We get it — losing your hair is an emotional rollercoaster. But treatments for hair loss have come a long way since the era of bad hair plugs and toupées, and you have a much better chance of seeing some hair regrowth with the right treatment. One of the options available in Canada is finasteride.
Also known as “androgenetic alopecia,” male pattern baldness affects millions of people all over the world. In Canada, 30% of cisgender men experience male pattern baldness by age 30, and 50% of them will experience it by the time they’re 50.
Contrary to the myth that hair loss is inherited only from your mother’s side, male pattern baldness may be caused by genetics on either side of your family. Other reasons you may see hair loss include:
But the vast majority of people who experience hair loss are affected by androgenetic alopecia, which is a specific type of hair loss that causes a receding hairline and/or thinning at the crown of the head.
While male pattern baldness isn’t a serious health condition, it can cause real psychological distress — and that deserves some attention.
There are several treatments available for hair loss, including:
Finasteride, otherwise known under its brand name Propecia, is clinically proven to treat hair loss.
Finasteride is the active ingredient in Propecia, a popular prescription medication manufactured by Merck & Co., Inc. for the treatment of male pattern baldness. Propecia was approved by the FDA in 1997. A generic version of the drug was approved in 2006.
Fun fact: Finasteride was originally intended to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, otherwise known as prostate gland enlargement. Its discovery as a treatment for male pattern baldness was an accident, as researchers found out that one of the drug’s side effects was hair regrowth and baldness prevention in people who experience androgenic alopecia.
Finasteride is a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor. In human terms, it works by preventing testosterone from turning into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which can shrink hair follicles and stop hair growth.
While some people can see hair regrowth after taking finasteride for a certain period of time, it’s better to think of the medication as a prevention method. Finasteride results vary from person to person.
One study showed hair growth improvements in 48% of study participants after one year of taking finasteride, and 66% of people saw improvements after two years (compared to 7% of placebo recipients).
But when it comes to prevention, 83% of people who took finasteride didn’t see any more hair loss after two years. So we know the medication works pretty well to prevent male pattern baldness, even if it doesn't promote hair growth in everyone.
Finasteride isn’t a quick fix –– you won’t take a pill one day and see a luscious head of hair the next.
If you’re good about taking your pill once a day, you’ll generally start to see results within three to four months. But because hair is hair and needs time to grow, you’ll need to wait about six to nine months to see the full effects of finasteride.
If you’ve seen a finasteride before-and-after photo and you’re impressed with the final results, it likely took that person a full year to see significant hair regrowth.
Remember — everyone is different. If you’re taking finasteride and not seeing any noticeable changes, it could be that the medication is simply preventing more hair loss. You may want to talk to your doctor if you’re not seeing the results you’d like, but if you stop taking finasteride for this reason alone, you could end up with more hair loss.
Finasteride is taken as a 1mg pill once a day.
There is no best time of day to take finasteride, but you should take it at the same time each day for best results. It doesn’t matter if you take the pill with or without food.
People who skip pills on a regular basis won’t see the same results as someone who adheres to their daily treatment schedule. Finasteride builds up in your system over time, which is why you won’t see people taking the medication at higher doses –– it’s just not needed.
If you stop taking finasteride, however, you could start to see some hair loss again. So let’s say you start taking the medication at age 30 and you like the results. That means you would have to keep taking the medication until you’re comfortable with seeing some hair loss. If you hit 60 and suddenly don’t care as much about having a bald spot, that’s your cue to stop taking the drug.
Proscar, a higher dose of finasteride prescribed specifically to shrink an enlarged prostate, showed that regular use for up to seven years decreased the risk of low-grade prostate cancer — but high-grade cancers were more common in the finasteride group compared to placebo.
That being said, when someone is taking finasteride for androgenetic alopecia, they’re taking the medication at a lower dose and are unlikely to see this side effect.
Other rare finasteride side effects include:
Most people who experience these rare side effects get used to the medication and don’t experience side effects after a few days or weeks.
If you experience any of the following side effects on finasteride, see a doctor immediately:
You should also know that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive shouldn’t even touch finasteride — literally. The medication can pass through the skin and potentially cause birth defects in babies.
Keep in mind that when it comes to treatments for hair loss –– finasteride isn't the only option. .
Minoxidil, otherwise known as Rogaine, is a topical foam you apply to your scalp that acts as a vasodilator. When you apply minoxidil to your scalp, it increases blood flow to your hair follicles by widening the blood vessels. More blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients, and for some people that means more hair growth.
In a one-year observational study, 62% of people reported a reduction in hair loss … but just 16% said it was “very effective” for hair regrowth. Even so, 48% of people said it was effective for hair regrowth. You can get minoxidil over the counter in Canada, in concentrations of 5% or lower.
There is no risk to taking finasteride and minoxidil together.
Other hair loss treatments are more expensive and invasive. The cost of hair transplants can vary wildly depending on where you go, but you may be looking at about $10,000 for transplants that treat male pattern baldness.
A less invasive option is laser therapy, which irradiates photons into scalp tissues to stimulate hair growth. But the results are inconsistent: A small 2013 study found that laser therapy resulted in a 39% increase in hair growth over 16 weeks. But more studies are needed to determine whether the treatment is effective in a larger sample size over a longer period of time.
The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.