Topical Finasteride for Hair Loss: Efficacy, Side Effects and Results
Finasteride has long since been one of the most popular and effective medications to treat male pattern hair loss.
Known to help regulate hormone levels in the body and, in turn, slow the progression of hair loss, it is most commonly prescribed as an oral tablet.
But many doctors and hair care specialists are putting their faith behind an exciting new development in hair loss treatments – topical finasteride.
Topical finasteride is applied directly to your scalp, and a growing amount of research suggests it can benefit patients significantly more than its oral form in combating hair loss.
No doubt you will have many questions about the potential for topical finasteride. How exactly does it work?
Is topical finasteride effective? Are there any side effects? And what kind of results can you expect from using it?
Today, we’re here to help you find those answers.
This article will explore everything you need to know about topical finasteride.
From how it works and the results it can achieve to potential side effects and differences to other forms of finasteride, we’ll help you determine whether this is a worthwhile treatment.
What is topical finasteride?
Topical finasteride is a prescription medication used for treating the most common hair loss condition worldwide; androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness).
Finasteride can help slow down the progression of hair loss and promote hair regrowth. It does so biologically by blocking an androgen called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
DHT is a derivative of testosterone and, in high levels, is known to disrupt the hair’s natural growth cycle. It gradually shrinks a hair follicle to such a degree that it cannot grow or sustain new strands.
Two forms of finasteride are commonly prescribed – oral form and topical form.
Though oral treatments are more well-known, growing research suggests that topical finasteride applied directly to your scalp can yield the same benefits as its oral form but with fewer potential side effects.
Though generally safe and effective for many people, you do need to consult your doctor before using this treatment, especially if you are a woman, pregnant, breastfeeding, or have an underlying condition that may react to its ingredients.
Additionally, you must follow the instructions accompanying this medication to keep yourself safe and obtain the best possible results for your hair.
What’s the difference between oral and topical finasteride?
Oral finasteride has been the standard way to administer the drug. Only in recent years have scientists and researchers begun comparing oral and topical forms to see which is more effective.
It’s thought that topical finasteride has a lower risk of developing severe side effects. This includes developing sexual dysfunction, erectile dysfunction, and benign prostate hyperplasia (enlarged prostate).
That said, topical treatments have an increased risk of causing skin irritation.
Topical finasteride can be a great alternative if patients are afraid of developing severe side effects and reactions, who may want to buy cheaper medication, or who don’t enjoy taking tablets.
Overall though, both topical and oral finasteride can achieve the same results. Topical medication often has a lower concentration of active ingredients, so it may not be as quick as its pill form.
For this reason, topical finasteride is often combined with other medications, like topical Minoxidil, to increase its potency and effectiveness.
Ultimately, your doctor or dermatologist can examine your hair loss and recommend which treatment will suit your current state of androgenetic alopecia.
The mechanism behind topical finasteride
Topical finasteride works on a biological level to correct and regulate hormone levels. This, in turn, can reduce the hair loss rate resulting from hereditary conditions like androgenic alopecia.
Finasteride works by inhibiting the enzyme which converts typical testosterone into a more concentrated form, DHT. Even in topical form, finasteride reduces scalp DHT levels, offering adequate protection for hair follicles.
Another benefit of topical finasteride is increased stimulation of hair follicles and hair growth. The medication increases the production of stem cell factors in skin tissue, a protein that can help increase the number of active hair follicles.
This can dramatically increase hair density and hair count in androgenetic alopecia sufferers.
The efficacy of topical finasteride
Like any topical or oral medication, there is much scrutiny into how effective finasteride is in treating male pattern baldness and stimulating hair regrowth.
And especially considering how recent topical finasteride is, researchers are keen for more data and studies to confirm its efficacy.
What we do know, though, is that finasteride is clinically proven to lower DHT levels in the blood than the topical formulation.
Patients who take topical solutions will have a lower risk of developing side effects and complications.
Studies have shown that finasteride can be highly effective in treating some people’s hair loss and ineffective with others.
Every patient is unique, and it can depend on their specific medical history, general health, and the extent of their hair loss.
That said, finasteride is still one of the more popular forms of medication in treating hair loss.
It is considered safe to use, has FDA approval for male patients, and can be used alongside another hair loss treatment, like Minoxidil, for a versatile and diverse treatment.
Although it can lead to a significant decrease in hair fall over time, only by discussing your options with your doctor will you know whether finasteride is an appropriate choice to treat hair loss.
What the research says
Some studies have examined the effectiveness and potential of both topical and oral finasteride.
One conducted in 2014, for example, found that a sample size of men using topical finasteride achieved the same hair growth results as another group of men taking 1 mg of oral finasteride.
Another study concentrated on DHT levels in the body. The hormone levels of 24 men suffering from male pattern hair loss showed a 68-75% reduction with topical finasteride compared with 62-72% with an oral form.
Hair loss is complex, with different types, severities, and other contributing factors. If you have severe, long-lasting, or fast-progressing hair loss, you may not enjoy the same results as studies have shown.
For this reason, you should start treatment as soon as possible to enjoy the best hair growth.
Over time, male androgenetic alopecia can result in permanent baldness, where only surgical treatments like a hair transplant can help. For this reason, you should start treatment as soon as possible to stimulate hair growth.
Topical finasteride results
Potential side effects
As with any medication used to treat hair loss, there are some potential side effects that you and your doctor need to be mindful of.
Whether used in its liquid form, as a spray, or as finasteride gel, you might experience itching, burning, or redness around the scalp on application. These minor complications often resolve on their own in a few days.
While side effects are more commonly associated with oral finasteride, you might experience include developing a skin rash or hives, dry skin, and swelling.
You may also notice increased amounts of dandruff, too.
More severe side effects include difficulty breathing, erectile dysfunction, and a dramatic reduction in Prostate-specific antigen levels (PSA). These levels are used in screening for potential prostate cancer.
We recommend seeking professional medical advice if you experience any of the above symptoms. Your doctor will be able to evaluate whether finasteride is an appropriate treatment for hair growth and suggest practical ways to alleviate symptoms.
Finasteride is not prescribed to women or children because of its potent effects on hormone levels, as the drug can increase the risk of congenital disabilities for pregnant women.
It is not a viable way to treat female pattern hair loss.
Finasteride is a prescription-only medication. You cannot simply buy over-the-counter finasteride without visiting your doctor for a prescription.
Many pharmacies may sell topical solutions that combine hair loss medication, like finasteride and Minoxidil. And online stores, like Sons, offer a regular supply of combination sprays (£28 per month) but will still require you to answer questions during your consultation.
Do not experiment with any prescribed medication, including finasteride. Although many online tutorials suggest making a topical finasteride treatment at home, we strongly advise against this for many essential reasons.
Oral finasteride tablets contain several inactive ingredients that can irritate and damage your scalp when crushed into a topical solution.
Also, when creating a topical solution, you cannot properly monitor and regulate your dosage, meaning your level of treatment can fluctuate. You could develop a severe side effect from taking more finasteride than advised.
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