Q: What are your thoughts on topical finasteride? I am hesitant to use this because I cannot find any good studies on this let alone what the potential side effects may be with prolonged use.
A: Although there are no controlled studies to date, our sense is that topical finasteride in the right formulation may be a good therapeutic option. Long-term it should be at least as safe as the oral formulation.
However, presently, we don’t use topical finasteride for the following reasons:
- The dosing and efficacy have not been worked out.
- The topical formulations are not regulated and therefore not consistent in dose.
- In order to be effective, topical finasteride must be absorbed to some extent in the bloodstream and so a similar side effect profile may exist as with the oral version.
- It is not clear that using it topically can increase the efficacy/side effect ratio (i.e., depression of serum DHT levels may be important for its effect).
- It may inadvertently be used by pregnant women.
Q: How do you best manage the irritation that comes with minoxidil? I have patients that report burning, and this causes them to stop treatment prematurely.
A: We start with minoxidil solution and if the patient gets irritated, switch to the foam (which doesn’t have the propylene glycol that is contained in the solution).
If he/she can’t tolerate the foam, then we consider oral minoxidil. We rarely use a topical steroid in conjunction with the minoxidil (a practice of many doctors).
As an aside, once a day use is all that is necessary and this seems to be less irritating than bid.
Q: What is your opinion of the companies that advertise hair loss solutions like Hims and Keeps?
In searching the web and riding the subway I’ve seen many ads for a company called Hims that offers hair loss medicine and other medical solutions for men’s problems. What are the medications used for hair loss and how do they compare to Propecia and Rogaine? — V.T., Long Island, NY
A: Hims and Keeps are digital wellness companies that are geared toward men. They prescribe the same hair loss products that you can receive from a doctor or from online stores like Amazon, such as minoxidil, finasteride, biotin, salicylic acid shampoos and other topical and oral medications. The patents on the most commonly used prescription medications have expired within the last few years, opening the door for companies to distribute their own generic versions. The online system that Hims uses allows people to get prescriptions without seeing a doctor. Although this might be convenient, receiving an in-person evaluation from an experienced physician is important to ensure that you receive the proper treatment. Medical treatments for hair loss are most effective when started early. Therefore, making sure the diagnosis is correct and that the medications are optimized, will give you the best chance of re-growing your hair and preventing future thinning.
- Schedule a Consultation at Bernstein Medical
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Q: Can Rogaine Cause Miniaturization?
When I am on Rogaine it seems – to my untrained eye – that I am having hair miniaturization and when I stopped briefly, I had shedding. Does this seem accurate based on what you have seen? Can Rogaine cause miniaturization? Is there a point you would recommend I stop Rogaine or is it something that likely can’t cause a negative impact on hair? — B.T., Brooklyn, NY
A: Minoxidil reverses miniaturization. It does not cause it. Shedding can occur after starting use of Rogaine but this means the medication is working should resolve with continued use. New miniaturized hairs are either from the progression of your genetic male pattern hair loss or newly forming hair that was stimulated by the minoxidil which can mimic miniaturized hair.
Q: What is more important against baldness, decreasing DHT in serum with oral finasteride or decreasing DHT in the scalp with topical finasteride? — A.G. ~ Brooklyn, N.Y.
A: Decreasing serum DHT with oral finasteride is more effective in combating hair loss, as the decreased blood levels also lowers the DHT in follicles and seem to do it better than finasteride applied topically.
Q: Dr. Bernstein, I am experiencing side effects on Propecia, are there alternative treatments? — J.D. ~ Roslyn, N.Y.
Q: What do I do if I start experiencing side effects on finasteride? — L.L. ~ Riverdale, N.Y.
A: Don’t panic, just stop the medication and let your doctor know. He or she will give you guidance based on your symptoms.
Q: I had a good friend get a transplant at your practice and it seems that your practice is the industry leader in hair transplantation. I may one day be looking for one. That being said, my friend said I shouldn’t trust anyone else. I wanted to know if you may be able to tell me what tests/specific labs you have your patients do prior to starting Propecia. I am having my doctor put me on it but he does not recommend any labs but I don’t trust this. So I’m not looking for medical advice, just what your practice may advise a patient to get (in terms of labs/blood tests) prior to starting Propecia. I’m really hoping you can help as I have already contacted a number of other sources and can’t seem to get an answer. — M.B. ~ Upper East Side, N.Y.
A: Blood tests are not required before starting finasteride and we do not routinely perform them. If a patient requests test then Total and Free Testosterone, DHT, and Prolactin are reasonable to obtain, but there is no consensus on what the appropriate tests might be. If a patient requests tests because he has symptoms (i.e. such as lack of energy associated with low T), he should see his internist, urologist, or GP. That said, patients 50 and over (40 and over in patients with a high risk of developing prostate cancer) should have a PSA before starting finasteride.
