Does Finasteride Really Work for Hair Loss?

Written by the Manual Team · Medically approved by Dr Earim Chaudry - MD

In 30 seconds…

Finasteride is a tablet taken once daily to treat the hair loss caused by male pattern baldness (MPB).

It’s the only licensed oral treatment for MPB in the UK and it works to stop or even reverse hair loss in 90% of men. Finasteride tackles the problematic hormone DHT and encourages the recovery of damaged hair follicles for thicker, healthier hair.

Hair loss is a fact of life for most men as they get older, and your genes play a big role in determining just where that bald spot’s going to be. If you look at your dad or granddad and see they’re losing hair, it’s likely that you’ll follow them at some stage.

But that doesn’t mean you should be reaching for the razor just yet. Attractive as the bald look is, there are treatments available that can help you halt the hair loss – and even regrow your hair.

In the UK there are two medications licensed to treat male pattern baldness (MPB): oral Finasteride and topical Minoxidil. In this article, we give you the lowdown on Finasteride for hair loss. 


What is Finasteride?

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Ready for a quick history lesson? Finasteride was developed in the 1980s by American company Merck and Co. While it was trialled as a treatment for prostate conditions, it was soon found to have the side effect of increasing hair growth. So, the company got a licence to market Finasteride under the brand name Propecia.

Propecia has been available in the UK since 2002 and, in 2014, the patent on the drug expired. Why’s that good news? It meant that Finasteride could be sold as generic tablets at a much-reduced price. Thus, if you’ve been wondering about Propecia vs Finasteride, it really is all in the name: the two products do exactly the same thing for your hair.

Finasteride tablets are available on prescription from your GP, the pharmacy, or a registered website.


How Does Finasteride Work?

To understand how Finasteride works, it’s important to know a little bit about what causes MPB hair loss. If you have MPB, it means that your hair follicles (the hair-producing “capsules” in your scalp) are extra sensitive to the effects of a hormone called DHT. DHT is a super-strength product of the hormone testosterone and the enzyme 5-alpha reductase (5AR), which is found in your hair follicles. When 5AR converts testosterone to DHT, this causes the hair follicle to miniaturise (shrink). As a result, hair growth is slower and each hair is thinner and more brittle. Eventually, hair ceases to grow at all.

Enter Finasteride. It blocks the activity of 5AR, so that it can’t convert testosterone into DHT. This gives your hair follicles a chance to recover and the effects of miniaturisation can be reversed. Result? Thicker, stronger, healthier hair.


How Effective is Finasteride?

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Nine out of 10 men will experience the benefits of Finasteride. The results of three five-year studies, conducted with nearly 6,000 patients in total, showed that hair loss was halted in 90% of men. And 77% of men actually increased their hair growth during treatment.

Other research has demonstrated similar results. One study published in 2003 showed hair loss being stopped in 83% of participants. Also, in another more recent study involving over 2,500 men, 87% of the patients experienced greater hair growth because of the treatment. 

Finasteride has been shown to be particularly effective on the thinning temples and receding hairline that characterise MPB. It’s just worth being aware that Finasteride won’t have as much of an impact (and so isn’t advised as a treatment) if you’ve already lost all or most of your hair – that’s why it’s good to get started with treatment early on, at the first signs of MPB.


How to Take Finasteride

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Finasteride treatment is simple. You just take one tablet per day (that’s 1mg Finasteride dosage, compared to 5mg for prostate issues), with or without food, ideally at the same time every day. Bear in mind that the beneficial effects don’t happen overnight – it typically takes three to six months before results are seen, and sometimes nine to 12 (depending on the individual).

The best results of Finasteride are observed after one to two years, so to really transform your hair you do need to factor treatment into your daily routine for the long-haul. If no positive effects happen after 12 months, your doctor may advise you to stop taking the tablets and try a different hair loss solution.

You might be wondering whether you can get topical Finasteride to apply directly to your scalp. Though research has shown promising results from a topical solution, it’s not yet available as a licensed treatment in the UK. So watch this space! If you’re looking for a medically approved topical hair loss treatment, you can always try Minoxidil.


Is Finasteride Safe?

Finasteride has been shown to be safe for the majority of men with MPB: 98.6% of men experienced no serious side effects to the drug in clinical trials, and research has demonstrated that Finasteride is well tolerated over five years of treatment. Make sure you rule out any other causes of hair loss before starting to take the medication.


Important note: Finasteride is not safe to be taken by women, or males under the age of 18.


Although most men have no adverse reactions, rare Finasteride side effects include: low mood or depression, reduced libido and erectile problems, discomfort in the chest area, and allergic reactions. On rare occasions Finasteride can also cause changes to breast tissue, with a small reported risk of breast cancer (only three cases involving the 1mg dosage have ever been reported).


It’s important to consult your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms.


Finasteride can harm an unborn baby, so pregnant women shouldn’t risk handling the tablets. It’s also best to avoid the medication if you’re planning a pregnancy, and to wear a condom during sex if your partner doesn’t take other contraception.

A couple of other things to bear in mind. If you’re being tested for a prostate condition, you should let your doctor know you’re taking Finasteride, as it can affect the test results. Furthermore, men who are galactose intolerant, have a lapp lactase deficiency, or who have glucose-galactose malabsorption shouldn’t take Finasteride.

Essentially, though Finasteride is safe as a treatment for MPB hair loss in the majority of men, it’s important to read all the information that comes with the tablets and talk to your doctor about any concerns. Once you’re happy that Finasteride is right for you, you can start treatment with confidence and look forward to that fuller head of hair.


Key Takeaways...

So, does Finasteride really work for hair loss? A resounding “Yes” for 90% of men with MPB. One small tablet once a day, along with a little patience, is all it takes to achieve thicker, healthier hair.

If you want to give your scalp the best chance to spring back to life, you can also try combining Finasteride tablets with topical Minoxidil. Or maybe you’ll just grab that razor and go for the smooth-all-over look. Whatever works for you!