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Do hair loss treatments work?

This article has been medically verified by Dr. Knut Moe - Medical Director at Sons

Hair loss treatments for men are becoming increasingly popular, however there are an alarming number of available treatments that do very little to stop or reverse hair loss. Whilst surgical procedures are becoming increasingly popular, the cost of a high-quality hair transplant is still unfeasible for many.

The best alternative in this case is to use a medication-based hair loss treatment. It is widely accepted that Finasteride and Minoxidil are the most effective drugs at slowing and stopping hair loss within hair treatments of this type.

What is Finasteride?

Finasteride a prescription tablet medication used to treat hair loss in men and is the only licensed prescription medication for male pattern baldness.

It was originally used to treat men with enlarged prostate glands (a condition called benign prostatic hypertrophy or BPH for short) at a higher 5mg dose (branded as Proscar). During the early stages of this treatment, it was discovered that a positive by-product of this medication was that it could stabilise (and in some cases reverse) male pattern baldness. Consequently, Finasteride 1mg was released and re-branded as Propecia in 1997 as a proven treatment for male pattern baldness. It remains the most effective scientifically proven treatment to this day.

Finasteride is in a class of drugs called 5-Alpha Reductase Inhibitors. Put simply, it works by inhibiting the conversion of Testosterone into DHT, which is the hormone that causes male pattern baldness. The reduced levels of DHT enables hair follicles that have been under attack to get back to normal growth. Men who are almost completely bald, and therefore have hair follicles beyond repair, should not take Finasteride as it will have little effect.

Does it work?

Finasteride is effective at lowering DHT levels by up to 60% and has been shown to be effective in almost 90% of people who take it at stopping hair loss. This is not a cure for male baldness but it can stabilise and (in some cases) reverse the process. Finasteride needs to be taken regularly to have an effect and benefits of a reduction in hair loss or even improved hair density can be observed after about six months.

Is it safe?

Finasteride is considered a safe medication that is taken by millions of people worldwide. Reported side effects are rare and, in most cases, temporary – they are experienced by less than 5% of patients and stop once patients stop taking the medication. The most common side effects in these few cases are reduced libido and reduced quantity of semen. Other reported side effects are rare; a list of which can be found in our patient information leaflet, available here. We advise all of our patients to familiarise themselves with the risks and benefits of any new medication prior to taking it.

What is Minoxidil?

Minoxidil was originally an oral medication that was used to treat blood pressure. In the early stages of this medications’ use, researchers found that it had a positive effect on hair growth – a topical form of Minoxidil was then released as the first FDA-approved medication to treat hair loss. Minoxidil is the active ingredient in the medication Regaine.

Minoxidil has an effect on hair quality and quantity - it works through improving blood supply to hair follicles and can be used to treat hair loss in both men and women. However, the optimal approach is the use of Finasteride and Minoxidil in combination. Minoxidil improves blood supply which means it can help the intake of Finasteride that penetrate the hair follicles and reduce DHT levels.

There are a number of Minoxidil preparations available, with the 5% strength being considered most effective. Side effects are rare and include shedding of smaller miniaturised hairs and scalp irritation - preparations containing Propylene Glycol seem to more commonly used in these cases.

Find out more about hair loss treatments for men and you'll be sure to make the right choice for you.

The content provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not rely upon the information provided in this article for specific medical advice. Prior to starting any medication you should consult with your primary care provider if you are on any other medication to ensure that it is safe to do so and read the patient information leaflet, paying particular attention to potential side effects.  If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

All of our blog articles are reviewed by our Medical Director before publication.