Q: Does a man’s height and weight affect the dose of finasteride or Propecia he should take? i.e. will a 6’4″ man need a higher dose than a 5’7″ man. — T.B., Rye Brook, NY
A: The dose of finasteride is the same (i.e. 1mg) regardless of a person’s height or weight. The reason is that one needs only 0.5mg a day for it to be effective, so there is much leeway built into the dose (but the rate of non-responders is slightly higher at the 0.5mg/day dose). That said, after 5 years or so, finasteride seems to be less effective and doctors often increase the dose a bit. The next step-up is generally to take 1/3 of a 5mg pill each day. Keep in mind that the dosing we are speaking about is for hair loss (androgenetic alopecia). When finasteride is used for prostate enlargement, the dose is 5mg a day.
Q: Hi. I am 52 years old and wish to know if Propecia will work for people my age. I have started losing some hair a couple of years ago and it’s thinning out. Thank you very much for your help. — K.E., Boca Raton, FL
A: Propecia (Finasteride 1 mg) can hold on to hair at any age, but works best to re-grow hair in those who are younger.
The reason is that finasteride works to reverse miniaturization (the thinning and shortening of hairs due to DHT). Younger patients, with early hair loss, generally have more hair in the early stages of miniaturization where the changes are readily reversible.
Older patients are more likely have more advanced miniaturization or areas that are totally bald and will thus not regrow with medical therapy.
Q: Can Propecia (finasteride) completely halt androgenic alopecia for the duration of your lifetime, or does it just slow down the progression of androgenic alopecia? — L.B., Scarsdale, N.Y.
A: In many patients we have found finasteride to hold on to a patient’s hair for at least 15 years. We don’t have much longer data than that since it was approved for hair loss in 1998. Although finasteride will usually continue to work as long as you take it, it may lose some of its efficacy over time. Generally after about 5 years we may notice that the patient’s hair is starting to thin again and we will increase the dose slightly. It is important to understand that even if someone thins on finasteride it doesn’t mean the medicine is not working, because they might have thinned much more without it. To my knowledge, there are no studies that have looked at the effects of finasteride for such an extended period of time.
- Read about the first comprehensive study to investigate Propecia’s long term efficacy
- Read more about Propecia (finasteride)
Q: I’ve heard that using Propecia and/or Rogaine is a good idea after having a hair transplant, but are they mandatory? — B.M., Short Hill, N.J.
A: Neither finasteride (brand name: Propecia) nor minoxidil (brand name: Rogaine) will have any effect on transplanted hair. That said, while you don’t need them to protect your transplanted hair, you will likely have original hair interspersed among your transplanted hair that will continue to thin and fall out over time. This vulnerable hair can be protected by finasteride which has been shown to reduce future hair loss significantly; additionally, you can add Rogaine for extra benefit.
However, with Propecia, you should only use it if you can commit to it long-term because it takes up to a full year to see any effect. With Rogaine, you should only use it if you can commit to using it continually and regularly – you should not stop and start it.
Q: I have done a lot of research over the past year including seeing a dermatologist and receiving consultation from a surgeon. Both recommended Propecia and Rogaine. After my consults I researched these products online and read that they do not work on the front of the scalp to improve my receding hairline, only to regrow hair in the crown area. Can you settle the issue once and for all? Do Propecia and Rogaine work on the front of the scalp? Can they improve my receding hairline? — J.S., Great Falls, Virginia
A: Both Propecia and Minoxidil definitely can work in the front of the scalp as long as there is some hair in the area. Although their mechanisms of action are different, both Propecia (finasteride) and Rogaine (minoxidil) act to thicken miniaturized hair regardless of where it is on the scalp. In fact, there are published data ((Leyden, James et al. “Finasteride in the treatment of men with frontal male pattern hair loss.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 1999 Jun;40(6 Pt 1):930-7.)) demonstrating this improvement with finasteride in a controlled clinical trial of men with frontal hair loss.
The source of the confusion is that the FDA limited the application of the drugs to the crown on the package inserts for both Propecia and Rogaine. The FDA did this because Upjohn (the company that introduced Rogaine) and Merck (Propecia) only tested the medications on the crown in the clinical trials. Logically, the fact that DHT causes frontal hair loss and Propecia works by blocking DHT gives a reasonable explanation for the efficacy of the drug on the front of the scalp. Also, a side effect of the use of minoxidil is facial hair, so how could it not also work on the front of the scalp? It is regrettable that some doctors and many patients think that these medications won’t work on the front of the scalp. Unfortunately, many hair restoration surgeons have done little to educate the public and dispel this myth.
To reiterate, yes, both of these medications can work on the front of the scalp to prevent hair loss and thicken a thinning hairline. However, it is important to note that neither of these medications can grow hair on a totally bald scalp or lower an existing hairline. Hair follicles must exist for the medications to work. It is also important to stress that the best results come from using both finasteride and minoxidil together.
