Finasteride Vs. Minoxidil: Which One Is Better For Your Hair Loss?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Amy Revene M.B.B.S.
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated

Are you noticing more hair on your brush than on your head? Do your once voluminous locks now seem to be thinning rapidly? 

It's natural to worry when faced with hair loss, but the good news is that you're not alone, and more importantly, there are effective solutions out there. Finasteride and Minoxidil are among the leading contenders in the battle against hair loss. 

Both have made substantial inroads in the fight against hair loss, but how do they stack up when pitched against each other? 

In our head-to-head comparison of Finasteride vs. Minoxidil, we'll dive deep into the science behind these treatments, their effectiveness, side effects, and how they could potentially be your knight in shining armour in this hair-raising ordeal. 

Whether you're starting your hair loss journey or have been navigating it for some time, we're here to shed light on these popular treatments and help you make an informed decision.

Summary

Finasteride and Minoxidil offer proven methods to combat hair loss, each with advantages and potential side effects. 

Your choice between the two will depend on your personal situation, the extent of hair loss, and overall health. 

It's always recommended to consult with a healthcare provider to discuss these options and decide on the best course of action for your specific needs. 

With the right approach, tackling hair loss can become a manageable journey, allowing you to regain your hair and confidence.

What causes hair loss?

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Hair loss, also called alopecia, can be caused by several factors. Key among them is genetics, hormonal changes, ageing, nutritional deficiencies, stress, certain medical conditions like thyroid problems or autoimmune diseases, and the side effects of some medications.

Hair loss due to genetic factors, known as androgenetic alopecia, is the most common cause affecting men and women. 

It's often characterised by a receding hairline and hair thinning in men and general hair thinning in women. 

This hair loss is usually inherited and becomes more noticeable as one age.

Hormonal changes, often experienced during pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, or due to thyroid problems, can also cause temporary or permanent hair loss. 

Additionally, a lack of certain nutrients like iron and protein can weaken hair and cause it to fall out. 

Chronic stress has also been linked to severe hair loss due to the physiological changes it causes in the body. 

Some medical conditions, like alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks hair follicles or scalp infections, can also cause hair loss. 

Finally, certain medications used to treat conditions like cancer, arthritis, heart problems, and high blood pressure can cause temporary or permanent hair loss as a side effect.

What is finasteride?

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Finasteride is a prescription medication for male pattern baldness and BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia). It works by blocking the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that can contribute to hair loss and prostate growth.

Further, Finasteride's mechanism of action makes it a valuable tool in managing conditions sensitive to DHT. 

In the case of hair loss, DHT can shrink hair follicles, leading to thinner, shorter hairs and, eventually, hair loss. 

Finasteride can slow down or even reverse this process in some individuals by inhibiting the conversion of testosterone to DHT. 

While it's typically prescribed for men due to its potential side effects in women, it has been used off-label in post-menopausal women or those not planning to conceive. 

However, women of childbearing age should not use Finasteride due to the risk of birth defects.

How does Finasteride work?

Finasteride works by inhibiting the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which is responsible for converting testosterone into its more potent form, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). By reducing DHT levels, Finasteride can help slow down or even reverse the process of hair miniaturisation and hair loss caused by androgenetic alopecia.

Are there any side effects of Finasteride? 

Finasteride can also have side effects like any medication. They're usually mild and tend to improve or stop once the drug is discontinued. Not everyone experiences these side effects, but it's essential to be aware of them:

  • Sexual side effects: Some men may experience a decrease in sex drive, difficulty achieving an erection, or a decrease in the amount of semen.
  • Allergic reactions: Although rare, some men can have an allergic reaction to Finasteride, resulting in a rash, itching, hives, and swelling of the lips and face.
  • Depression and anxiety: There have been some reports of mood changes, including depression and anxiety, in men taking Finasteride.
  • Breast changes: Some men may experience changes in their breasts, such as enlargement or tenderness.
  • Potential increased risk of prostate cancer: Although Finasteride can lower the risk of developing low-grade prostate cancer, some studies suggest it may slightly increase the risk of developing high-grade prostate cancer.

What is Minoxidil?

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Minoxidil, is a topical treatment widely used to combat hair loss and promote hair regrowth. Initially developed as a medication for high blood pressure, it was discovered that one of its side effects was unexpected hair growth. 

Today, it's one of the most popular over-the-counter products for addressing hair loss, available in different strengths, and used by millions worldwide.

Minoxidil works by prolonging the growth phase of hair follicles, thus promoting the growth of more hair strands and slowing down hair loss. 

It is applied directly to the scalp, typically twice a day, and has shown effectiveness for both men and women. 

