Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia, affects 42% of men at some point in their lives. However, hair loss can affect both men and women. If you’re noticing that your hair is thinning or you’re balding, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are real treatments that can help with hair loss. Finasteride is one of the most commonly prescribed hair loss treatments in Australia and is only available by prescription, so it’s important to understand how it works, its benefits and side effects in order to use it safely to treat hair loss.
Finasteride is the generic version of popular brand name drugs Propecia and Proscar. They belong to a class of drugs called 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. These types of medications have antiandrogenic effects, meaning they affect the production of androgens like testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Finasteride is an oral tablet that comes in 1 mg or 5 mg dosages. Finasteride is prescribed in Australia for treating hair loss in men and is not suitable for women.
Propecia is a brand name hair loss medication prescribed to treat male pattern baldness. It contains 1 mg of Finasteride and is only approved for treating hair loss in men, not in women. Propecia works by lowering the levels of DHT in the scalp, thus helping to reverse the balding process. It does not affect hair growth on other parts of the body.
Proscar is the brand name for Finasteride 5 mg. It is prescribed for treating hair loss in men as well as a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). When Proscar is prescribed for hair loss, your doctor might recommend splitting the tablets depending on your symptoms and medical history. Typically, Finasteride 5 mg tablets will be cut into quarters. It’s important to note that taking higher doses of Finasteride does not mean better hair loss management; always take your medication exactly as prescribed.
In order to understand how Finasteride works for treating hair loss, it’s helpful to understand how androgenetic alopecia causes hair loss in the first place. Androgenetic alopecia can happen in both men and women, though the patterns and severity differ between the two. Female pattern baldness typically sees thinning hair all over the head and doesn’t affect the hairline. It also rarely leads to total baldness. Male pattern baldness, on the other hand, sees a typical, well-defined pattern that begins above both temples. The hairline recedes in a “M” shape and thins at the crown of the head, often progressing to partial or complete baldness.
A variety of genetic and environmental factors play a role in causing androgenetic alopecia. Androgen hormones play a key role in hair growth in both men and women, amongst other functions like sex drive. Specifically, an androgen called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) can damage hair follicles on your scalp, leading to a complete end of hair growth in those particular follicles and causing hair loss. That’s why the most effective way to prevent hair loss and promote hair regrowth is by lowering the levels of DHT in your body through prescription medications like Finasteride.
Finasteride lowers the DHT levels in your body while simultaneously increasing testosterone levels, helping reduce hair loss on your scalp. It doesn’t affect hair loss or growth on the rest of your body; in fact, DHT is responsible for hair growth in certain areas of body hair. So if you’re taking Finasteride to treat male pattern baldness, you don’t need to worry about growing more hair on the rest of your body.
Everybody is different, and how long it takes for Finasteride to work depends on your particular level of baldness. However, if you take your medication exactly as prescribed, generally you will start to see results by month three or four. It can take up to a year to see maximum results.
It’s important to note that Finasteride, Propecia and Proscar will not always cause you to regrow hairs that you’ve previously lost; rather, it will help stop further hair loss and help you maintain your current length. That’s why Finasteride is often prescribed alongside Minoxidil, a medication that helps promote hair growth, thickness and strength.
Finasteride will stop working when you stop taking it, so it’s important to keep taking it for as long as you want to stop hair loss. If you stop taking Finasteride daily, you will lose the hair you’ve gained in about a year.
Like any medication, there are some side effects to be aware of when taking Finasteride. Tell your doctor if you experience any of these side effects.
Side effects of Finasteride are rare, but can include:
- Erectile dysfunction and lowered libido
- Skin rash
- Swelling or tenderness in breasts
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chills or cold sweats
- Lumps or pain in breasts
- Nipple discharge
Serious side effects are not common, but can occur. Call 000 if you feel severe side effects that include:
- Swelling of lips, tongue, throat or face
Currently, Finasteride, Propecia and Proscar are the only prescription medications in Australia that are approved for treating hair loss in men. These tablets are often prescribed alongside Minoxidil, a topical hair loss treatment available over-the-counter in Australia for maximum effect in both preventing further hair loss and promoting hair regrowth. When used as prescribed, Finasteride is a very effective hair loss treatment.
Yes, Finasteride is safe to use to treat male pattern baldness long term. It is not suitable for women and the tablets should not be handled by women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy. It may not be suitable for men with liver disease. It is important to disclose as much accurate medical information as possible to your doctor to assist them in providing the most appropriate treatment option for you.
Depending on your medical history, symptoms and needs, your doctor will prescribe an appropriate hair loss treatment plan. Like all medications, there are potential side effects to be aware of. Always use your prescription medication exactly as prescribed and contact your doctor if you’re experiencing any issues.
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∙ Australian Family Physician (April 2016) - Male baldness
∙ American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (1995) - Prevalence of male pattern hair loss in 18-49 year old men
∙ American Academy of Dermatology (1979) - Finasteride in the treatment of men with androgenetic alopecia. Finasteride Male Pattern Hair Loss Study Group
∙ Merck Propecia Leaflet
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