- Visit Bernstein Medical for a Hair Loss Consultation
- Submit a Photo Consultation
- Before & After Photos of hair loss treatment with Propecia and/or Rogaine
- Tips on Using Rogaine (Minoxidil)
- Tips on Using Propecia (Finasteride)
Q: I’ve heard that FDA added a description of reports of male infertility to the side effect labels of both Propecia and Proscar (finasteride). Is this a likely side effect in your experience? — S.S., Rolling Hills, California
A: Propecia (finasteride 1mg) may lead to male infertility not only by changing the consistency of the male ejaculate but by decreasing the sperm count as well, but this is uncommon.
Ejaculate is a combination of sperm produced by the testes and a viscous fluid made by the prostate. Since finasteride shrinks the prostate, it can make the ejaculate less viscous (more watery).
Most patients trying to conceive will have no issues while taking Propecia.
If one is having difficulty trying to conceive for 4-6 months, then it is reasonable to stop taking Propecia.
It is important to know that taking Propecia while trying to conceive will not lead to congenital deformities or issues with the fetus as long as the woman does not come in direct contact with the medication.
Q: I have been using an increased dosage of Propecia now for around 8 months and Rogaine for about 6 months. I know that shedding can be expected for the first 3-6 months, but I believe I am now beyond that timeframe. Have you seen cases in which these products merely exacerbate hair loss without the expected regrowth? — N.E., Travilah, Maryland
A: It is a bit long to still see shedding, but from my experience, either the medications are working (and you are still in the shedding phase) or you are not responding to them. I have not seen minoxidil or finasteride worsen hair loss. My advice would be to continue the same course for at least a year before re-evaluating their use.
Q: I read your 20 pages of FAQs but could not find this question addressed. I’m currently taking Finasteride 5 mg (one-fourth tablet per day), but since some drug companies make an oblong tablet that is hard to cut into four pieces, I found a plastic bottle with four equal measurements and I dissolve the tablet in water, shake it up and drink one-fourth of the liquid each day. I read somewhere that you’re not really supposed to dissolve the pill in water. Is that correct or is it OK to keep doing it the way I’m doing? — W.I., Winnetka, Illinois
A: I would cut up the pills with a pill-cutter – they do not need to be in equal parts. Just finish a whole pill every four days. You can also take ½ pill every other day and achieve the same effect. I am not sure of the stability of the medication in water over several days. It is probably OK, but why take the chance?
Q: As a Propecia user, I was alarmed when I read headlines last year about a new study indicating very high rates of depression and erectile dysfunction caused by Propecia, with symptoms persisting even after the drug was stopped. However, when I read the articles, this “study” appeared to be survey of 61 men who had taken Propecia and already reported sexual problems who were then asked about symptoms of depression. These rates of depression were compared to a small survey of men who had hair loss but had never taken Propecia.
Anyone with a basic understanding of statistics would know such a survey was deeply flawed. First, it is a textbook example of a bad data sample — to get sound results you have to start with an unbiased and random group of people who took the drug, not a self-selected group of men already suffering symptoms. The study also confuses correlation with causation — because these men are suffering from ED or depression does not necessarily mean it was caused by the drug. Am I missing something here, or did the media just report these “findings” with no scrutiny on what was actually studied? — Jonathan, Brooklyn, NY
A: Jonathan, I think you’re right on the mark. The way the study was conducted raises a lot of concern about the accuracy of the findings. It is really important that additional data is obtained in a controlled way, as this will be most useful for physicians in advising patients. I addressed concern on these reports last year. The issue of persistent sexual dysfunction as a side-effect of finasteride (Post-Finasteride Syndrome) is an on-going issue that we take very seriously. I sit on the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) Task Force on Finasteride Adverse Events, so this is an issue that we watch very closely.
Q: After achieving results with 5% Minoxidil is it possible to the switch to the 2% version to maintain those results without any adverse hair loss? — I.I., Winnetka, Illinois
A: It will be less effective. The dosing should not be decreased.
Q: Have you any experience with Azelaic Acid as a hair loss treatment — is this something you would recommend using with Rogaine (minoxidil) 2% or 5% solutions? — S.V., Short Hills, N.J.
A: Azeleic acid has no direct benefit in promoting hair growth. Azelaic acid (like retinoic acid) increases the absorption of minoxidil, but also the side effects, so I would especially not recommend it in your case.
Q: Is it possible that side effects attributed to the use of Minoxidil 5% lotion can reduce over time or disappear altogether? Specifically I experienced a heightened sense of heart activity (palpitations). — D.D., Bronxville, NY
A: Yes, the side effects may diminish over time.
Q: I have heard that side effects from finasteride can persist even after stopping the medication. What is the most current information on this issue? — S.V., Short Hills, N.J.
A: For the past two years I have been on the International Society for Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) Task Force on Finasteride Adverse Events and struggling to make sense of this issue. There seems to be a disconnect between the relatively low incidence of side effects that we, as physicians, see in our practices, what published controlled studies have shown, and what is now being reported on the internet and in some instances in the media. For example, a 2012 study by Sato of 3,177 Japanese men published the Journal of Dermatology, showed a 0.7% incidence of adverse reactions to finasteride 1mg and no persistent side effects after stopping the medication.
