Finasteride. If you’re experiencing male pattern baldness, it’s a name you should know. Finasteride is one of only two FDA-approved products to treat hair loss and promote hair regrowth.

What is finasteride? What is Propecia®? Are finasteride and Propecia®the same thing?

Finasteride is a prescription tablet that is used to treat hereditary hair loss. It is probably best known by its trade name, Propecia.

This can be confusing, so we’ll clarify: Finasteride = generic name; Propecia = brand name. (Know how Vaseline is a brand of petroleum jelly, or Q-Tip is a brand of cotton swab? Same deal with Propecia and finasteride.)

What does finasteride [generic Propecia®] do?

If you’re experiencing male pattern baldness, finasteride can both slow hair loss and help your hair regrow thicker on the crown and the middle of scalp. You should see results within three months of taking this oral medication once a day.

How does finasteride work?

Male pattern baldness occurs when hair follicles shrink over time, growing increasingly thinner strands of hair until, eventually, they stop growing any new hair at all. Men who are genetically prone to male pattern baldness have a sensitivity to DHT (dihydrotestosterone), a hormone derived from testosterone. So, the surest way to prevent hair loss and minimize its impact is to block DHT. That’s where finasteride comes in:

Testosterone is converted to DHT by 5α-reductase, an enzyme that is held in the oil glands of a hair follicle. Finasteride blocks the action of this enzyme, effectively stopping your body from producing DHT to begin with. As a result, male pattern baldness (aka hair loss) is stopped in its tracks, and your hair may even grow back thicker than ever.

Does finasteride work?

Yes! Clinical trials found that a daily dose of one-milligram of finasteride halted hair loss in 86% of men, while 65% experienced a significant increase in hair growth.

The key is that you have to remember to take it daily (here a few easy tips on building this habit).

What are the potential side effects of finasteride?

Like all prescription products, finasteride may cause side effects.

Though rare, in clinical trials, 3.8% of male patients noticed some form of sexual side effects (versus 2.1% of patients using the placebo), including less desire for sex, difficulty in achieving an erection, or a decrease in the amount of semen released during sex. This may continue after stopping treatment.

You can read more about the side effects here.

Who should use finasteride?

If you’re experiencing male pattern baldness, finasteride’s a solution to consider. It’s most effective for hair regrowth around the crown and the middle of the head.

Who should not use finasteride?

Finasteride is for men only, and should not be taken by women. It can affect hormone levels, so it’s very important that women who are pregnant, could become pregnant, or breastfeeding don’t handle it. If you have liver disease or problems, kidney problems, prostate cancer, or allergies to finasteride, you should not take this medicine.

Interested in a topical solution to address hair loss? You may want to investigate minoxidil [generic Rogaine®] instead. Unsure which treatment—if either—is right for you? Answer a few questions here and speak to to licensed physician about the best route for you.

P.S. Now that you know all about finasteride, wondering how to actually say it? We’ve got you covered: fi • NAS • te • ride

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Finasteride is an oral medication used to treat male pattern baldness in men only. It is not for use by women. When used by men, finasteride is generally safe but it can also cause serious side effects, including but not limited to allergic reactions, sexual dysfunction, and high-grade prostate cancer. Most patients find that problems with sexual function resolve when they stop taking the medicine. For full prescribing information, view the drug label information. For full prescribing information, view the drug label information.

Image credit: Jack Archer