propecia vs. finasteride infographic
Written by
Morgan German
Medically approved by
Ricarddo Armelli M.D.

Propecia and Finasteride both refer to the same drug that treats different forms of alopecia (i.e., hair loss) and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). [1]

The only difference is the branding of the drug. In other words, Finasteride is the active ingredient, whereas Propecia is the brand name of this drug.

You can also figure out the difference by dissecting the names of the drugs (which we will discuss below).

In this article, we will compare and contrast Propecia and Finasteride to see which version is safer, cheaper, and more effective.

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What is Propecia?

propecia pill close up picture

Propecia is a prescription drug used to treat androgenic alopecia (i.e., male pattern baldness) and prostate disorders (e.g., benign prostatic hyperplasia).

The ‘steride’ part in Finasteride describes the steroid nature of this drug. On the other hand, the term Propecia originates from combining the words Pro and alopecia, which is a common theme that you will see in branded drugs.

This drug belongs to a class of medication known as 5-Alpha-Reductase Inhibitors. [2]

What are the side effects of Propecia?

  • Pain in the breast area
  • Nipple discharge
  • Changes in the structure of the breasts
  • Decreased libido
  • Sexual dysfunction

breast mural on wall

While this list of side effects may look terrifying at first glance, their incidence is extremely low (more on that later).

Propecia is available in tablet form. The primary function of this drug is to inhibit the transformation of testosterone into 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Note that the elevated concentration of DHT is the hallmark of androgenetic alopecia. [3]

What ingredients are in Propecia?

  • Finasteride
  • Lactose monohydrate
  • Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose
  • Hydroxypropyl cellulose
  • Microcrystalline cellulose
  • Pregelatinized starch
  • Sodium starch glycolate
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Magnesium stearate
  • Talc
  • Docusate sodium
  • Yellow ferric oxide
  • Red ferric oxide

We call these substances inactive ingredients, which serve various purposes, including the conservation of the drug and increasing its bioavailability. [4]

Propecia is primarily used to treat hair loss, whereas another version of the drug – Proscar – addresses benign prostate hyperplasia.

Note that physicians do not prescribe this drug for women or children. [1]

What is Finasteride?

finasteride pills out of the bottle.

Finasteride is an FDA-approved pharmacologic agent that treats benign prostate hyperplasia and androgenic alopecia. The drug received FDA approval in 1992 for BPH. Six years after, the FDA approved it to treat male pattern baldness.

Note that the dosage used to treat BPH and androgenetic alopecia are different.

  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia – 5 milligrams a day [5]
  • Androgenetic alopecia – 1 milligram a day [6]

What are the side effects of Finasteride?

  • Decreased sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Ejaculation disorder
  • Increase in breast size and tenderness
  • Skin rash

In general, these side effects are mild and quickly disappear in a few days/weeks. Your doctor might decide to stop prescribing this drug based on a benefit-risk analysis.

What can you experience if you're allergic to Finasteride?

  • Edema (i.e., swelling) of the lips, tongue, throat, or face

  • Urticaria (i.e., extended rash all over the body)

  • Generalized pruritus (i.e., severe itchiness)

  • Dyspnea (i.e., difficulty breathing)

Like all medications on the market, Finasteride may trigger an allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. For most people, this reaction occurs after the first or second time of taking the drug. [7]

    We should note that this reaction is exceptionally uncommon.

    Propecia Vs. Finasteride: which is more effective?

    Since Propecia and Finasteride are two names of the same drug, their effectiveness is also identical.

    Dermatologists prescribe this drug to treat male pattern baldness, which proved to be very effective.

    In one study, researchers recruited 3177 Japanese men with androgenetic alopecia. Participants received 1 milligram of Finasteride for 3.5 years. The purpose of this study was to analyze the long-term effectiveness and side effects of taking this drug. [8]

    The good news is that most of these participants experienced substantial hair growth without any serious side effects. Moreover, researchers noted that the longer the duration of the treatment, the better the results.

    Out of all these participants, only 23 developed adverse effects, which accounts for 0.7% of men.