That said, there has been a recent increase in anecdotal reports of side effects from finasteride as well as reports of persistent side effects after the medication has been discontinued (referred to as “Post-finasteride Syndrome”).
Based on post-marketing reports of sexual dysfunction, in April 2012, the FDA announced changes to Propecia (finasteride 1 mg) labeling to expand the list of sexual adverse events and that some of these events had been reported to continue after the drug is no longer being used. It is important to note that no new clinical studies were reviewed to evaluate these adverse events and that the FDA is not aware of any additional controlled clinical studies conducted to evaluate these adverse events or to determine their cause or duration. (see FDA Label Changes for Finasteride 2012)
The FDA states that despite the fact that clear causal links between finasteride (Propecia and Proscar) and sexual adverse events have NOT been established, the cases suggest a broader range of adverse effects than previously reported in patients taking these drugs. The FDA states that it believes that finasteride remains a safe and effective drug for its approved indications, but also advises that healthcare professionals and patients should consider this new label information when deciding the best treatment option.
The difficulty with interpreting anecdotal information is significant. The following need to be considered; first, sexual dysfunction, both temporary and persistent, is quite common in the general population and patients may have new-onset sexual dysfunction from some other, unrelated, cause and second, patients may have real (physiologic) side effects from the medication and then have psychological after effects. It is so difficult to sort these factors out.
The Finasteride Symposium at the 2012 ISHRS, of which I was a panelist, explored safety issues with finasteride. Dr. Akio Sato presented his data (quoted above) suggesting that finasteride side effects are uncommon and that persistent side effects were not seen. Dr. Freedland, a urologist and featured guest speaker at the ISHRS symposium, questioned whether long-term effects of a slight elevation in estrogen levels could have adverse effects on the prostate. The panel discussed the paper of Dr. Michael Irwig at George Washington University that appeared in The Journal of Sexual Medicine this year. In his survey of 54 patients of men who had persistent sexual side effects three or more months after the discontinuation of finasteride, he reported that sexual dysfunction continued for many months or years in the majority of the patients.
Difficulties in interpreting this study are that it assumed that the patient’s sexual dysfunction were caused by finasteride when, in fact, there is no way of knowing that finasteride was the actual cause of the side effects (this would need a blinded, placebo-controlled study). A second reason that makes interpretation difficult is that, because there was selection bias in the Irwig survey, there is no way of knowing if these patients are representative of the population of men on finasteride. That said, the data presented by Dr. Irwig stresses the importance of having more clarity on the potential side effects of finasteride, since it is so widely prescribed.
It was clear from the presentations and questions asked, that many issues are still unresolved. All in attendance agreed that further research is urgently needed. In the short term, it is most important that all patients who are having problems can have easy access to doctors with expertise in this area, so that they can be diagnosed properly and treated.
Q: I have been taking finasteride for several years and I seem to be doing well. Does finasteride generally work long-term? — A.C., West University Place, Texas
A: With regard to efficacy, a recent long-term, uncontrolled study by Rossi et al. reported that the beneficial effects of finasteride on hair growth continued as time goes on and that a significant proportion of patients, unchanged after 1 year, improved later on. In addition these patients maintained a positive trend over time -– up to ten years. When comparing different age groups, they found that subjects older than 30 years showed a better hair growth in the long term than those who were younger. Of the 113 patients in the study followed for 10 years, only 14% worsened, whereas the remaining 86% had benefits.
Q: Dr. Bernstein, I am an attending at Mass General Hospital in Boston and would like to ask you regarding your experiences using finasteride for male androgenetic alopecia. While I have not noticed any side effects in the patients that I have been treating, I increasingly get questions regarding side effects based on the recent media attention to reports of potentially permanent problems regarding libido or erectile dysfunction. I know that in the literature there is a slight increase of reversible sexual dysfunction (~4% vs. ~2% in placebo) with Propecia, and no convincing evidence to date in the medical literature that have used controlled studies regarding permanent problems even after discontinuing Propecia. — S.Z., Boston, Massachusetts
A: That is correct.
Q: I know that you have treated many patients over a long period of time, and I was thus wondering what your take is on potentially permanent sexual dysfunction after taking finasteride. Have you seen any convincing reports/patients or do you have any concerns regarding irreversible side effects?
A: I have seen 5 cases in over 10,000 patients on finasteride that complained of this but, of course, there is no way to know for sure if there is a cause and effect relationship. As you know, real side effects may be followed by psychological ones and if the sexual dysfunction has another cause, then stopping finasteride would have no effect on the symptoms. The incidence of intermittent or persistent sexual dysfunction in the general population of men is about 30%, so one would expect these numbers to be much higher just due to the normal incidence. It is really a difficult situation to understand. The experience that my colleagues and I have in our practices is much different than one would expect after reading the numerous anecdotal reports on the internet.
Q: Would you think it is safe to say that any potential sexual dysfunction is reversible after discontinuing the use of finasteride?
A: I don’t think that anyone knows at this point. The FDA is coming down on the side of caution and saying that it is possible, although it is not based on any new studies. If the phenomenon is real, the possible mechanism is not yet known.
