Finasteride is by far the most popular hair loss treatment on the market, and for good reason… it works. It is one of the only FDA approved treatments, meaning it was shown to be effective in multiple clinical trials and has helped millions of people around the world get their hair back.
But, unfortunately no hair loss treatment that we have is perfect, and finasteride is no exception. No, I am not alluring to finasteride side effects profile (if you want to learn more about that click here) I am talking about the inherent nature of how finasteride works.
In order for finasteride to be effective you need to take it daily so that there is a continuous supply of the drug in the body. Although of course, like with most things, there is a multitude of reasons why someone may need to discontinue finasteride use from side effects, to cost, and anything in-between. Sadly, if you stop using finasteride, chances are that you are going to lose any hair that you regrew whilst using it, but why does this happen? Is there anything you can do to prevent this?
We will be answering all these questions and more throughout this article so that you have a clear idea of what to expect when, for whatever reason(s), you decide to stop taking finasteride.
First, let’s quickly cover how finasteride works in the first place.
How finasteride works
To understand finasteride, you first need to understand dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
DHT is an androgen and it is primarily responsible (as least according to available research) for male/female androgenic alopecia (AGA; pattern hair loss). When it binds to DHT receptors in the hair follicles it starts a process called miniaturization, which is essentially the progressive shortening of the growth phase of the hair cycle until the hair cannot grow anymore. This eventually results in baldness.
There is an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (5-AR) that catalyzes the reaction which turns testosterone into DHT. Essentially 5-AR is the reason DHT forms, and this is where finasteride plays a role.
Finasteride is classified as a 5-AR inhibitor, meaning it reduces the amount of 5-AR in the body. As you probably guessed, when less 5-AR is present there is less catalyzation of testosterone into DHT (i.e. finasteride helps reduce DHT, up to 70% in fact according to studies). In doing so, finasteride’s main benefits is that it stops/slows the progression of hair loss. But, it is important to remember that stopping hair loss from worsening and regrowing hair are two different things, treatments like minoxidil are great for helping regrow hair.
By putting a halt to miniaturization, and therefore preventing the growth phase of the hair cycle from shortening, finasteride protects your hair so that other treatments can help regrow it (by re-lengthening the anagen phase).
So, what happens when you stop using finasteride?
Here’s what happens when you stop using finasteride
Unless you switch to another treatment that effectively blocks DHT (dutasteride is a great option) hair loss is more than likely going to quickly relapse to where it was before you started finasteride and continue to worsen your hairs condition. This is because the half-life of finasteride is about 6-8 hours, meaning it only stays in the body for about a day. This is exactly why doctors prescribe daily doses of finasteride.
Once you stop taking finasteride, the levels of 5-AR will begin to rise the day after (once your last dose has been completely expelled from your body). This will subsequently cause DHT levels to begin to rise again.
When you are effectively blocking DHT with finasteride, you are protecting what are called vellus hairs. Vellus hairs are the thin, small, unpigmented hair that is in place of your healthy hair, and they are usually the result of miniaturization.
Ideally, as you use finasteride and other treatments, your vellus hair will begin to grow longer, thicker, and regain color (i.e. regrowth). But once you stop finasteride and DHT levels rise, the process of miniaturization on those sensitive hair follicles will pick up where it left off. Of course, everyone is different, but if the hiatus from finasteride is prolonged the hair loss will likely resume at a pretty rapid pace.
Again, there are many reasons that people may have to stop using finasteride, but if you want any chance at regrowing your hair you are going to want to find a replacement treatment as soon as you can. Here are a few natural alternatives to finasteride for you to check out. The longer you wait, the more havoc DHT will wreak on your hair.
How long does this process take?
Notice how the word “prolonged” is bolded in the previous section? That is because if you miss a day or two of taking finasteride you do not need to worry.
I get it, life happens. I have missed my fair share of doses in my day, but they key to success is not making a habit of missing days. Again, it’s okay to miss a day here and there, but if you are consistently inconsistent with your treatments your hair is going to suffer.
Since finasteride’s half-life is so short, if you cannot remain consistent with treatments the DHT levels are going to roller coaster which will ultimately result in less protection from it and worse overall regrowth results.
Generally, once finasteride use is stopped completely people will begin to see hair loss resume almost immediately. This does not mean that all of your hair that you regrew is going to fall out right away, it could take several months (again everyone is different), but right away, as DHT levels normalize, the rate at which you were losing your hair pre-treatments is going to resume.
Finasteride is very effective, but once treatments are stopped your hair loss is going to resume almost immediately and the level of hair loss you were at before starting treatments will return in a couple of weeks-months depending on the person.
If you must stop taking finasteride, and are still serious about overcoming your hair loss, look for an alternative to start as soon as possible. The sooner you find a replacement, the less DHT levels will rise and damage your hair follicles.