While Minoxidil doesn't cure baldness, it has been proven to help slow its progression and even regrow some hair in some instances.

How does Minoxidil work?

Minoxidil works by helping to increase blood flow to the areas of application, typically the scalp. This is believed to extend the hair follicle cycle's anagen phase (or growth phase), leading to longer, thicker hair strands. Additionally, it may increase the hair follicle's size, resulting in thicker hair. 

By stimulating these changes, Minoxidil helps slow or stop hair loss and can promote hair regrowth in individuals suffering from pattern baldness or thinning hair.

Are there any side effects of Minoxidil? 

Here are a few side effects of Minoxidil, irrespective of its brand name. 

  • Local irritation: This is one of the most common side effects, resulting in itching, redness, flaking, or a burning/tingling sensation at the application site. The tingling might result from increased blood flow due to the medication.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis: Some users may experience an allergic reaction, which can cause similar symptoms to local irritation, including itching, redness, and flaking.
  • Anaphylaxis: This is a rare but severe allergic reaction that can cause symptoms like hives, a full-body rash, nausea, vomiting, and swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, or mouth. If these symptoms occur, stopping using the product and seeking emergency medical care immediately is crucial.
  • Increased shedding: Often experienced when starting treatment, this is sometimes referred to as 'minoxidil shedding' or 'dread shed.' This phenomenon occurs as inactive hair follicles shed their existing hair for new, healthier growth.

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What are the differences between Finasteride and Minoxidil?

While Finasteride and Minoxidil are widely recognised for their roles in combating hair loss, they differ significantly in their application methods, effectiveness, and potential side effects. 

Let's delve into these differences to understand each treatment option better.

Method of application

Finasteride is taken orally as a pill once daily, making it a systemic treatment. 

On the other hand, Minoxidil is a topical solution or foam that is directly applied to the scalp, usually twice daily.

Mode of action

Finasteride works by inhibiting the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that contributes to hair loss in men. 

However, Minoxidil works by prolonging the growth phase of hair follicles and expanding their size, resulting in thicker hair strands.

Effectiveness

Finasteride is typically more effective in stopping AGA in men and, in some cases, promoting hair regrowth, especially at the crown of the head. While also effective, Minoxidil tends to be a better solution for women at promoting hair regrowth at the crown than at the hairline.

Finasteride vs Minoxidil: Which is better?

Finasteride, an oral medication, is generally more effective for men due to its DHT-inhibiting mechanism. But it may have systemic side effects, including sexual dysfunction.

Minoxidil, a topical solution, is used with the aim of promoting hair regrowth, especially at the crown, and is generally associated with fewer systemic side effects. However, it may be less effective at treating hair loss at the hairline. 

Sometimes, healthcare providers recommend using both treatments simultaneously for optimal results. It's essential to consult a healthcare provider to make an informed decision.

Is it safe to take Minoxidil and Finasteride together?

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Yes, it is generally considered safe to use Minoxidil and Finasteride to treat hair loss. These medications work in different ways - Finasteride reduces the body's levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that can contribute to hair loss, while Minoxidil helps to stimulate new hair growth. 

By using them in combination, some individuals may see more significant results than others alone. 

However, as with any treatment, discussing this approach with a healthcare provider is crucial to ensure it's the right choice based on personal health history and potential side effects.

Conclusion

Finasteride and Minoxidil offer proven methods to combat hair loss, each with advantages and potential side effects. 

Your choice between the two will depend on your personal situation, the extent of hair loss, and overall health. 

It's always recommended to consult with a healthcare provider to discuss these options and decide on the best course of action for your specific needs. 

With the right approach, tackling hair loss can become a manageable journey, allowing you to regain your hair and confidence.

FAQs

How long does it take for Finasteride and Minoxidil to show results?

Generally, both treatments require consistent use for several months before noticeable results are seen. It may take 3-6 months for Minoxidil and up to 6-12 months for Finasteride.

Can women use Finasteride and Minoxidil for hair loss?

Minoxidil is approved for use by both men and women for hair loss. However, Finasteride is typically prescribed only for men. Women, particularly those who are pregnant or may become pregnant, should avoid handling Finasteride due to the risk of birth defects.

What happens if I stop using Finasteride or Minoxidil?

If either Finasteride or  Minoxidil is discontinued, any hair that has regrown due to the treatment will likely fall out within several months. It's essential to continue treatment consistently to maintain the benefits.

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Dr Amy Revene M.B.B.S. graduated from the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. She is currently working as a General Physician at New Hope Medical Center. Amy has a passion for research and offers her expertise and opinions to help people in their quest to lead healthy, happy lives.