BEFORE WE BEGIN...
The information provided in this article is for information purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice. Please read our disclaimer at the bottom of this page for more information.
As we discussed in our article - Understanding Hair Loss - there are many different types and causes. In this article we will briefly go through the licensed (i.e. medicinal) treatment options for the most common type of hair loss - Androgenetic Alopecia or Genetic Hair Loss.
Hair loss treatments are becoming increasingly popular, however an alarming number of these available treatments do very little to stop or reverse hair loss, while the cost of a high-quality surgical procedure (hair transplant) puts it financially out of reach for many of us.
Another problem with these ‘miracle’ cures are that they often promise rapid results and, often when they fail to do so, this affects reputable and clinically based treatments as people quit if they do not see results in the first few weeks. Make no mistake, the long term success of a treatment is based on dedication and commitment.
Before looking at more commercial hair loss treatments, your first step should be to discuss one of the two medicated hair loss treatments. As mentioned at the start, we are going to take a look at the two licensed treatments in the article - Minoxidil and Finasteride - rather than the unlicensed options such as surgery, wigs, and cosmetic products. It is widely accepted that Finasteride and Minoxidil are the most effective drugs at slowing and stopping hair loss and they often form an important preventative measure when also considering alternative hair loss treatments such as transplants.
An easy way to think of these two products are the different methods of application - Topical and Oral.
Let's start off with the topical solution - Minoxidil.
WHAT IS MINOXIDIL?
Minoxidil is a topical treatment, available in both foam and liquid format, which helps to improve blood and oxygen flow to the scalp. This is believed to help to revitalise hair roots and fight against hair loss.
Originally an oral medication used to treat blood pressure, early stages of this medications’ use researchers found that it had a positive effect on hair growth, Minoxidil was first launched as Regaine Topical Solution 2% in the UK in 1988, although it was available only on private prescription accoding to the Pharmatuctical Journal. Initially the focus was on male baldness, but in 1990 the drug's licence was extended to women with hair lossMinoxidil was then released as the first FDA-approved medication to treat hair loss. It is one of the most-used medications for hair loss in men and women today.
There are a number of Minoxidil preparations available, with the 5% strength being considered most effective and available for men and women in the foam version. While side effects are rare, they include shedding of smaller miniaturised hairs and scalp irritation.
HOW DOES MINOXIDIL WORK?
While the exact mechanism of action in Minoxidil is unknown, this drug is a vasodilator, meaning it could actively combat hair loss by expanding the blood vessels in your scalp, promoting healthy blood flow.
With this increased blood flow, it is believed that the starved hair follicles in your scalp are fed a greater amount of oxygen and nutrients so applying it to your scalp can potentially improve hair density and increase the rate of growth.
HOW LONG DOES MINOXIDIL TAKE TO WORK?
Minoxidil will start to work immediately, however, given the nature of the hair cycle there are a number of resources such as Lloyds Pharmacy and Healthline who state that you are likely to see some initial results within the first three to six months. After this time, you should start to see some noticeable improvement in your hair, with what is considered the "final" results visible after around 12 months of continuous usage. This is only a guide as there and it is possible to see signs of reduced hair loss or even some hair growth in less than 6 months.
ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS WITH MINOXIDIL?
Along with the initial increase in hair loss experienced when some people first start using Minoxidil (shedding), which is perfectly normal and caused by Minoxidil accelerating the growth phase during the initial phase of the treatment according to the website Healthline, Alongside this, common side effects include;
- Allergic contact dermatitis
- Scalp Irritation
- Dry hair
Costs: Typically between £20 - £35
WHAT IS FINASTERIDE?
Originally used to treat the symptoms of enlarged prostate (benign prostate hyperplasia), Finasteride is the generic version of a more well known medicine called Propecia. This is taken as a 1mg daily tablet and designed to halt hair loss on the head and, in some cases, stimulate regrowth. It has been clinically proven to be an effective treatment for male pattern hair loss in 9 out of 10 men but, although it may also work in women, it is not a recommended course of treatment.
HOW DOES FINASTERIDE WORK?
Unlike Minoxidil, much more is known on how Finasteride works. One of the main factors involved in male pattern hair loss (Androgenetic Alopecia) is the activity of DHT (dihydrotestosterone) on the hair follicles. When present, DHT activates a receptor in the hair follicle which causes the growth phase of the hair cycle to gradually decrease. This shrinks the follicle resulting in finer, shorter hairs until the growth phase is so short that the hairs do not grow from the scalp at all.
Finasteride stops the production of DHT and works as an inhibitor of 5-alpha-reductase, the enzyme which converts testosterone into DHT. This means that less DHT is present in the scalp (around 60% less), preventing further hair loss and in some cases, promoting hair regrowth.
HOW LONG DOES FINASTERIDE TAKE TO WORK?
You should start to notice reduced hair loss and/or the regrowth of your hair after about three to six months. The best results appear after 12-24 months of continuous treatment.
ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS WITH FINASTERIDE?
The chances of experiencing any adverse side effects associated with Finasteride are very low.
Occasionally, men taking finasteride experience changes in their sexual function. This includes symptoms such as erectile dysfunction, decreased libido and ejaculatory dysfunction. Stopping treatment usually leads to the resolution of these symptoms in over 99% of patients.
A complete list of side effects is available in the Patient Information Leaflet enclosed with your medication, which you should always read before taking it for the first time. We also cover this further in our article - Finasteride.
Costs: If you opt for the brand Propecia, this can be £45+ per month with generic Finasteride starting at £20+.
While there are several medications produced by the pharmaceutical industry to manage hair loss, effectiveness between individuals varies. Minoxidil and Finasteride are one of the few clinically-tested and MHRA approved treatments and have been consistently used as effective hair loss medications for decades. They are widely prescribed by medical professionals globally and considered as the first-line treatments to stop further hair loss.
For this reason, many of the more generic hair loss treatment products you see today actually use these two medications as the key ingredients for their products.
The ISHRS also advise that, combining the topical application of Minoxidil appears to ‘synergistically enhance the hair regrowth effect of finasteride’. As such, they note that doctors commonly recommend the combination of these drugs, provided patients are committed to the daily regimen that topical Minoxidil requires
Why not find our more about your first stage treatment options by reading the following guides;
While our aim is to provide you with uptodate and relevant information, drugs affect each person differently. As such we can not guarantee that this information includes all possible side effects and this information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always discuss treatment options and possible side effects with a healthcare professional who knows your specific medical history.