Propecia, Finasteride, And Proscar – Side Effects In Women

Propecia, Finasteride, And Proscar – Side Effects In Women
November 7th, 2011

propecia side effects in womenPropecia, Finasteride, and Proscar, which are all the same medication, have potential side effects in both women and men. While the medications are only FDA approved for men to use for male pattern baldness hair loss or prostate problems, some doctors will also prescribe them to treat genetic female hair loss (androgenetic alopecia). Since I recently started taking Propecia, I’ve delved in deeper to discover all potential side effects, and I’m slightly freaked out by what I’ve found. All medications, of course, come with risks and side effects, so Propecia is no different.

• Propecia vs Finasteride vs Proscar
I use these medication names interchangeably because they’re all basically the same thing. Propecia, which is made by Merck, is the brand name of the FDA approved male pattern hair loss drug, and its active ingredient is 1mg of Finasteride. Right now Propecia doesn’t come in a generic form, so if your doctor gives you a Propecia prescription, you will be forced to pay about $70  each month for it. Proscar, which is also made by Merck, is the brand name of the drug that is FDA approved to treat an enlarged prostate gland in men. Its active ingredient is 5mg of Finasteride. Proscar also comes in a generic form – Finasteride 5mg, which sells for about $4!

So whether you’re taking Propecia, Finasteride, or Proscar, they all contain the same active ingredient. The difference is that Proscar and Finasteride are five times the strength of Propecia, so if your doctor prescribes it for hair loss, he or she will probably tell you to cut the pill into four equal pieces and to just take 1/4th of a pill each day. That is 1.25mg of Finasteride, which is close enough to Propecia (1mg of Finasteride). Yep it’s complicated, and the only reason to get a prescription for Finasteride instead of Propecia is to save a ton of money. But cutting up that tiny pill is sort of a pain, and it’s hard to slice it evenly.

Why Propecia is not FDA approved for women to use
Propecia has the potential to cause birth defects, so pregnant and breast feeding women should not take the medication, or even handle crushed or broken tablets. If you are trying to get pregnant, you should not take the medication, and you should wait a few months after stopping Propecia before trying to conceive. If a doctor does prescribe Propecia to a woman, the doctor will probably insist that the woman take the pill, or another solid form of birth control to prevent pregnancy while on the medication. If she does happen to get pregnant while taking Propecia…that’s a whole other issue, but most doctors won’t prescribe Propecia unless the woman agrees she would terminate the pregnancy in that unfortunate event. This scenario is similar to the issues surrounding the acne drug Accutane, but that drug is actually FDA approved for women to use.

From what I gather, another reason Propecia is not FDA approved for use in women is that Merck only cites one study of Propecia’s effect in women, and the 137 women in the study were all postmenopausal. The study concluded Propecia did not benefit postmenopausal women with androgenetic alopecia. They never even tested premenopausal women (because of the whole pregnancy thing). I have read about some Propecia success stories in premenopausal women, which is why I want to try the medication. I’ve also read some women need more than the standard Propecia dose to work, and I’ve read that Avodart works better than Propecia in women (I’ll write about that sometime in the future).

Propecia, Finasteride, and Proscar’s other side effects in women
I recently started on 1/4th pill per day of generic Proscar (Finasteride), and finding a doctor to prescribe that was a huge challenge! Yay for a $4 prescription! Do I think Propecia will work on my hair loss? I am guessing there’s a 10% chance it will help me, and as I’ve recently written on, my hair loss is in a male pattern, and genetic (thinning and receding at my hairline, temples, and on top of my head). I just need to find out for myself if it will help. I am hoping it will decrease my crazy shedding.

So far I’ve been on Finasteride for a week and the worst of the side effects are over for now. The first few days I felt really crappy – like I was getting a cold, or the flu. I had a lot of pressure in my ears, jaw, and throat, and I felt like my head was swollen. This coincided with there being lots of ragweed in the air (which I’m allergic to), so my side effects could have been made worse by my allergies. The sick, swollen feeling is gone now. Yay! My other issue, which started around the third day, is painful breasts. Ow. They constantly hurt, so that freaks me out. I hope the pain goes away! Since Finasteride isn’t FDA approved for women, there aren’t official side effects listed that are exlusive to women. All of the listed side effects are ones that are reported in men, which I will list next.

Side effects of Propecia, Finasteride, and Proscar in men
Once you read the potential side effects of Propecia in men, if you’re like me, you’ll wonder why this is a drug for men!!! Merck, the maker of Propecia and Proscar, claim side effects from Propecia are not common, and they happen in only about 2% of men. Male side effects include: erectile dysfunction, impotence, and decreased libido. Severe side effects include: breast cancer, allergic reactions (rash, hives, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue), breast enlargement (gynecomastia), breast lumps, breast pain, breast tenderness, depression, nipple discharge, and testicular pain.

