisposed to have hair follicles that are sensitive to DHT. And as we’ve established, DHT can cause sensitive follicles to shrink, producing:
- Shorter and finer hair
- A shorter hair growth stage
- A longer hair shedding phase
- The production of fewer hairs — or none at all
You can see how finasteride can be a particularly effective treatment for male pattern hair loss.
By halting the production of DHT, it gives your hair follicles a chance to rest, recover, and restimulate to start regrowing hair.
Clinical trials show that 1 mg/day of oral finasteride prevents hair loss and promotes hair growth in a significant proportion of men with male pattern hair loss.
Side Effects of Finasteride
Like most medications, including the humble panadol, finasteride can cause side effects. These are usually mild, affect a tiny portion of patients, and go away over time.
IMPORTANT: Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should not take finasteride — or even handle broken pills — as it can cause birth defects in male babies. Finasteride is rarely given to premenopausal women for this reason.
Common side effects of finasteride for hair loss
The most common side effects for 1 mg finasteride per day include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Ejaculatory dysfunction
- Decreased libido
- Testicular pain or discomfort
- Changes in mood or depression
Clinical trials found that the 3 most common side effects occur in a tiny percentage of patients:
- 1.8% of patients experienced decreased libido
- 1.3% experienced erectile dysfunction
- 1.2% experienced an ejaculation disorder
These side effects usually occur early on in the treatment and can be mitigated by changing the dose or stopping treatment. Studies found that for those who chose to continue treatment, the side effects typically disappeared over time.
Serious side effects
Rare but serious side effects occur in less than 1 in 1,000 people. Serious side effects include:
- Unusually low mood, depression, or thoughts of harming yourself
- Lumps or pain in your chest area
- Swelling of your lips, tongue, throat, or face
- Nipple discharge
Finasteride may also cause an increased risk of developing a more serious form of prostate cancer — albeit in a dose that is typically far higher than that used to treat hair loss.
Findings based on two large trials found that taking 5 mg of finasteride daily increased the risk of developing high-grade prostate cancer from 1% to 1.8% in men over 55 years of age.
Finally, though unusual, some people may experience a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to finasteride.
When to see a doctor?
While most side effects of finasteride are mild and disappear with time, it’s important to talk with your doctor if you have any concerns or they do not go away.
If you have serious side effects, contact your doctor immediately. If you think you’re having a medical emergency, call 000.
Finasteride: Common Questions
Finasteride is one of the most popular hair loss treatments available today, so it’s natural you’ll have further questions. We’ve answered the most common FAQs below.
Does Finasteride regrow lost hair?
Yes, just 1 mg a day of finasteride can help regrow lost hair. A long-term study published in 1998 showed that finasteride can increase the average hair count on the crown by 16%.
Can you use Finasteride and Minoxidil together?
Topical minoxidil is often offered as an alternative hair loss treatment that is available over the counter in Australia. However, it can also be taken in combination with finasteride to improve results.
Finasteride and minoxidil work in completely different ways.
The former is taken orally and targets DHT levels in the body. The latter is typically applied directly to the scalp to increase blood flow to the scalp and stimulate hair regrowth.
While both medications have some level of effectiveness when used alone, studies have shown that combining the two often produce better results.
Here are the results of a 2015 Chinese study after 12 months of therapy:
- 80.5% of men taking 1 mg finasteride alone saw improvements
- 59% of men using 5% minoxidil alone saw improvements
- 94.1% of men using a combination finasteride-minoxidil therapy saw improvement
How long does Finasteride take to work?
When it comes to effective hair growth treatment, slow and steady wins the race.
Good hair loss treatments work because they target the root of the problem by rebalancing the hair growth cycle. That takes time. Most people start seeing results anywhere between 3 and 6 months.
0–3 months: It sounds counterproductive but you may notice you’re shedding MORE hair than usual. It’s a good sign. It means new hair is starting to grow and push out the old.
3–6 months: You may notice that your hair loss has halted. Your hair may even begin to thicken or show signs of regrowth. However cycles of shedding and growth can continue as your hair growth cycle rebalances.
6+ months: Over the next 6–12 months, a consistent dose of finasteride may lead to consistent improvements in your hair growth, with noticeably thicker and stronger hair all over.
Talk to Our Men’s Hair Loss Specialists Today
Hair loss may well be a hairy subject but the improvements over the last 20 years means you have effective treatments that your father or grandfather could only dream of.
Our understanding of hair loss — and how to treat it — has come a long way.
But just because we are familiar (slash-slightly-obsessed) with the subject doesn’t mean you would be.
You have questions. We get it. We have answers.
The Hairy Pill® treatments include ongoing consultations with partner doctors, who are under the guidance of Dr Rodney Sinclair, the world-renowned dermatologist behind the pill.
Want to know what’s in The Hairy Pill®, whether it can help you, or how long it may take to work? Our support team of hair loss specialists is only a phone call away. Contact us now.