Both finasteride and minoxidil are effective hair loss medications, however there are some differences that you should be aware of when choosing your hair loss treatment.

What is Minoxidil?

Minoxidil (Regaine) is a popular hair loss treatment. For hair loss, it is applied topically – directly to the scalp, rather than taken as a tablet. 

Minoxidil works by stimulating hair follicles to produce more hair. Hair loss can occur when hair follicles die or lie dormant. Minoxidil wakes up dormant follicles to encourage hair growth. 

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What is Finasteride?

Finasteride (Propecia) is a different type of hair loss medication that is only available in tablet form. 

It works by interfering with the conversion of testosterone (the male sex hormone) into a hormone called DHT (dihydrotestosterone). Excess DHT can lead to hair loss. By preventing the conversion of testosterone into DHT, finasteride helps to reduce hair loss. As finasteride acts on testosterone, it is not suitable for hair loss in women.

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What are the Side Effects?

As with all medications, both finasteride and minoxidil carry a risk of side effects. Finasteride is taken as a tablet, which means that your body has to absorb it for it to be effective. However, minoxidil is applied directly to the scalp. This reduces your chance of experiencing side effects, as only 1-2% of it is absorbed by the body.

As finasteride works on testosterone, a sex hormone, the most common side effect is sexual dysfunction. This includes a range of different conditions, such as erectile dysfunction, reduced libido (sex drive) or problems achieving orgasm. Other side effects of finasteride include skin reactions, swelling, infertility, testicular pain, depression or gynaecomastia (development of male breast tissue).

As mentioned above, minoxidil side effects are much less likely. In rare cases, a reduction in blood pressure has been reported. A reduction in blood pressure can cause blurred vision, light-headedness or confusion. 

It is also possible to experience an allergic reaction to either finasteride or minoxidil. This may present as a rash, or as a more serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience breathing difficulties or swelling of the face or tongue when taking any medication. 

When Can I Expect Results on Minoxidil or Finasteride?

Neither minoxidil nor finasteride will work instantly, as hair growth is a slow process. You may experience noticeable improvement after taking minoxidil for approximately two months, but it can take around three to six months to experience the effects of finasteride. 

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Can You Take Minoxidil and Finasteride Together?

Yes, minoxidil and finasteride can be taken together to treat male pattern baldness. Women should not take finasteride, but minoxidil can be used to treat hair loss in women. Finasteride and minoxidil work in different ways, so they should not cause any adverse drug interactions. 

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Which is Better: Minoxidil or Finasteride?

Finasteride is considered to be the more effective of the two treatments. In a study of 65 men, 12 months of treatment improved male pattern baldness in 80% of men, whereas minoxidil was only effective in 52% of men.

Whilst finasteride may be more effective, it also carries a greater risk of side effects, compared to minoxidil. Not everyone will experience side effects, but if you do experience significant side effects on finasteride, minoxidil may be a better treatment for you. 

Remember, minoxidil and finasteride can be taken together to maximise the improvement in male pattern baldness.

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