Daily Health

Is Finasteride a Steroid? Uses, Dosage, and Side Effects

It’s not uncommon to see hair loss in men, also called androgenetic alopecia.

Symptoms can vary from a receding hairline to thinning on top, and while some embrace their hair loss or shave it all off, treatment such as finasteride tablets for increased hair growth is widely searched out to counteract hair loss symptoms.

According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, one out of four men will experience some degree of male pattern hair loss by the time they are 70 years old. 

The good news is that there are treatments that can help to curb further hair loss and even improve hair growth.  

We’ve seen famous celebrities such as Bradley Cooper taking finasteride, or in the case of Justin Bieber, alluding to the use of it in an attempt to increase the fullness of their hair and combat the effects of male pattern baldness. 

But as with any prescription drug, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects to get an idea if this is the right and safest medication for you.

What is Finasteride and How is it Used?

Finasteride is an azasteroid — steroid derivative — which is a combination of 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors and is prescribed mainly for androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern hair loss

To help increase hair growth, it is prescribed as an oral pill taken daily. Finasteride is also used in Canada in higher doses under the brand name Propecia to treat a non-cancerous enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia).

While finasteride is the scientific name for the medication, you may be familiar with brand names such as Proscar or Propecia. 

Why Finasteride is used

While finasteride will not help you regrow a full head of hair, it can help to reduce the effects of male pattern hair loss by strengthening the hair follicles to prevent the progression of androgenic alopecia. 

It’s best to start finasteride 1 mg tablets at the beginning stages of hair loss as it can influence some slight hair growth to ensure that you can keep most of your hair. 

How Finasteride works

Finasteride works by blocking testosterone from converting to another male hormone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), in the prostate gland, skin, and scalp. 

An excess of DHT can essentially shrink hair follicles, resulting in hair loss by restricting hair regrowth. 

While it’s not an immediate cure for male pattern baldness, if finasteride tablets are taken regularly, most men notice a slowing of hair loss within three to four months. 

Is Finasteride a steroid?

When we think of steroids, we think of those bulked-out bodybuilders who look like they are more muscle than any other body mass. 

However, steroids in medicine serve several other perfectly healthy purposes. 

Steroid cream is used to treat eczema flare-ups, an asthmatic inhaler reduces inflammation in their airways, and serious ailments such as inflammatory bowel disease or an autoimmune disorder can have their symptoms reduced with steroid therapy. 

Essentially corticosteroids are used to treat disease, while anabolic steroids are used to increase muscle mass. 

Steroids naturally occur in the body, and corticosteroids boost those natural steroids to ease specific symptoms.  

But is finasteride a steroid? In short, sort of. 

We’ve already learned that finasteride works by blocking DHT receptors in order to prevent hair loss, similar in method to the way that corticosteroids reduce inflammation, but it is not classified as a full steroid. 

Finasteride is built in a similar structure to other steroid medications, as 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors, but is considered an azasteroid or a steroid derivative. 

Finasteride Dosage and Administration

Finasteride tablets for androgenetic alopecia require a prescription from a healthcare professional. Missing one daily oral dose is not going to reverse all of the benefits of taking the drug, but it is recommended to continue taking finasteride for as long as you wish to continue preventing hair loss. 

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Finasteride? 

Studies have shown that there are a number of sexual dysfunction-related side effects that can occur from taking finasteride. 

Erectile Dysfunction has been reported in 0.8-15.8% of men (in randomized, controlled clinical trials). 

However, the continued use of finasteride in American clinical trials revealed that sexual dysfunction resolved itself within 3-7 years for 50% of participants when continuing finasteride use. 

In addition to concerns over erectile dysfunction, additional side effects could include: 

  • Lower libido 
  • Lower ejaculate volume
  • Reduced sperm count
  • Dizziness/Headache

Serious Side Effects of Finasteride

In addition to sexual dysfunction-related side effects, some rare but serious side effects of finasteride use include:

  • Finasteride is not recommended for pregnant women as even simply touching crushed Propecia tablets or the pill itself. The drug can be absorbed through the skin and potentially cause congenital disabilities.
  • Canada Safety Reviews have determined that there is potential association of muscle disorders when taking finasteride 1 mg. These muscle disorders present with  pain, weakness, atrophy (wasting of the muscle) or stiffness. While no clinical trials have been conducted in relation to muscle disorders, Health Canada received 11 reports of muscle-related side effects and suspects a correlation with finasteride tablets.  
  • While finasteride 1 mg dosage can help lessen the risk of low-grade prostate cancer, there have been clinical trials where 5mg Propecia tablets was associated with an increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer, warns Health Canada.
  • There is an increased risk of experiencing depression and anxiety while taking finasteride, so working with a healthcare professional to monitor your mental health is recommended.
  • Health Canada has also reported a potential link between taking finasteride and breast cancer in men. While clinical trials have not confirmed a direct link, and most cases were in men taking Propecia tablets in 5 mg, Health Canada warns that breast cancer risk cannot be ruled out even at lower doses.

Do Finasteride Side Effects Stop With Usage?

Finasteride is only effective while it is being taken. 

Since finasteride prevents testosterone from being converted to DHT, discontinuing the use of finasteride would discontinue the blockage of the DHT hormone and hair loss could begin again. 

That said, discontinuing the medication can also return any sexual dysfunction or erectile dysfunction caused by the drug to correct itself as well. 

How to Avoid Finasteride Side Effects 

Taking any medication as prescribed is a super important way to avoid any adverse side effects from missed doses while ensuring that the drug is fully effective. 

Finasteride should be taken every day around the same time, without missing doses, for at least three months before seeing any changes to hair growth. 

Discontinuing the medication is always an option to be discussed with your doctor if you are experiencing side effects or erectile dysfunction impacting your quality of life. 

One thing to remember when discontinuing use is that the drug is no longer effective. The medication must be continued to maintain hair fullness and prevent male pattern baldness. 

Key Takeaways 

  • A slowing of male pattern baldness is one of the bonuses of taking finasteride, but it will only remain effective while it is taken daily, and discontinuing use can result in hair loss continuing.
  • Discontinuing finasteride use will also reverse any negative side effects such as sexual dysfunction. 
  • Finasteride is a steroid derivative but is not related to the anabolic steroids that we are familiar with athletes taking for performance gain.

Is Finasteride a Steroid FAQs

Does Finasteride Make Your Balls Shrink?

There is very little evidence on whether testicles have gotten smaller in men taking finasteride, but this is a common side effect for those that take anabolic performance-increasing steroids - which Finasteride is not.   

Is Propecia a Steroid?

As Propecia is the brand name for finasteride, it is built like a steroid in that it blocks testosterone from converting to DHT, but the drug itself does not directly increase hair regrowth or open hair follicles. 

Instead, the blocking of DHT creation allows hair follicles to re-open and hair to grow.

Is Finasteride a Steroid?

Finasteride is a steroid-derivative or azasteroid built using 5 alpha reductase inhibitors. So while it is in the steroid family, it is not specifically a steroid.

 Talk to a healthcare practitioner at Felix about your hair loss treatment options today. 

WRITTEN BY
Felix Team
Updated on:
August 25, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe
Family Physician, MD, CCFP
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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