Q: In the relatively few patients that I have treated with Propecia, they did not even report temporary problems regarding libido or erectile dysfunction. Do you think they are real or rather attributed to Propecia simply because the patient is made aware of these potential side effects?
A: I think that psychological effects may account for many cases. At this time, it is still not clear if a physiologic “post-finasteride syndrome” is real. A lot more work needs to be done before we have a definitive answer to this question.
Q: I recently visited my dermatologist regarding my hair loss, and after checking my hair he said I am showing signs of Androgenetic Alopecia (common baldness), and said if I don’t treat it, it will progress. From my research on the net, I figured he will put me on Propecia. In fact he put me on Avodart. When I told him it is not FDA-approved for hair loss, and Propecia is, he said Avodart is better and brings DHT down more, and Propecia is nothing next to Avodart. He told me to take it every day for 2 weeks, then every other day from then on as it has a long half life. From researching on the net, many hair restoration doctors rarely prescribe Avodart for hair loss due to some dangers. What is your opinion on this? — T.G., Darien, Connecticut
A: Although dutasteride (Avodart) can be more effective for male pattern hair loss, I would start with finasteride (Propecia) as many patients do great with it and the safety profile is better. The following are things I would consider before starting dutasteride:
- As you point out, dutasteride is not FDA-approved for hair loss.
- There is no data on its safety when used for hair loss. This is important since dutasteride has been only tested on an older population of patients (with prostate disease) rather than a younger population of patients needing medical treatment for androgenetic alopecia.
- These is no natural model for dutasteride’s combined blockage of both type 1 and 2 5-alpha reductase (finasteride blocks only type 2 5-AR and there are families that have this deficiency and have no long-term problems. This, by the way, is how the drug was discovered).
- The type 1 enzyme which dutasteride blocks is present in many more tissues of the body (including the brain) compared to type 2 (which is more localized to the skin).
- Although so far unproven, there is a concern that finasteride may produce side effects than can be persistent after stopping the medication (post-finasteride syndrome). It this does turn out to be true, the effects from dutasteride would most likely be significantly more persistent.
- If you start with finasteride and do have side effects, you will most surely have side effects from dutasteride; therefore, by taking finasteride first you will have avoided the potentially more problematic side effects from dutasteride
- You may respond well to finasteride, and so do not need to consider dutasteride
- Read about Propecia (finasteride)
- Read about Avodart (dutasteride)
- View before and after photos of medical treatment of hair loss
Q: I have been finasteride for several years. My wife and I are currently trying to conceive our first child and it is unclear to me if it is safe to continue taking finasteride during this period. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get a clear position via the Internet. Most people commenting on it are on blogs and the response goes both ways — some say it’s ok, others say stop. While I know that it’s imperative that a pregnant woman not touch the medicine, can you please let me know if I can continue taking the medicine while trying to conceive? — M.K., Edgeworth, PA
A: It is OK for you to continue finasteride while your wife is trying to conceive. However, there is some data to suggest that it may slightly decrease fertility since, by shrinking the prostate (the prostate produces 25-30% of semen volume) it slightly changes the overall composition of semen. These effects appear to be temporary and finasteride has no direct effect on sperm. If you and your wife were to have difficulty conceiving, at that point is might be reasonable to temporarily discontinue the medication.
Q: Doctor Bernstein, I was looking at your website and saw the photos of medical hair loss treatments only, with Rogaine and Propecia. Doctor, are all those pictures just with medical treatments or is there concealers as well? I don’t mean to sound rude or disrespectful, but are the pics all real and genuine? Those are some impressive responses to medical treatment. — A.D., Scarsdale, NY
A: The photos are un-retouched and without concealers. These are responses to medical treatment alone. Yes, medications (finasteride and minoxidil) can work really well in select patients. Patients with early stages of thinning usually respond the best. Contrary to popular belief, the medications can work in the front part of the scalp, as long as the area is not shiny bald.
Perhaps about 1/3 of patients respond well enough to be put on the site. Most others have a good response, but not necessarily improvement significant enough to be easily noticeable in photos.
Q: Are the “result” photos from taking Propecia and using Rogaine legitimate? Some of the after photos look too good to be real and a few patients looked like they combed their hair to look like they had more coverage. — T.Y., Darien, Connecticut
A: The before and after photos of patients using Propecia and Rogaine are my patients. All photos on our website are un-retouched. When patients have a good response to medical therapy, they often have more flexibility in how they can groom and style their hair. This is reflected in the photos.
Q: You prescribed Propecia for my hair loss. I was wondering if the news report on Propecia side effects has altered your opinion regarding the safety of this drug? — N.D., Belle Meade, Tennessee
A: It has not changed. I believe you are referring to Dr. Michael Irwig’s study at George Washington University published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. I was already aware of the study when I prescribed the medication for you and we discussed the risk of persistent side effects at your consult.
