Finasteride for hair loss is taken to restore lost hair, to give you a fuller, more lustrous look. It’s taken long term to retain this regrowth, but what happens if you stop taking this drug, will your hair remain the same?
Not quite, finasteride is the type of medicine that works for as long as it is taken, and once you stop taking it, the effect wears off. The science behind the way the drug works explains why finasteride effects don’t last forever unless it’s taken long term.
How does finasteride work?
Finasteride is a medicine used to treat a type of hair loss known as androgenetic alopecia or male-pattern baldness. This is one of the most common forms of hair loss in men, and if you have it you’ll first start to notice thinning around the crown of your head before eventually going bald all over. Male-pattern baldness is hereditary so if your father has gone bald there’s a high chance you could too. Finasteride helps to prevent this hair loss and encourages more regrowth.
It works by blocking an enzyme that converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is a hormone in the body that can shrink hair follicles and is thought to be a leading cause in male-pattern baldness.
The main purpose of the drug has been to treat an enlarged prostate, it lowers the DHT hormone to stop the growth of the prostate, and in doing so it stops the shrinking of the hair follicles. Finasteride can be scientifically known as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, in other words, it blocks the hormone dihydrotestosterone which has a positive effect on hair growth. This medicine can stop the balding process in its tracks and you may even see new hair coming through.
You may have heard of a product called Propecia which is the same drug as finasteride, there are no differences, Propecia is simply the brand name of finasteride.
Finasteride for men only
Although women can get a similar type of hair loss, finasteride is not a suitable treatment. Due to the way this drug works it would be ineffective for women and potentially dangerous. As finasteride works on the male sex hormone, testosterone, it is highly effective in men.
If you’re a woman suffering from hair loss there are alternative treatments that are more suitable. Minoxidil is a medicine to treat hair loss in women by encouraging hair growth on the scalp. It is available in the form of a topical foam and under the brand name Regaine for Women.
Some side effects to look out for when taking finasteride for hair loss
All medicines come with their side effects but fortunately, not everyone who takes this medicine will experience any side effects. Any side effects while taking finasteride should subside after a short period of time. There are some side effects related to sexual function including loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, and problems with ejaculation, however, these are quite uncommon with only 1 in 100 men reporting these side effects.
Effects relating to sexual function can be distressing for many men so do see your doctor as soon as possible if you’re suffering from erectile problems or lack of desire for sex, there may be a quick and easy solution such as stopping this medicine and determining whether this is the cause. If sexual difficulties continue after stopping treatment then you must see your GP.
More severe side effects should be dealt with urgently which include any breast lumps, nipple discharge or difficulty urinating. Look out for signs of an allergic reaction, this could be swelling of the face, a rash, itching, breast swelling and tenderness. If you have any of these go to your nearest A&E department for emergency care.
If you feel different in yourself while taking finasteride, in that you’re experiencing negative or adverse changes that aren’t explained here or listed on the patient information leaflet you should go and see your GP to see if finasteride is the cause.
What happens when you stop taking finasteride medication?
When stopping this hair loss treatment any side effects that you may have had should also stop. In terms of its effect on hair loss, stopping finasteride may mean you’ll lose all of the good work the medicine has achieved. Finasteride only works with continued use. Its full effect may not show until 3-6 months after taking finasteride, so be sure to continue taking it for as long as your doctor prescribes even if you’re not yet seeing the effects.
If you stop, the hair that you’ve gained throughout the course of treatment could be lost within 9-12 months. Unless you’ve been told to stop taking this medicine for health reasons by your doctor you should continue to take this medicine for as long as you want to retain the hair regrowth and prevent further balding.
Is this treatment a cure for baldness?
How effective this medicine is, depends on if you’re taking it correctly, how long you take it for, and whether it’s the right treatment for your specific type of hair loss. Finasteride can’t be considered a cure for baldness necessarily as once you stop taking it the effects are reversed and the balding process may start again. However, it is highly effective at treating male-pattern baldness. If taken daily (one tablet) finasteride can reduce levels of DHT by as much as 60-70%, and therefore significantly reducing hair loss.
Finasteride facts you should know
If you’re considering finasteride for hair loss you should get yourself clued up on what to do before taking this medicine and anything you should be cautious of. Here are some facts to know about finasteride before you take it.
- There’s a chance you can pass finasteride to your partner through sex. It’s important to use a condom while taking this medicine particularly if your partner is a woman who is pregnant or could become pregnant. Research is still being carried out on whether having unprotected sex while taking finasteride can cause defects in the developing baby, however, pregnant women should not come into contact with this drug under any circumstances.
- Finasteride contains lactose so if you’re lactose intolerant you will need to speak your GP before taking this medicine as it may not be suitable for you.
- The usual dose is one tablet once a day, preferably at the same time each day and you can take it with or without food.
- You’ll be able to see noticeable effects after 3-6 months of taking finasteride so don’t be disheartened if you don’t see effects straight away.
- Finasteride may affect the results of a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test so be sure to inform your doctor of this before having this test.