Propecia and Rogaine
In the past 20 years, a revolution in treatment for hair loss has occurred. Not only have doctors started to decode the actual causes of hair loss, but pharmacologic treatments – medicines for balding – also have been found and proven to actually work. You have heard of these drugs, finasteride (also known as Proscar or Propecia), and minoxidil (also known as Rogaine) and together they represent a course-change for the treatment of hair loss that previous centuries of men and women have not been lucky enough to experience.
Finasteride is a particularly effective medication for men who are balding, but a lot of misinformation exists about this drug in particular. It turns out that the more emotional a medical problem is, the more rumors and bias develop – statistically speaking. Balding is about as emotional as it gets for patients, many of whom had abundant hair to begin with and no warning that they might lose it one day, so it is to be expected that it is tough to know what to believe about this drug and make a decision about whether or not to take it.
Besides, like all medications, finasteride does not work for everyone with hair loss (women in particular), and it also does not work overnight. However, it does work for the vast majority of patients who use it correctly. Here are the facts you need to know to decide if this medical treatment for hair loss might work for you.
Treatment For Men Only
Finasteride was originally prescribed to men as a drug for their prostate (named Proscar). However, when Merck finished their clinical trial, the men taking it did not want to stop the drug because it was keeping their hair. Merck is not a stupid company, and they re-investigated the drug’s usefulness as a hair loss medication (Propecia). It has been in wide use as a hair loss preventative since the 1990s and will go off patent (and thus be available generically) in 2013.
Here’s what finasteride actually does; it blocks the enzyme that helps the hormone testosterone become the hormone DHT. Since DHT is the nasty little hormone that a man’s hair to fall out, blocking this transformation is a good thing. Younger men who take it (i.e. sometime before age 35) seem to keep or re-grow hair, while older men seem to stop or slow their hair loss, particularly at the vertex (the “bald spot” at the back of the head). Whatever a man’s age, if he has androgenetic alopecia (pattern hair loss) finasteride slows the rate of balding.
Much has been made online of finasteride’s side effects and this unfortunately has had the effect of scaring patients away from a potentially useful treatment. If you are a man who is considering keeping your hair, this may be your first and best line of defense. Finasteride’s irrefutable efficacy is also probably why it is one of the most highly counterfeited drugs in the world (along with Viagra and Cialis). In the age of the Internet, pushing fake drugs has become more common than people realize. As a consequence, beware of bargain copies from online or overseas pharmacies – they can look exactly the same and not contain finasteride.
If you are considering a hair transplant, finasteride may also be very useful. Not only will it help the new hair grafts to grow in better, but it also preserves the hair around those grafts so that the permanent follicles do not end up all alone years from now. This would not be a problem if the hair was transplanted in a naturally occurring pattern to begin with, but many patients opt for surgery to fill in a bald spot at the back or to cover loss at the fronto-temporal corners on either side. If that hair is left all by itself on a bald head, it looks like little tufts in areas that would not normally have a little tuft, which is to say it looks downright silly. Much reconstructive hair surgery is done simply to correct an early or misplaced hair transplant. In fact, many specialized hair surgeons will recommend finasteride as part of a long-term strategy for hair maintenance, particularly in the crown or vertex area (i.e. the balding area at the back of the head).
Like all treatments for hair loss, it takes some time to see the full benefit. The research shows that full results should be expected to take a year to develop; with many patients reporting that they noticed their hair stopped falling out at about six months. Early research into the usefulness of finasteride for women, or as a topical treatment, are not yet available, but may be promising. No matter what the results of these ongoing studies, hair loss sufferers finally have the option of treating their balding with a proven medication.