Although all types of data should be considered, it is important to realize that this was not a scientific study, but a survey. It had very significant selection bias. From this type of study, one can’t prove cause and effect relationships or even get a sense of actual incidences. These were patients who were recruited because they already had persistent sexual dysfunction. Since it is not clear if their persistent problems were directly due to the medication or from other factors, and since these patients were selected, rather than randomly assigned, the additional information can be gained from the report is very limited.
That said, the reporting of persistent side effects should not be taken lightly, but should be viewed in the context of all available data. It is extremely important for us to continue to be vigilant, as this is a very significant issue, but it is equally important not to make decisions on data sensationalized in the media. As a result of the finasteride data, some are presenting surgery as a more reasonable alternative than medication. For a young person, that is usually not the case.
Q: I am 27 years old and I have been on Propecia for 12 months now. Honestly, I have seen no response from it. In my dermatologist’s opinion I am a non-responder. I asked about Avodart and he said, since Propecia didn’t help then Avodart won’t help as well since both are DHT blockers, and if one didn’t work the other won’t either. In your opinion do you think Avodart is better? I have read that it blocks more DHT than Propecia. What is the dosing for Avodart? If someone does not respond to Propecia will they also not respond to Avodart? — A.C., West University Place, Texas
A: Avodart (dutasteride) is more effective than Propecia (finasteride) and some patients will respond to dutasteride who do not respond to finasteride. Dutasteride decreases serum DHT about 90% compared to 70% for finasteride. The usual starting dose of Avodart is 0.5mg a day.
That said, dutasteride is not FDA approved for use in hair loss and if a person has sexual side effects, the side effects are more likely to be persistent after stopping the medication compared to finasteride.
Q: Is taking Propecia absolutely essential to retain the transplanted hair after a hair transplant? — D.W., Toronto, Canada
A: Propecia (Finasteride 1mg) does not affect transplanted hair. The purpose of taking finasteride is to prevent further loss of the non-transplanted hair after the hair restoration procedure.
Q: I am taking finasteride as you prescribed. You also suggested using minoxidil liberally over the entire front and top of my scalp once a day. During our meeting I think that you said that once I start using this I would not be able to stop it, and, if I did, it might lead to further hair loss. Hence, I decided to use the laser comb three times a week in addition to the finasteride. Having said that, if you still feel I should start using minoxidil daily, I will start doing so. — H.K., Brooklyn, NY
A: Stopping therapy doesn’t lead to further hair loss in that it doesn’t accelerate it; you just continue on the path that you would have been without the treatment. When you stop, there may be an initial shedding as you quickly lose any benefits that you had from the treatment.
- Only work when you use it
- Reversion to where you would have been when you stop (but not worse)
However, the important issue is efficacy:
Finasteride >> minoxidil > laser therapy
This is the reason I recommended finasteride and minoxidil.
Q: I heard that Propecia stops working after five years. Is this true and why in five years? — B.P., Stamford, CT
A: That is not correct. Although the effects of Propecia (finasteride 1mg) will diminish over time, it does continue to work. Using finasteride long-term will still be better than stopping it at some arbitrary interval. In clinical practice, I often increase the dose of finasteride, after someone had been on the medication 3 to 5 years, to help maintain its effectiveness.
Q: Although I was prescribed Propecia, I have not yet started to take it. I would like to take it now, but my wife wants me to wait until after we have our second baby so as to avoid having the drug in my system when we conceive. She’s concerned that if it’s so harmful to pregnant women, that having it in my sperm is an issue. — L.V., Bellmore, New York
A: There is no evidence that if you take the medication it will affect the fetus. However, your wife should not ingest the drug or handle broken pills during pregnancy.
Read more about Propecia and Side Effects.
Q: Can dandruff cause hair loss? I have a lot of dandruff and use the Nizoral Shampoo for it. And can the Nizoral be a reason I am losing my hair? — K.P., Suffern, NY
A: Dandruff (the medical term is seborrhea) does not cause hair loss as it is a condition that involves scaling and redness on the surface of the scalp and does not involve the growth parts of the hair follicle that lie deeper in the skin. Although Nizoral is an ineffective treatment for hair loss (it is sometimes prescribed for this) it will not cause hair loss.
Q: Should I use Nizoral every day? — L.S., Houston, TX
A: The product recommendation is to use Nizoral shampoo twice per week for dandruff, but many patients prefer to use it daily. Other than drying out the scalp, it is safe to use daily. The 1% formulation is over the counter. The 2% requires a prescription.
Q: I use Nizoral for my dandruff. Does it work for hair loss too? — M.D., Danbury, CT
A: The active ingredient in Nizoral is Ketoconazole. This medication, originally developed to treat fungus infections, has slight anti-androgen action. It is supposed to work in hair loss by inhibiting the action of DHT on hair follicles. Although, in theory, it should be useful for androgenetic hair loss, there have not been conclusive scientific studies to show that it works to treat balding when used as a topical application for balding.
