Choosing Medications to Treat Hair Loss

hair loss, clinically known as hair loss, can be a distressing experience that can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and overall mental health. However, there are several medications that can treat hair loss. These treatments vary in dosage form, side effects, and onset of action.

Hair loss can occur for a variety of reasons, including genetics, aging, side effects of certain medications, or other factors. The first step is to talk to your healthcare provider to determine the possible cause.

This article will discuss the causes of hair loss, the medications available to treat it, and what you should be aware of when taking these medications.

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causes of hair loss

There are many potential reasons for your hair loss. Here are hereditary and medically related hair loss conditions that can be treated with medications.

male baldness

“Male pattern baldness” is a medical term commonly referred to as male pattern baldness and female pattern baldness. This type of hair loss is caused by inherited genes that cause hair follicles to shrink and eventually stop growing.

This type of hair loss can start as early as adolescence but usually doesn’t appear until adulthood. There are several medications that can help treat it.

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles and prevents their growth. The term “alopecia areata” directly translates to patchy hair loss, which is characterized by patchy bald spots. Although there is no cure, there are treatment options that can help manage symptoms.

tinea capitis

ringworm head, or ringworm of the scalp, is hair loss caused by fungal infection. This type of hair loss is most common in children. It is characterized by hair loss in circular patterns that regrows over time. Treatment for this type of hair loss focuses on treating the active fungal infection.

other reasons

In other cases, hair loss may be caused by:

  • Ageing
  • certain medicines, such as cancer treatments
  • pressure
  • hair damage
  • hormonal imbalance
  • vitamin deficiency
  • certain health conditions, such as thyroid disease

Sometimes, hair loss medications aren’t always the right path to treatment. Discuss with your healthcare provider to determine the exact cause of hair loss.

What medications help treat hair loss?

There are many options available to help control and reverse hair loss. If you are seeking treatment, you should discuss the following medications with your healthcare provider.

Rogaine (Minoxidil)

Rogaine was originally developed as a medicine to treat blood pressure. When it was first studied, doctors observed hair regrowth in people who took it.

As a result, Rogaine was developed as a topical preparation and is now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of male pattern baldness. It is also used to treat other hair loss conditions, such as alopecia areata.

This medication comes in two different strengths and is an over-the-counter (OTC) medication, which means you don’t need a prescription from your healthcare provider.

Because Rogaine is applied topically, there are few side effects associated with this medication. Most commonly, you may develop dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), hirsutism (abnormal hair growth) or headache.

As with most hair loss medications, don’t expect hair to grow overnight. After you start using Rogaine, it may take several months to notice changes.

Propecia (finasteride)

Propecia is a prescription drug approved by the FDA to treat male pattern baldness in men.

Propecia works by targeting the protein that converts testosterone into protein dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a more potent form of testosterone. DHT causes hair follicles to shrink, causing hair loss.

In studies of Propecia, people taking the drug maintained or increased the amount of visible scalp hair and noticed improvements in their hair within the first year. This improvement was maintained over the course of subsequent treatment.

Propecia is only available in oral tablet form. While Propecia is generally a well-tolerated drug with few side effects among the men in the study, the side effects observed among study subjects were:

If you are screened for prostate cancer, tell your health care provider that you are taking Propecia. Propecia is known to affect blood levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a laboratory value checked during prostate cancer screening. Lower levels of PSA may confuse your health care provider and lead to inaccurate readings.

You should not take this medication if you are female. In fact, you should not handle Propecia if you are pregnant because its active ingredient may cause birth defects.

Avoda (dutasteride)

Avodart is a drug similar to Propecia. However, although Avodart works in the same way as Propecia, it is not FDA-approved to treat male pattern baldness. It is used to treat hair loss in men.

Like Propecia, Avodart should not be taken or handled by pregnant women. If you have been screened for prostate cancer, tell your healthcare provider that you are taking this drug because Avodart can also affect your PSA levels.

Spironolactone (spironolactone)

Aldactone is a prescription-only diuretic drug that is used off-label to treat hair loss. It works by slowing down the production of sex hormones that cause hair loss. As an anti-androgen medication, it can help treat hair loss caused by hormonal or androgenic causes.

Because oral aldactone can cause side effects in men, it is only recommended for female pattern baldness.

The following are possible side effects when taking oral spironolactone tablets:

On average, it takes at least six months after starting to use spironolactone to see noticeable changes in hair loss.

Choose the right medicine

Choosing the right medication to control hair loss can be a daunting task. It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider and work with them to help you choose the best medication.

There are many factors to consider, such as the type of hair loss, whether a prescription is required, which dosage form you prefer to take, and how long it takes for the medication to work.