    As you can see, the drug is quite effective in treating androgenetic alopecia, regardless of whether you get the generic version (i.e., Finasteride) or the brand name (i.e., Propecia).

    Propecia Vs. Finasteride: Which has more side effects?

    Similar to the benefits of the two versions, both Propecia and Finasteride cause the same side effects. Consequently, the risk of developing these side effects is quite low.

    Since this drug has a steroid base, many people spread some rumors about how it causes sexual dysfunction (e.g., erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, decreased libido). While these side effects are possible, their incidence is blown out of proportion.

    According to a press release from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), their agents received 421 reports of sexual dysfunction in 13 years. The vast majority of these cases improved after the discontinuation of the drug.

    Compared to the number of patients who take this drug every year, cases that reported side effects are extremely insignificant.

    Propecia Vs. Finasteride: which one is better?

    burning money

    After covering the benefits, effectiveness, and side effects of Propecia Vs. Finasteride, it is clear that both versions of the drug offer identical responses.

    However, there is one aspect that makes Propecia Vs. Finasteride very different – COST.

    Typically, the cost of Propecia is around $75-$80 a month. Additionally, most insurance plans do not cover this drug.

    On the other end, Finasteride is much cheaper and could be covered by insurance as a Tier 1 medication. Consequently, you may get this drug for as little as a $10-$20 copay.

    You might be asking: “You said it’s the same drug, so why is Propecia more expensive?”

    The reason for this price disparity boils down to the cost of production. You see, when a company receives a patent for a drug, they possess exclusive rights to produce and sell the drug for a limited period of time (12 years on average).

    Once the patent ends, other companies can start producing the generic version.

    Therefore, Finasteride is cheap because the company that produces it has the necessary data of the drug’s development and effectiveness (provided by the brand-name company), which cuts costs significantly.

    Conclusions

    Finasteride is the generic active ingredient that is used in several branded drugs such as Propecia.

    Since it is also possible to buy finasteride as a generic drug and not in a branded formulation, here are the differences in price are understandable.

    There are no differences in terms of efficacy or side effects because the active ingredient we are discussing is always finasteride.

    The only difference is price and ingredients.

    Hopefully, this article helped you understand the difference between Propecia and Finasteride.

    References

    [1]: Zito PM, Bistas KG, Syed K. Finasteride. [Updated 2021 Mar 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513329/
    [2]: Salisbury BH, Tadi P. 5 Alpha Reductase Inhibitors. [Updated 2021 Jul 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555930/
    [3]: Ustuner E. T. (2013). Cause of androgenic alopecia: crux of the matter. Plastic and reconstructive surgery. Global open, 1(7), e64. https://doi.org/10.1097/GOX.0000000000000005
    [4]: Reker, D., Blum, S. M., Steiger, C., Anger, K. E., Sommer, J. M., Fanikos, J., & Traverso, G. (2019). "Inactive" ingredients in oral medications. Science translational medicine, 11(483), eaau6753. https://doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.aau6753
    [5]: Sullivan, M. J., & Geller, J. (2002). The effectiveness of reducing the daily dose of finasteride in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia. BMC urology, 2, 2. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2490-2-2
    [6]: Roberts, J. L., Fiedler, V., Imperato-McGinley, J., Whiting, D., Olsen, E., Shupack, J., Stough, D., DeVillez, R., Rietschel, R., Savin, R., Bergfeld, W., Swinehart, J., Funicella, T., Hordinsky, M., Lowe, N., Katz, I., Lucky, A., Drake, L., Price, V. H., Weiss, D., … Gencheff, C. (1999). Clinical dose ranging studies with finasteride, a type 2 5alpha-reductase inhibitor, in men with male pattern hair loss. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 41(4), 555–563. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10495375/
    [7]: Warrington, R., Silviu-Dan, F. Drug allergy. All Asth Clin Immun 7, S10 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/1710-1492-7-S1-S10
    [8]: Sato, A., & Takeda, A. (2012). Evaluation of efficacy and safety of finasteride 1 mg in 3177 Japanese men with androgenetic alopecia. The Journal of dermatology, 39(1), 27–32. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1346-8138.2011.01378.x