Finasteride vs. Minoxidil: Which Hair Loss Treatment Is Right For You?
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Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP. Last updated 8/16/2021
Finasteride vs. Minoxidil: How Are They Different?
There are two readily available options for your hair loss: Minoxidil and Finasteride. There are other more natural solutions possible, but Minoxidil and Finasteride are the only two FDA-approved hair loss options.
Finasteride and Minoxidil are the two most common hair loss treatments on the market, but they are used differently and have a different biological effect.
What is Minoxidil?
Minoxidil can help stop hair loss and regrow hair on your scalp. This medication is applied topically, most commonly in the form of a shampoo.
Minoxidil initially entered the market as an oral preparation for the treatment of high blood pressure, but it was associated with severe side effects.
It later became a popular treatment for hair loss because it commonly caused hypertrichosis (excess hair growth) as a side effect.
Even though scientists have proven that Minoxidil does work as a hair loss treatment, the scientific community has not come to a consensus on exactly how it works.
Don’t worry, though. The FDA has approved Minoxidil, and is perfectly safe at a 5% foam preparation.
How Does Minoxidil Work?
Minoxidil stimulates hair growth through biological changes in the hair follicle. An enzyme, called sulfotransferase, that is located in the hair follicle, changes minoxidil to minoxidil sulfate. Minoxidil sulfate is the molecule responsible for hair growth.
Minoxidil sulfate has its effect on the growth cycle of hair follicles. The active metabolite extends the anagen growth phase in hair follicles and changes the growth phase of other follicles to the anagen phase, which is the part of the cycle with the highest rate of growth and DNA synthesis.
Minoxidil also increases the production of a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that is located in the dermal papilla of the skin.
The production increase occurs from minoxidil’s effect on the genetic process that makes the protein. VEGF then signals the growth of new blood vessels around the hair follicle that increases blood flow to the scalp.
The combined effect of prolonging the active growth phase of the hair follicles and increased blood flow to the scalp that results in enhanced hair growth.
How Reliable Is Minoxidil?
There have been several studies that have proven the efficacy of Minoxidil.
A study performed by the Duke Dermatopharmacology Study Center, tested 5% Minoxidil vs. 2% Minoxidil vs. a placebo.
The research showed that “after 48 weeks of therapy, 5% topical minoxidil was significantly superior”. It found that the 5% Minoxidil had “45% more hair regrowth than 2% topical minoxidil at week 48”.
Minoxidil vs. Rogaine
Minoxidil is commonly known by its brand name; Rogaine. You’ve probably seen countless commercials and advertisements for Rogaine (there are at least two during every football game).
That’s because Rogaine wants you to associate hair loss cures with their brand. Minoxidil is the main ingredient that causes hair growth in Rogaine.
If you buy it over-the-counter, it’s much more affordable. Minoxidil is simply the generic version of Rogaine.
Are There Any Side Effects of Minoxidil?
Side effects from Minoxidil are rare, but like any over-the-counter medication, they do exist. The common side effects include itchy eyes and if topical medications gets into the eye there could be irritation or burning. There’s also a chance when you first start to use Minoxidil; you’ll notice minor hair loss. The hair loss paradox is a process called “shedding” where your unhealthy hair falls out and is replaced by stronger, healthier hair.
What is Finasteride?
Finasteride is a commonly used hair loss drug that is taken orally. The drug is meant to be taken daily. Once you stop taking the drug, your normal hair loss will continue.
How Does Finasteride Work?
Finasteride works by lowering the amount of DHT in your body. DHT, or Dihydrotestosterone, is a male sex hormone that helps give males their “male” characteristics.
Ironically, DHT is most likely the reason you are losing hair on your scalp. DHT causes hair follicles to minimize, which means there’s less room for healthy hair growth.
Normally, 10% of your testosterone is turned into DHT. So, when Finasteride lowers the amount of DHT in your body, it also increases the amount of testosterone.
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The decrease in DHT leads to wider hair follicles and healthier hair growth.
Finasteride has its most success in the vertex, or top surface of the head, but has shown results on all corners of the scalp. Interestingly, Finasteride only works in men, and has shown no results in women.
How Reliable Is Finasteride?
Several studies done over the past few decades prove that Finasteride works.
A study done by the Department of Clinical Research shows that “Finasteride treatment improved scalp hair by all evaluation techniques at 1 and 2 years”.
Researchers saw an average increase of over 15% hair growth over the two-year study.
Another study published in Dermatologic Therapy found that “86% benefited from the treatment over this extended period, and the drug did not lose its efficacy over time.”
That means that Finasteride will most likely continue to work for as long as you keep taking it.
Finasteride vs. Propecia
Propecia, like Rogaine, is simply a brand name, for which Finasteride is the generic version.
There’s no reason to pay more for Propecia, as Finasteride is the only ingredient in Propecia that stops hair loss. Finasteride is available over the counter or online.
Side Effects of Finasteride
The side effects are relatively mild. The most common complaint about Finasteride is it can cause a decrease in your libido and sexual dysfunction because the drug reduces dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is a sex hormone.
Can I Take Finasteride and Minoxidil at the Same Time?
Yes! If you want to stop hair loss and promote healthy hair growth fully, we recommend taking both Finasteride and Minoxidil.
Doctors often recommend starting with Finasteride, as its primary function is to stop hair loss.
Finasteride often causes hair growth, too, so after taking Finasteride for six months, check how much hair has come back.
Start using Minoxidil along with the Finasteride if you’re still displeased with the results. There’s no reason not to take both, and many people have noticed the best results from doing so.
Finasteride vs. Minoxidil: Which Is Better?
Finasteride and Minoxidil, while both hair loss treatments, are applied differently and have different biological results.
Finasteride is taken orally and prohibits the production of DHT. Minoxidil is used topically and improves blood flow to the scalp and enhances the growth phase of the hair follicle.
If you simply want to stop hair loss, Finasteride is the place to start. Minoxidil won’t entirely prevent hair loss, but it will promote faster hair growth.
So while you will experience some hair loss, your new hair growth will give you a full head of hair.
There’s nothing wrong with taking both medications at the same time. In fact, it’s encouraged for the best results.
Where Can I Buy Minoxidil or Finasteride?
In the past, you would need to consult with your doctor to find out if either remedy is right for you, and they would write you a prescription.
Luckily, the internet has solved this slow process. There are several online options available to you including purchasing finasteride and minoxidil online through Hims.
Best of luck on your new hair growth adventure!