While hair loss is usually associated with men, it’s far from uncommon for women to experience hair shedding and even permanent hair loss at some point in life.
If you’ve looked into treatments for hair loss, you may have heard of finasteride — a medication that’s often used by men with male pattern baldness.
Currently, the FDA hasn’t approved finasteride for women.
However, research into its effects in women is ongoing and it’s possible that a form of finasteride could be approved as a treatment for female pattern hair loss at some point in the future.
Below, we’ve discussed what finasteride is, as well as how it works as a treatment for hair loss in men.
We’ve also looked at the most recent research into the effects of both oral and topical finasteride in women.
Finally, we’ve listed the other treatment options that are currently available if you’re losing hair due to female pattern hair loss.
Finasteride is a prescription medication that’s used to treat male pattern baldness and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or prostate enlargement) in men.
As a hair loss treatment, finasteride works by stopping the body from converting the hormone testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
DHT is believed to be the primary hormone involved in male and female pattern hair loss.
By blocking the conversion of testosterone into DHT, finasteride protects the hair from damage and either slows down, stops or reverses hair loss.
For most men, this means either a complete stop to hair loss or some hair regrowth around the hairline and/or crown.
The FDA approved finasteride as a treatment for BPH in 1992, then, a few years later, in 1998, the FDA approved it at a lower dosage for male pattern baldness.
Unlike topical minoxidil, finasteride currently is not approved to treat hair loss in women.
Right now, finasteride is only approved by the FDA for use in men. However, over the last few decades, several studies have investigated it as a potential treatment for hair loss in women.
One of the first large-scale studies of finasteride for women was published in 2000, in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
A team of researchers assessed the effects of finasteride in 137 postmenopausal women with female pattern hair loss.
The women took 1mg of finasteride per day (the same dosage that’s used to treat male pattern baldness) for a total period of one year.
At the end of the study period, the researchers concluded that finasteride didn’t have any real effect on hair growth, nor did it appear to prevent hair thinning.
In 2006, a study published in the journal Archives of Dermatology also looked at the effects of finasteride in women.
This time, the women received finasteride at a stronger 2.5mg dosage. They also used an oral contraceptive containing the hormones drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol, which are common active ingredients in birth control pills.
After 12 months, the researchers were able to record a statistically significant improvement in the women’s average hair density.
However, it’s worth noting that it’s unclear whether the improvement could be attributed to the finasteride or to the oral contraceptive.
In a more recent study from 2013, researchers also found that finasteride appeared to help with female hair loss.
This study covered a period of 18 months and required the women involved to take finasteride at a dosage of 5mg per day.
Of the 40 women that participated, 16 experienced significant improvements in hair count and thickness by the end of the study.
Another 16 women showed moderate improvements, while six women showed no changes in hair count.
Overall, the research suggests that while finasteride may work as a treatment for hair loss in women, it requires a larger dosage than the typical 1mg per day used in men.
Because the FDA hasn’t approved finasteride as a treatment for female pattern hair loss, there are no large-scale clinical trials on its safety like there are for men.
This means that we can’t yet confidently state whether or not finasteride is completely safe for women to use.
Most of the current research on finasteride shows that it’s generally safe, with few or no major side effects.
For example, in the studies mentioned above, researchers generally found that finasteride was safe for women to use.
A large-scale review of research on finasteride in women reached a similar conclusion, but noted some cases of sexual side effects and other issues.
More specifically, some women who used finasteride for hair loss reported a reduced sex drive, irregular menstruation, acne, headache, dizziness, folliculitis and increased body hair growth.
It’s worth noting that these side effects were mild and transient, meaning they improved on their own over the course of treatment.
Aside from minor local effects, such as irritation and itching, no side effects have been linked to the use of topical finasteride in women.
Finasteride is not safe for use during pregnancy, or if you plan to become pregnant in the near future.
Because of its effects on the conversion of testosterone to DHT, finasteride may cause defects related to male genital development.
The FDA recommends that women avoid even touching broken finasteride tablets during pregnancy due to the risk of absorption and fetal harm.
Currently, experts do not know if finasteride is excreted in breast milk. Do not use finasteride if you are pregnant, nursing or plan to become pregnant in the near future.
Currently, research is still ongoing into the effectiveness of finasteride as a treatment for female hair loss.
However, there are already several science-based options available for preventing hair loss and stimulating the growth of your hair. These include:
Currently, finasteride isn’t approved for use in women with hair loss. However, research into its effectiveness and safety is ongoing, meaning we may see some interesting findings reported in the near future.
In the meantime, medications like minoxidil, which we offer in our range of hair loss treatments for women, are a safe, effective option for stopping hair loss and stimulating hair growth.