Daily Health

Finasteride Results: A Timeline on How to Treat Hair Loss

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.

What causes hair loss?

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:

  • Hormone changes
  • Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease
  • Certain medications
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chronic and/or extreme stress

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. 

What can I do about my hair loss?

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:

  • Hair follicle transplants 
  • Laser therapy
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP)
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Prescription medication

Finasteride, otherwise known under its brand name Propecia, is clinically proven to treat hair loss.

What is finasteride?

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.

How does finasteride work?

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. 

Does finasteride regrow hair?

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 (or Propecia) results timeline: How long does it take to work?

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.

How to take finasteride for best results

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. 

What are the possible side effects of finasteride?

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:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Rashes
  • Breast enlargement and tenderness

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:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Nipple discharge
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, or face
  • Lumps or pain in the chest area

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. 

How does finasteride work compared to other hair loss treatments?

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. 

Key takeaways

  • Finasteride prevents testosterone from turning into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which can shrink hair follicles and stop hair growth.
  • 48% of people see hair regrowth after one year of taking finasteride, and 66% of people see hair regrowth after two years. 
  • 83% of people who take finasteride don’t see any more hair loss after two years.
  • If people are good about taking their pill once a day, they start to see results within three to four months.
  • If you stop taking finasteride, however, you could start to see some hair loss again. 
  • People should take finasteride at the same time each day for best results.
  • Most people who experience rare side effects of finasteride get used to the medication and don’t experience side effects after a few days or weeks.
  • Other hair loss treatments can be more expensive and invasive. The cost of hair transplants can be $10,000 to treat male pattern baldness. 
  • There is no risk to taking finasteride and minoxidil together.

FAQs

Does Finasteride Regrow Hair?

Yes, Finasteride can regrow hair. While it primarily prevents further hair loss, it also regrows hair over time in some people who take it. One study found that 48% of study participants showed hair growth after one year of taking finasteride. After two years, 66% showed hair growth. However, finasteride is more commonly used as a preventative measure rather than a measure to regrow hair that has been lost.

It can halt the progression of hair loss, making it a practical choice for those noticing male pattern baldness progressing who want to stop it in its tracks. Many people first notice male pattern baldness progressing as changes to their hairline occur. While some change to the hairline is a normal part of aging, male pattern baldness causes the hairline to thin and recede, changing from an M to a U shape with a characteristic bald spot on the top of the head. This hair loss, also known as androgenetic alopecia, can often be prevented with finasteride. Some users may even enjoy hair growth with time. It is worth noting that finasteride must be taken continually for results to be maintained. 

How Does Finasteride Work?

Finasteride works by preventing a hormone responsible for hair loss called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) from forming. It belongs to a class of drugs called 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors. These drugs block the effect of an enzyme that transforms testosterone into DHT. DHT impacts hair follicles by shrinking them and shortening the hair growth cycle.

This results in shorter, finer hair. Over time, hair follicles shrink enough that they become inactive. By preventing the formation of DHT by blocking 5-alpha-reductase, finasteride prevents this process of hair follicle shrinkage and hair cycle shortening from taking place. In some users, the reduction in DHT can also lead to the re-growth of hair that they lost before using finasteride.

You should take finasteride each day for the best results. It builds up in the system, leading to improved results. Users who stop taking finasteride will see their hair loss resume. You should take finasteride continuously to keep hair loss at bay.

Does Finasteride Stop Hair Loss?

Yes, finasteride stops hair loss. Hair loss is a normal part of aging that most will experience to some degree, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing for many people. Those with male hormones usually experience a specific pattern of hair loss, known as male pattern baldness or androgenic alopecia. It progresses predictably, with the hairline receding over time and changing from an M shape to a U shape with a large bald spot on top and some hair remaining around the sides and back of the head. Finasteride can be used to halt this process. 

It is a type of drug called a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor, which blocks an enzyme that plays a vital role in hair loss. This enzyme converts testosterone into a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which shrinks hair follicles leading to hair loss over time. With less DHT in the system, hair follicles are not subject to this shrinkage process, so hair can continue to grow without becoming thinner and ultimately ceasing to grow all together. Some people also experience hair growth over time with regular use of finasteride. 

How Long Does Finasteride Take To Work?

Finasteride takes about three to four months to start working. Hair growth is a slow process, so there is no such thing as a quick fix when treating male-pattern baldness. While many users see some results at about the three or four-month mark, it’s important to keep taking finasteride consistently daily to see full results. After six to nine months, the results should be more obvious. It is possible to see improvements even after this stage; one study found that 48% of users had hair regrowth after one year, while 66% showed regrowth after two years. 

Since hair growth medications take a long time to work, it can be helpful to take photos of your hairline and scalp when you start your treatment to compare them to similar images taken months later. When you see these images side by side, the effects of finasteride can be much easier to spot. 

If you are happy with your results from finasteride, you will have to keep taking the medication to maintain them. If later you decide you don’t mind hair loss, you can stop taking it, and hair loss will resume. 

Can Finasteride Regrow Hairline?

Yes, finasteride can regrow your hairline. However, this isn’t a guaranteed result. Finasteride is prescribed primarily as a preventative rather than a hair regrowth treatment. Nearly half of users show hair regrowth after one year of using finasteride. The hairline is where most people with male hormones notice hair thinning and hair loss.

Changing the hairline is a normal part of aging, referred to as a maturing hairline. However, if the hairline continues to recede, this indicates male-pattern baldness. This hair loss is caused by a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which shrinks hair follicles and shortens the hair growth cycle. Over time, hair follicles shrink enough to become inactive, resulting in hair loss. Finasteride works by blocking an enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT. This hair loss process is halted by reducing the amount of DHT in the system.

Many users also experience hair growth, which can make the hairline fuller. Taking a photo of your hairline before you start taking finasteride and again after three or four months can be an excellent way to see if you are experiencing some hairline regrowth.

WRITTEN BY
Felix Team
Updated on:
December 2, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sarah Peltz
Urologist, MD, FRCSC
Disclaimer

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.

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