Each and every day across the nation, men and women turn to various topical and oral medications to stop hair loss and regrow their thinning hair. Though medications like minoxidil and finasteride can have a positive effect on some, they are not effective for everyone. Below, you can learn just how effective these medications are – and whether they’re the right options for you.

What is Minoxidil?

Minoxidil is an FDA-approved medication that you can purchase over-the-counter, but your doctor may also prescribe it to you. It is a vasodilator, which means it works to increase blood flow by opening blood vessels. It comes in 2% and 5% strengths, and it can be found in shampoos, topical foams, sprays, and serums. Unlike other medications that have been shown to stop hair loss, minoxidil is considered safe for both men and women when used as directed. However, according to some studies, only about two-thirds of those who use minoxidil regularly experience slowed or stopped hair loss, and even fewer experience hair regrowth.

The most common side effect of minoxidil is burning or irritation of the scalp that tends to improve with treatment. In some very rare cases, minoxidil may be absorbed through the skin and cause other effects, including unwanted body or facial hair growth.

What is Finasteride?

Finasteride is a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor, which simply means it blocks the production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the body. DHT has long been shown to be one of the biggest contributors to male pattern baldness as well as other conditions, such as an enlarged prostate. Many men who take finasteride – up to 90% – experience slowed or stopped hair loss, making this treatment far more effective than minoxidil. It comes in an oral tablet that is taken once per day and is FDA approved only in males.  Early studies for FDA approval failed to show efficacy for female patterned hair loss, and because of its effect on hormones, pregnant women should not even handle the tablets given the risk of absorption of active ingredients through the skin which may prevent normal development of the fetus.

Finasteride is generally well tolerated; however, in clinical trials < 1% of male patients experienced sexual side effects including decreased libido (interest in sexual activity), erectile dysfunction, and decreased ejaculate.  Other side effects reported included breast growth and tenderness, male breast cancer, swelling of the face or extremities, rash, dizziness, and weakness.  It is also important to note that a higher dose of this same active ingredient is used to treat enlarged prostate gland in older men.  Thus, the use of finasteride for hair growth may delay the diagnosis of prostate cancer in older men.

Alternatives

Those who do not experience any positive effects from topical or oral hair restoration treatments may choose to explore medical or even surgical options. These include therapy with platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, which has been shown to trigger hair regrowth in numerous clinical trials and has very few mild side effects. Hair transplant surgery is another option that works well for men and women alike. It involves transplanting living hair follicles so that those who have thinning hair can regrow their own hair.

As you can see, while minoxidil and finasteride are both incredibly popular options for treating hair loss, they don’t work for everyone, and the results may vary a great deal. If you are concerned about hair loss, talk to your dermatologist today to learn more about the many options that are available to you, including not only topical and oral medications but also PRP therapy and hair transplant surgery.