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Propecia vs. Finasteride: What’s the Difference?

Male pattern hair loss can affect even young men.

Male pattern hair loss can affect even young men.

Hair loss in men is almost always the result of androgenic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness.

This type of hair loss affects up to 70% of men eventually. The “pattern” to male pattern baldness generally includes a receding hairline at the temples, and thinning of hair at the top of the head. Genetic inheritance is largely responsible for male pattern baldness, though there are some environmental factors like malnutrition and illnesses such as thyroid disorders that can contribute to hair loss.

Male pattern baldness takes place when the hormone testosterone is converted into a form called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which directly affects hair follicles, causing them to shrink, producing progressively finer hair and eventually no hair. Genes determine how rapidly this process happens, and at what age it starts. There are medical treatments for male pattern hair loss, the most popular of which is an oral drug sold under the trade name Propecia.

History of Propecia

Back in the 1970s, medical researchers studying children born with ambiguous gender characteristics discovered that these children, initially raised as girls, eventually developed masculine characteristics after puberty. A genetic mutation caused a deficiency in an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase as well as a deficiency of DHT. Once grown, these individuals had underdeveloped prostate glands and did not get male pattern baldness.

Later, a researcher at pharmaceutical company Merck set out to develop a drug that could mimic aspects of the genetic condition affecting those children for purposes of treating older men with enlarged prostate glands. The result was a drug called finasteride, which was approved at a dosage of 5 mg in 1992 and marketed under the trade name Proscar. Not only did Proscar help the prostate shrink, it tended to slow, stop, or reverse male pattern hair loss. In 1997, a lower dosage (1 mg) of finasteride was approved specifically for treatment of male pattern baldness under the name Propecia.

What Makes Propecia Work?

Propecia is known as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, which reduces the levels of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. With less of this enzyme available, less testosterone can be converted into DHT, so follicles are less affected. If follicles are already shrunken due to high DHT levels, they may stop shrinking, or shrink at a slower rate. In some men, follicles may recover to the point that hair growth begins again, with hair gradually getting thicker.

In initial studies of men with mild to moderate hair loss, two-thirds of those who took 1 mg finasteride every day regrew some hair, and men who did not take finasteride all lost hair. When photographs of men in the study were reviewed by independent dermatologists, around half were confirmed to have visible hair regrowth, and another 42% experienced no further hair loss.

The drug has to be taken every day in order for it to be effective, and if a man stops taking it, hair loss will resume. Finasteride has produced results at the hairline and at the crown area, but is more successful in slowing, stopping, or reversing hair loss at the crown.

Generic Propecia: Finasteride

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In January 2013, generic finasteride became available in the US. Because it is a generic version of the popular drug Propecia, finasteride doesn’t have the advertising budget that Merck has for Propecia, and can be sold profitably at a lower price. Since finasteride must be taken continually in order for it to be effective, even a slightly lower price per pill can really add up, so it’s helpful that men now have this option.

What the FDA Requires from Generics

Generics are copies of name brand drugs that are required to be the same as the name brands in terms of dosage, safety, strength, method of administration, quality, and performance characteristics. Generic drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have to meet the same rigorous standards as the name brand drug. Furthermore, the generic manufacturing, packaging, and testing sites have to meet the same standards of quality as those used for production of their name brand equivalents.

Generic drugs must pass the same stringent standards as name brand drugs.

Generic drugs must pass the same stringent standards as name brand drugs.

Differences Between Generic Finasteride and Propecia

Both generic finasteride and Propecia contain 1 mg of finasteride. Any differences between generic finasteride and Propecia are in the inactive ingredients in the drugs, such as the ingredients that bind the drug together in tablet form. Theoretically, there should be no difference in results between the two. However, some men report that one formulation gives better results than the other, so some men may consider switching from generic to name brand or vice versa to determine for themselves which formulation works best for their particular body chemistry.

Getting the Best Results from Generic Finasteride or Propecia

Whether you take Propecia or generic finasteride, you must take it every day to see results. It’s best if you take it at the same time of day to ensure a steadier level of the drug in the body. In general, men who start taking the drug earlier in the balding process get better results. There are other ways to maximize effectiveness of the drug. Some men get better results when they use finasteride as well as the topical medication minoxidil (Rogaine), while some see better results when they use anti-dandruff shampoo containing the ingredient ketoconazole (Nizoral). Getting the best results may require some trial and error.

Propecia or Generic Finasteride?

It’s really up to you whether you choose to go with name brand Propecia or generic finasteride. Both have the same dosage of the same active ingredient, but the generic costs less. The price per tablet isn’t that much different between the generic and the name brand, but since the drug must be taken long term, a small difference can add up over time. Some men start with Propecia, and if they’re pleased with the progress but chagrined at the expense, will switch over to the generic with no problem. Either way, there’s no reason to wait, because the sooner the medication is started during the balding process (when follicles are still more active), the better the results tend to be.

AccessRx.com sells both Propecia by Merck and generic finasteride in the 1 mg dosage. Medications are often shipped the same day they’re ordered, and US-licensed pharmacists are available to answer your questions. AccessRx.com is thoroughly committed to customer privacy and the best possible customer experience, and adheres to the highest standards for online ordering security.

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About Don Amerman

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Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+