If you’ve started to notice a receding hairline or a thinning crown, you may be one of the millions of Americans with male pattern baldness, which is also known as androgenetic alopecia.
Most guys will experience hair loss at some point, but cheap treatment options may help regrow hair or slow the balding process.
Finasteride vs. Minoxidil: Which men’s hair loss treatment is best?
Money expert Clark Howard got a call from Chuck, 43, who began researching various products and needed some advice to make sure he wasn’t going to be scammed by a so-called “hair loss cure.”
Here’s a transcript of what Chuck had to say on the radio show:
“I’m 43 years old and my hair has started to thin out a little bit. I started looking into a lot of these different products on the market that claim they can slow down balding in men and some of them even claim they can regrow your actual hair. As I went on the internet and started looking around, I kind of went down a rabbit hole into these different reviews and all sorts of different products from vitamins to topical solutions. Do any of these things do what they claim they can do?”
Listen to Clark discuss hair loss treatments on The Clark Howard Show Podcast
Clark told Chuck that Propecia (finasteride) and Rogaine (minoxidil) are two FDA-approved medications that have been proven over the years to be “enormously successful” in helping men stop hair loss and even regrow some hair.
So what exactly causes male pattern baldness in the first place? You can blame genetics — but not just your mother’s father.
“We’ve all heard the old wives’ tale that a guy’s hair is based on their mother’s father. That’s sort of true, but it’s not,” said primary care physician Dr. John Hong. “It’s really the total number of guys in your family that have male pattern baldness that will affect your risk, particularly your dad. If your dad is bald, you’re more likely to be bald.”
Heredity, hormones and age all play a role in male pattern baldness, which generally progresses slowly over a number of years.
I have a personal story about how I addressed my hair loss problem, but I want to first provide a basic overview of what many doctors consider to be the best hair loss treatments for men:
Finasteride (Propecia, Proscar)
- What is it?: Finasteride, the generic alternative to Propecia and Proscar, is an oral prescription medication used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and male pattern baldness. The recommended dose for hair loss is one tablet (1 mg) per day.
- How quickly does it work?: Daily use for three months or more is necessary before you will see results and it requires continued use.
- What are the side effects?: Sexual side effects like decreased libido and erectile dysfunction have been reported with finasteride and may continue for some people after they stop taking it. (Source: Northwestern University)
- How much does it cost?: We searched GoodRx and found a 30-day supply of finasteride for $12.74, no insurance required.
Dr. Hong says: “It can help hair follicles regrow or help slow down the process of it falling out. It is a lifelong medicine to take for someone’s hair. About 9% increase in hair follicle count after a year and 24% in four years.”
- What is it?: Minoxidil, the generic alternative to Rogaine, is an over-the-counter medication used to treat male pattern baldness. It comes in a topical solution and foam. The product is applied to the scalp twice a day.
- How quickly does it work?: It may take at least four months to see results and continued use is necessary.
- What are the side effects?: Some people may experience a dry, itchy scalp and irritation when using the product. There may be an increase in hair shedding during the first few weeks of use.
- How much does it cost? A 6-month supply of Costco’s Kirkland Signature Hair Regrowth Treatment Minoxidil Foam for Men is $44.99.
Dr. Hong says: “The 5% foam has been shown to be about 30% effective, and the foam is less irritating than the solution.”
Do shampoos work? Despite the claims you may read online, Dr. Hong says not one shampoo has been shown to treat male pattern baldness.
Low-level laser therapy and hair transplants are two other options for hair loss that you may want to ask your doctor about, but they can be significantly more expensive than the prescription or OTC medications.
One important note: Some men benefit from more than one treatment, such as taking finasteride and minoxidil at the same time.
How I stopped my hair loss and regrew my hair
I’m not a doctor and don’t pretend to be one, but I have learned a lot about male pattern baldness since I decided to do something about my own thinning hair more than a year ago.
My hair loss was primarily in the back of my head, so I really didn’t know how bad it was until my hair stylist tried to sell me an expensive shampoo.
I passed on the shampoo and went to my dermatologist instead. She gave me a prescription for finasteride and I started taking it every day. I read about the potential side effects but luckily haven’t experienced any of them.
My doctor told me to be patient and my hair gradually strengthened by the third month and started to regrow after six months.
It may be hard to tell, but the before-and-after picture below gives you an idea of how finasteride has worked for me. My hair feels thicker, fuller and stronger than it did before I started taking the drug.
To keep costs down, I use either GoodRx or LowestMed and get the 5 mg finasteride tablets, which I split into quarters. Read more here.
My dermatologist gave me the option of adding minoxidil to my hair loss treatment plan at the beginning. I chose to only take finasteride because I wanted to be able to tell if the prescription drug alone was effective — and it has been.
Another dermatologist I know who specializes in lasers told me that laser combs do work, but not for everyone. He said I should stick with the pill.
This guide was meant to provide a brief overview of the causes and treatments for hair loss in men. It’s important to ask your doctor or pharmacist about your options because these treatments aren’t 100% effective.
If you’ve had success with an inexpensive hair loss treatment, let us know what works in the comments below!