Losing your hair is a common experience for many men, especially as you get older. It’s called male pattern baldness and is not usually something to worry about in terms of your health, but it can impact your confidence and self esteem.
There is a safe and effective treatment for male pattern baldness called finasteride. These are tablets you take daily to prevent hair loss. Our doctors can assess your situation via our online consultation and prescribe you finasteride as either the branded version (Propecia) or the generic medicine (generic finasteride). Start an online consultation now.
About Hair Loss Treatment
You can treat male pattern hair loss using a medication called finasteride, which is sold both as a generic medication and under the brand name Propecia.
As they contain the same active ingredient (finasteride), both generic finasteride and Propecia work in the same way. The difference is that generic finasteride is cheaper as it is not a branded medicine.
Finasteride is a treatment for men only. It is not suitable for women to take.
Hair loss is also known as alopecia and can be temporary or permanent.
Temporary hair loss can be caused by stress, illness, cancer treatment, weight loss, and iron deficiency. Once you have recovered or treatment has stopped, your hair will grow back.
Male pattern hair loss is permanent hair loss caused by natural changes in your body as you age. It is very common, with studies estimating that it affects 30 to 50% of men over the age of 50. Male pattern hair loss is caused by an over-sensitivity to a hormone called dihydrotestosterone or DHT, which is found near the scalp. Your body’s reaction to DHT means that your hair follicles shrink, so the hairs growing out of it become finer and shorter. Over time the follicles that shrink stop growing hair, so when your hairs shed as part of the natural cycle, there are no new hairs to replace them.
Tablets to treat male pattern hair loss work by stopping your body from producing the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). If your body does not have DHT in its system, it cannot react to it. It is the reaction to DHT that causes hair loss, so stopping your body from producing DHT in the first place stops hair loss.
If you stop taking the tablets, your body will start producing DHT again and you are likely to lose hair again.
It can take up to 6 months for the full impact of your hair loss treatment to work, but you can often see the effects after 3 months. If you stop taking the treatment, you will likely lose the hair you have gained within 9 to 12 months.
An alternative treatment to finasteride that does not require a prescription is minoxidil, a liquid or foam. You apply it to your scalp and it increases the blood flow to the hair follicles, which helps hair growth.
There are other options for treating hair loss. Not all of these are available on the NHS and your doctor is best placed to advise you on them.
- steroid injections or steroid cream applied to the bald patches
- topical immunotherapy (applying chemicals to the bald patches to stimulate a reaction)
- ultraviolet light shone onto bald patches
- transplant of hair or artificial hair
- scalp reduction surgery (stretching sections of the scalp that do have hair to meet sections that do not)
- tattoos that look like very short hair
The early sign of male pattern hair loss is a receding hairline, followed by a thinning of your hair on the crown and temples.
You should see your doctor if you experience:
- loss of large amounts of hair suddenly and in clumps
- burning or itching scalp
- bald patches that develop quickly
If your hair loss impacts your emotional and mental health, talk to your doctor.
Finasteride is safe to take, but people can have side effects as with all medication. In many cases, these side effects will reduce and disappear as your body adjusts to the treatment. If they do not reduce, or they begin to impact your life, talk to your doctor.
Stop taking finasteride right away if you have:
- signs of an allergic reaction (breathing difficulties, difficulty swallowing, hives, or swelling of your lips, face, tongue and throat)
- severe depression and anxiety
- changes in your breast tissue such as lumps, pain, enlargement or nipple discharge (these may be signs of breast cancer)
Uncommon side effects (may affect up to 1 in 100 people) include:
- lower sex drive
- problems getting or keeping an erection
- reduction in the amount of semen released during ejaculation
Other side effects (frequency is unknown) include:
- breast swelling or tenderness
- changes in the way your liver works
- pain in the testicles
- persistent lower sex drive, erectile dysfunction, and ejaculation problems even after you stop taking finasteride
Tablets to treat male pattern hair loss are not available over the counter as you must have a prescription to get these. The only treatment available from a pharmacist is minoxidil, a foam or liquid you apply to your scalp.
Finasteride 5mg tablets EMC [accessed 8th December 2021]
Finasteride NHS 2020 [accessed 8th December 2021]
Hair loss NHS 2021[accessed 8th December 2021]
Male Androgenetic Alopecia NCBI [accessed 8th December 2021]
Minoxidil and its use in hair disorders: a review NCBI 2019 [accessed 8th December 2021]