Q: I heard that the sexual side effects of Propecia are irreversible. Is this true? — L.R., Parsippany, NJ
A: The sexual side effects of finasteride (Propecia) begin to subside soon after the medication is discontinued. This would make sense since the drug finasteride is a reversible inhibitor of DHT. Although it is possible for side effects to be persistent after stopping the medication, this situation seems to be very uncommon and a cause and effect relationship is still in question.
One should consider that sexual dysfunction is relatively common in the adult male population and millions of patients take finasteride. Thus, there is a likely probability that some patients on finasteride may experience sexual dysfunction unrelated to the medication and, therefore, when the medication is stopped, the side effects would not be expected to go away.
Another thing to consider is that once a patient experiences sexual dysfunction (from a medication or another reason) psychological factors may come into play that make the side effects persist, even though they are unrelated to the medication or other underlying cause that may now be gone.
It is important to keep in mind that medication plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of androgenetic alopecia and decisions to use medications should be done thoughtfully and in an informed way. Blog postings can offer some subjective information, but they do not constitute true research and should be used in conjunction with the information provided by your physician and other informed sources.
Q: I saw your post on the clinical trials of Latisse (bimatoprost) for hair loss on the scalp. What is the status of the study? — B.V., New Providence, NJ
A: Allergan, the company that makes Latisse, conducted safety and efficacy testing of three formulations of the drug for men with androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness). Latisse is a drug that is approved by the FDA to help eyelash growth at a concentration of 0.03 %. The drug is applied daily to the upper eyelid.
Allergan studied the results of three formulations of Latisse (Bimatoprost .03% Opthalmic Solution) comparing them to results of a control option and also an over-the-counter minoxidil 5% solution. The drugs were applied directly to the scalp, and the progression of hair loss was measured.
This study began in June 2011 and the results were published in April 2014. The results of the study did not indicate that Latisse would be a viable alternative to use on the scalp to prevent hair loss.
It should also be noted that the cost of bimatoprost, the active ingredient in Latisse is significantly more expensive than minoxidil, the active ingredient in Rogaine. This means that even if the two treatments were equally effective, it would be cost-prohibitive to treat baldness with Latisse.
Latisee (Bimatoprost .03% Opthalmic Solution) has not been FDA approved for the treatment of scalp hair loss.
For more information, view the results and details of the study on ClinicalTrials.gov .
Read more about Latisse/Bimatoprost.
After trading anecdotes with fellow hair loss physicians about how finasteride can reduce body hair in some patients, Sharon A. Keene, M.D. took the next logical step and asked whether finasteride might have a negative effect on patients who have body hair transplant (BHT) procedures.
In a review of scientific literature on whether finasteride effects body hair growth, Dr. Keene finds that current research is inconclusive.
Finasteride, the drug in the hair loss medication Propecia, works by blocking the 5-alpha-reductase type 2 enzyme (5-AR Type 2) which is needed by the body to covert testosterone to DHT. DHT causes common baldness, by making hair follicles shrink and eventually die.
In looking at DHT’s effect on body hair growth, current research strongly suggests that it does play a key role. Males born with a deficiency of 5-AR Type 2, and thus no DHT, have reduced, or absent, body hair growth (and no loss of scalp hair).
It would seem logical then, that when finasteride is used to re-grow hair on the scalp, it would also inhibit the growth of hair on the body. However, the genetic variation among people is too great to determine exactly how much of an influence it plays.
With this uncertainty of DHT’s effects on body hair, it is impossible to say, without further study, if finasteride would have the same effect on body hairs which are transplanted to the scalp. In Dr. Keene’s conclusion, she suggests:
A patient on finasteride for at least a year who undergoes BHT is probably safe to continue it, as remaining body hairs are apparently not sensitive to the effects of this drug.
You can read the full discussion and review of current research in the January/February 2011 issue of Hair Transplant Forum International, the official newsletter of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS).
Q: I started using both Propecia (finasteride) and Rogaine for roughly the past 15 weeks. In the last month I’ve been experiencing pain in my left testicle area. At first I thought this may be due to Varicocele; however, after some quick internet searches I thought it may also be the Propecia. The pain doesn’t seem to be in the testicle itself as much as the surrounding veins on the left side. What should I do? — B.L., Houston, TX
A: Your symptoms are the classic ones of a varicocele, namely pain on the left side that is adjacent to the testicle. Symptoms of finasteride would more likely be bilateral, although the discomfort does not need to be in the testicle itself. If your symptoms are worse at the end of the day when you have been standing, and less in the AM when you first arise, these suggest a varicocele.
In your pain is consistently worse towards the end of the day, I would see a urologist, as surgical intervention might be warranted, particularly if it is affecting sperm counts – which should be checked as part of the evaluation.
If this is not the case, then stop finasteride for a least a month and see if the symptoms subside. If they do go away off finasteride, I would not take the medication again. If the symptoms persist off finasteride, I would still see a urologist.
A: In theory, yes!