The chart below summarizes important information about each drug discussed in this article.

hair loss drugs
Drug Name Dosage form Indications Time required to get to work significant side effects
Rogaine Topics male baldness 26 months Dermatitis, hirsutism
Propecia pill Male-only male pattern baldness 69 months Breast tenderness and enlargement, ejaculation problems, and testicular pain
Avodat capsule Benign prostate hyperplasia, male alopecia (off label) 69 months Breast tenderness and enlargement, ejaculation problems, and testicular pain
aldactone pill Hypertension, edema (swelling) due to cirrhosis, primary aldosteronism, heart failure with reduced ejection fraction, androgenetic alopecia (off-label), and acne (off-label) 6 months Breast tenderness, swelling, dizziness, high potassium content

Are there any supplements for hair loss?

In addition to medications, certain supplements may also help control hair loss and hair regrowth.

In particular, low levels of vitamin D, biotin (vitamin B7) and iron have been linked to hair loss. However, there is no data to support the use of biotin supplements to promote hair growth.

In a study looking at vitamin D levels and patients with androgenetic alopecia, it was found that more people with androgenetic alopecia also had lower vitamin D levels than people without androgenetic alopecia. Vitamin D supplementation is generally recommended for people with low vitamin D levels.

Iron is the most common nutritional deficiency, especially among women. While the possible role of iron in hair loss has not yet been established, women who experience hair loss often also have lower iron levels.

For people with hair loss who also have low iron content, iron supplementation is recommended. In addition to iron, it is also important to ensure that vitamin C levels are within a normal range, as vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron.

Some evidence suggests that zinc supplements may help reduce hair loss. One study in women with hair loss found that supplementing with 50 milligrams (mg) of zinc daily improved hair thickness. However, there isn’t enough research yet to prove that you can take zinc supplements if you are not zinc deficient.

generalize

Hair loss can be difficult to control, can cause negative emotions and affect your quality of life. There are different types of hair loss, but male pattern baldness is the most common type and can be treated with medication. Rogaine and Propecia are FDA-approved drugs, while Avodart and spironolactone are off-label prescription drugs.

Vitamin deficiencies, such as low vitamin D levels and low iron levels, can also cause hair loss. In these cases, adjusting your nutrition or taking supplements may help.

Hair loss medications come in different dosage forms, have different side effects, and take different times to take effect. If you are interested in hair loss treatment, you and your healthcare provider can decide together which option is best for you.

Frequently asked questions

  • Can a lack of vitamins cause hair loss?

    Yes, certain vitamin deficiencies can cause hair loss. Vitamin D, iron and biotin (vitamin B7) deficiencies have been linked to hair loss. Vitamin D, biotin and iron supplementation is only recommended if you are deficient in any of them and experience hair loss.

  • What medications can cause hair loss?

    Chemotherapy drugs are often associated with hair loss. While not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss, some are very common, such as cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and paclitaxel. Other medications such as isotretinoin, antidepressants, beta-blockers, and anti-epileptic drugs may also cause hair loss.

  • Are hair loss medications safe?

    Most hair loss medications are generally safe. Topical hair loss medications, in particular, are very safe to use and have only some local side effects. Oral medications for hair loss may cause side effects such as breast tenderness and dizziness. Certain hair loss medications, such as Propecia, should not be used by pregnant women.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed research, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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  2. Nestor MS et al. Treatment options for male baldness: efficacy, side effects, compliance, financial considerations and ethics. J Cosmet Dermatol Magazine. 2021;(12):3579-3781. doi:10.1111/jocd.14537

  3. MedlinePlus. Male baldness.

  4. American Association of Dermatology. Types of Hair Loss: An Overview of Alopecia Areata.

  5. Treat JR. Tinea capitis. up to date.

  6. Suchonwanit P et al. Minoxidil and its use in hair disorders: a review. Drug Development Therapies. 2019;(13):2777-2786. Number: 10.2147/DDDT.S214907

  7. Food and Drug Administration. Propecia label.

  8. Choi GS, Sim WY, Kang H, et al. Long-term efficacy and safety of dutasteride versus finasteride in Korean male patients with androgenetic alopecia: a multicenter chart review study. Ann DeMarto. 2022;34(5):349-359. doi:10.5021/ad.22.027

  9. Food and Drug Administration. Avoda label.

  10. Wang C, et al. Efficacy and safety of oral and topical spironolactone in the treatment of male pattern baldness: a systematic review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2023;(16):603-612. doi:10.2147/CCID.S398950

  11. Almohanna, HM, et al. The role of vitamins and minerals in hair loss: a review. dermatotherapy. 2019;(1):51-70. DOI: 10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6.

  12. Siavash M, Tavakoli F, Mokhtari F. Comparison of zinc sulfate, calcium pantothenate, their combination, and minoxidil solution regimens for the control of hair loss in women: a randomized controlled trial.Journal of Research Drug Practice. 2017;6(2):89-93. doi: 10.4103/jrpp.JRPP_17_17

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