Finasteride can be a very effective hair loss treatment if taken correctly.
It is one of only three FDA approved hair loss treatments, meaning that it was consistently effective enough in human trials for the FDA to be able to legally say that it can aid in hair loss (it is not easy to get FDA approved). Though, as with most medicine, there is a good side and a bad side to finasteride.
It is common knowledge that finasteride carries with it a host of potential side effects (although they are rare, more on that in this article I wrote), but that is not what I am referring to. In light of what we will be discussing throughout this article, I am instead alluring to the “bind” that finasteride creates with its user.
The “bind”, for lack of a better term, is the contractual obligation you have to take finasteride if you want to overcome hair loss, and it happens because of the way finasteride works.
Finasteride has a relatively short half-life of about 4-7 hours. Without going into too much detail, what you need to know is that this essentially means that finasteride is completely removed from your body after about 24 hours. So, for finasteride to be effective, you need to take it every day, and even more ideally at the same time daily. This is the “bind”: the need to take finasteride every day to achieve the desired results. But sometimes life happens…
Whatever the reason may be, for there are thousands of good reasons, sometimes people stop taking finasteride. Now, if it is only for a day or two here and there you will be okay, but if the hiatus from finasteride is prolonged, you will start to run into problems.
What exactly happens when you stop finasteride? That is going to be the main discussion of this article. We will talk briefly about how finasteride works, and then dive into precisely what happens if you discontinue use.
A quick look at how finasteride works
Finasteride is a 5-alpha reductase (5-AR) inhibitor. This means, as you may have already guessed, that it suppresses the enzyme 5-AR.
5-AR is what orchestrates the transformation of testosterone into DHT: the hormone that is primarily responsible for pattern hair loss (androgenic alopecia).
Therefore, by blocking 5-AR, finasteride slows down the conversion (by up to 70%) of testosterone into DHT, and lowers the DHT levels in the scalp.
DHT is very detrimental to people who are genetically susceptible to hair loss and its levels need to remain low if you want to have success in overcoming hair loss; finasteride is great for that. So that begs the question…
What happens when you stop taking finasteride?
If it isn’t clear already: finasteride is only effective so long as you take it every day.
Let’s start with the obvious. Once finasteride has been completely removed from your system, your levels of 5-AR will begin to rise again. This means that the conversion rate of testosterone to DHT will also rise back to its original levels. Any finally, yes, that will result in your hair loss likely continuing at the rate that is was before you started taking finasteride. Although, hair loss is a long, drawn-out process so you may not see thinning resume right away. But nonetheless, DHT levels will rise and your hair will begin miniaturizing again.
Speaking of miniaturizing, let’s take a closer look at what’s really happening when you stop taking finasteride.
Depending on how long you had previously been taking finasteride for, your hair follicles will be in one of the three phases of the hair cycle: the anagen (growth), telogen (resting), or catagen (transition/shedding).
When you are losing your hair, the hairs growth cycle gets affected by DHT. Essentially what happens is that over time the anagen phase will get shorter and the telogen phase will get longer. Since the anagen phase is when your hair grows, as it gets shorter your hair will not be able to grow as long or thick as it did in the previous cycle (I have written an entire article on this here). Naturally, this will lead to your hair eventually disappearing completely (i.e. balding) or becoming fully miniaturized.
When you take finasteride you stop the process of miniaturization, meaning that you hairs anagen phase will no longer be shortening. And, in some cases for people who respond very well to finasteride, they even begin to re-lengthen their anagen phase and regrow their hair.
But, once you stop taking finasteride, the process of miniaturization will resume, and as your hair completes cycles, it will continue to get shorter and thinner until you eventually go completely bald.
Finasteride takes time
The biggest mistake many people make when taking finasteride is not giving it enough time to see results.
For most people, like mentioned above, finasteride will not regrow any hair, but will instead block DHT from causing hair loss to worsen (you need to use other treatments like minoxidil to regrow hair). But, regardless of whether finasteride regrows your hair or not, more likely than not it will at least stop hair loss from progressing. Although this process takes time, up to a year in fact. This is due to the nature of how hair must complete several cycles before you begin to see visible results.
Unfortunately, a lot of people either expect finasteride to regrow their hair or they do not know that it may take a year to see results, and therefore discontinue taking it because it “doesn’t work”. Do not make this mistake. The reason it takes finasteride a long time to work is because it takes equally, if not longer for hair loss to develop in the first place. If you give up too early, it will only take longer to recover from hair loss and it will only get worse in the long run.
Be patient. Finasteride takes time to work.
Hopefully after reading this article you have realized that unless you are dealing with side effects, stopping finasteride treatments will only lead to DHT levels rising and hair loss continuing right where it left off.
Make sure you are taking finasteride daily, and try your best to take it at the same time every day. This will allow you to get the most out of it and will give you the best chance of recovering from your hair loss.