Q: I am currently taking Avodart and have done so for around 8 months. Last night I had a significant loss of hair after taking a shower, nothing like I have ever seen before and found it very distressing. Can you tell me if this is hair loss or could it be something known as shedding and could you please tell me what is the difference between hair loss and hair shedding? — M.S., New York, NY
A: Hair loss is a very general term that can refer loss of hair for any reason. Genetic hair loss is caused by the effects of DHT on hair follicles that result in miniaturization -– i.e. a slowly progressive change in hair diameter that starts with visible thinning and that may gradually end in complete baldness. Hair shedding is more sudden where hair falls out due to a rapid shift of hair from its growth phase into the resting phase. The medical term for this is telogen effluvium. This process is usually reversible when the offending problem is stopped. It can be due to stress, medication, or other issues. You should see a dermatologist to figure out which process is going on. Dutasteride can cause some shedding when it first starts to work, but it would be unusual to do this after being on treatment for eight months.
Q: I am a 34 year old male and my dermatologist prescribed Propecia for me today. Most of my hair loss is at the hairline, but there is some loss on top as well. It’s not bad, I just want to stay ahead of it. If I get a transplant I want to get it at your clinic, but I will give the Propecia a try first. I am going to be overseas for a couple of months starting this Sunday and I was wondering about the necessity or desirability of having someone measure my hair density prior to starting the Propecia. Would you advise waiting to start the Propecia until I come back in two months and having my density examined at your clinic? — M.R., Great Falls, Virginia
A: I would start Propecia as soon as possible. What is important for a hair transplant is the density in the donor area and this is not affected by Propecia (or minoxidil). Your donor density can be measured anytime at an evaluation prior to surgery. If you want to wait to see the effects of Propecia prior to the hair transplant, you really should wait a year; since growth, if any, can take this long. If you just want to have Propecia on board for the hair restoration procedure, or to make sure you don’t have side effects, then generally a month will do. If you would like to do a photo consult through our website to get some preliminary information about how many grafts you might need, you can do that at your leisure, but start Propecia now since the longer you wait the less effective it will be at regrowing hair.
Q: I have been taking one tablet of Propecia daily for the past 5 years, with good results, until May of this year. At that point I started to experience some hair loss and so you recommended that I switch from Propecia to generic finasteride and increase the dose to 1/2 of a 5 mg pill per day. I started taking the 1/2 tablet of finasteride daily one month ago, and for the past 2 weeks I have seen a lot of hair in the bathtub and on the towel after taking a shower. I have not made any other changes in my diet or my shampoo, and I do not have any conditions on my scalp. Please advise me on what needs to be done. — C.C., Floral Park, New York
A: Just continue the medication at the higher dose. Either the finasteride hasn’t started working yet or you are getting temporary shedding from the medication (which means that it is working).
Q: I’m concerned that finasteride might result in unwanted body hair on the arms, back, etc. Is there any truth to this? My thinking is that since finasteride blocks the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase which converts testosterone to its more active form, DHT (dihydrotestosterone), is it possible that it might actually have some effectiveness in ameliorating unwanted hair? — P.P., Stamford, CT
A: Yes, finasteride does have some ability to decrease body hair, since growth of body hair is stimulated by DHT. However, the effects of finasteride are mild and not observed by everyone, so if you have unwanted body hair you will probably need some other means to remove it such as waxing, laser hair removal or electrolysis. The important thing is that finasteride doesn’t increase body hair.
Q: You mentioned that the hair at my crown and other areas where I now have baldness hasn’t really fallen off but has thinned to a great extent and that taking Rogaine and Propecia might help increase their thickness. If the medications do restore the hair thickness, I’m curious why you said that I could look like how I was 1 to 2 years ago. Technically, shouldn’t I be able to regain much more of my hair (and look like how I was longer than before that) since the follicles are all still there? — H.D., Park Slope, NY
A: Although Propecia is much more effective than Rogaine, even when used together, the medications are just not that effective in reversing the miniaturization process. They may bring you back to the way you were a few years ago, but will not restore your adolescent density.
Q: Is it recommended to wait for 1 year after starting Propecia, when the effect of the medication kicks in and improves density of donor area, and then perform the surgery? — Z.B., Bergen County, New Jersey
A: Propecia will not affect the donor area, as this area is generally not impacted by the miniaturizing (thinning) effects of DHT –- the hormone that Propecia blocks. The purpose of waiting the year is to possibly regrow hair in the recipient area. If regrowth is significant, a hair transplant may not be necessary. If a person’s hair loss is extensive and there is little chance that Propecia will grow a significant amount of hair back to give a satisfactory improvement, then waiting the year is unnecessary.
Q: I have read that a lot of doctors today administer Midazolam (Versed) to sedate the patient. I have two questions in reference to this drug: 1) How does the doctor determine how much of a dose to administer to the patient and 2) is the drug administered all at once, or intermittently throughout the procedure? — D.D., Bronxville, NY
A: Each doctor has a different protocol, so it is hard to generalize. At Bernstein Medical we usually use Versed 2 to 4 mg IM one time 10 minutes prior to giving the local anesthesia. The dose is not repeated.
We also use Valium 5-15mg by mouth. I determine the dose of each based on body weight and history of sensitivity to sedatives.
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