Merck claims the less severe side effects normally go away after stopping Propecia. However, if you google “Propecia side effects,” get ready to read about thousands of men that claim they’ve experienced permanent sexual side effects, even after quitting Propecia. Many men claim their lives have been ruined by Propecia, and they would gladly choose going bald over suffering from impotence, etc. Even if the risk is small, is it worth it? I have been telling my boyfriend about the success a lot of men have with keeping their hair while on Propecia, but he’s too freaked out now to try it, and he would rather go bald than face the “rare” side effects. You can read more about Propecia’s side effects on

How these side effects relate to women taking Propecia
The reason I’m freaked out is because Merck lists breast pain as a rare, severe side effect, and I’m already having that issue after only a few days on Propecia. But I think they list breast pain in association with breast cancer, and I can’t develop that overnight! Either way, I know a smart person would probably go off the medication, but since I’ve been balding, all common sense has been thrown out the window. Depression as a side effect worries me, however I’m already so fricking depressed that I doubt my depression could get worse. Just getting the prescription for Finasteride has lifted my mood because I am back to having hope that something will work to stop my hair from falling out (even if that hope is small, since nothing else has worked – minoxidil, spironolactone, etc.)

Finally, the risk of breast cancer freaks me out. Merck claims the risk is extremely slight in men, but no studies have been done, as far as I know, on Finasteride causing female breast cancer. I’ve also read other studies that say Finasteride greatly increases the chances of men getting breast cancer (but breast cancer in men is still extremely rare). I’ve researched risk factors for breast cancer, and I’m at medium risk. If I were at a high risk I definitely wouldn’t take Finasteride. If I were smart I wouldn’t take it just to be safe, but I also don’t exercise enough, or eat the perfect diet (and those two things alone can cut your breast cancer risk in half). One more thing – I’ve read that some people claim Propecia gave them wrinkles and made them age 10 years overnight. Great:((( I’ve also read the same thing about Rogaine, and personally I have become more haggard looking since using Rogaine.

Bottom line – is Propecia worth the risks?
So many people have told me to cure my hair loss I  just need do yoga, stress less, exercise more (I used to work out a lot), eat super healthy (I used to), take vitamins, test my thyroid and iron levels, use sulfate-free shampoo, blah, blah blah. Been there, done that  – if they were right, I wouldn’t be balding. I still tell women to do all of these things since it really does help some women! Anyway, I’ve tried everything natural, and now I’ve weighed the risks and am hoping Finasteride works. Barring any new side effects, I’m going to give it nine months. If it doesn’t slow my shedding, or if I don’t notice my hair looking thicker, I will probably go off it. Well if my hair stays the same, maybe I will stay on it too, since otherwise I anticipate my hair will just keep getting worse on its own. There is less evidence that Finasteride causes a dread shed like Rogaine does, but of course anything is possible.

For men considering Propecia – read up on the side effects, and ask yourself if there’s a 1/1000th chance you could suffer permanent side effects from the drug, is it worth it? I don’t know exactly how common permanent side effects are, but that could be a good guess. For women, there’s a lot less evidence Propecia even works on hair loss (and if it does, it would only work on androgenetic alopecia). It’s not something you can take while pregnant, or if you’re at risk of getting pregnant, and its side effects haven’t been tested well in women. I’ll keep you updated on my Propecia/Finasteride/Proscar progress. Have you taken the medication, or would you?

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Tags: Categories: Hair Loss Treatments

12 ResponsesLeave a comment
  • Y.
    November 7, 2011 at 2:30 am

    I hope the Propecia works for you! I know what you mean about trying everything and nothing working. And how do you stress less when it’s your hair that is causing the stress?

    • Jeni - Hair Loss Hell
      November 7, 2011 at 2:55 am

      Yeah not stressing about hair loss is impossible – at least for me and most women I know that are losing their hair. Every doctor I’ve seen has told me to stress less, and I try, but it’s hard. And I’m sorry nothing has worked for you yet either:(

  • Dana
    November 7, 2011 at 7:05 am

    I found out I had LPP and permanent scarred areas on my scalp just over a year ago. I learned that the patches were not going to ever grow back – totally dead follicles – and possibly I was going to lose a lot lot lot more of my hair in the upcoming months/years. I was FREAKING OUT. Then I had an injury to my hand from a giant cactus that required surgery and I couldn’t use my hand for a month. I swear, it was like I was getting the message “Perspective: have some”. I was all “who cares if I go bald, I just want to have TWO HANDS again.” It was interesting for me to have the two situations happen almost back-to-back. I can’t ever say “oh, don’t be upset you are losing your hair” because everyone is different and it’s a HUGE big deal for a woman to lose her hair, but what you said about the men who are now permanently affected sexually who wish they had just let themselves go bald reminded me of that time last year when I was struggling just to put toothpaste on my toothbrush and I was WISHING that hair loss was the worst thing I was dealing with. I am VERY fortunate that my hair loss has slowed to a crawl and my hand is also pretty much 100% healed now. Whenever I am upset about what I see in the mirror, I try to remember to look at the big scar on my hand and think about how lucky I am.

    I really hope one of these drugs works for you with no/fewer side-effects. I appreciate all of the info you put out there.

    ps. It’s almost IMPOSSIBLE not to stress about hair loss. It was all I thought about for months surrounding my diagnosis aside from my hand. I still look WAY too much at hairlines on women all around me. I don’t look at their eyes first, I look at their hairline. :/

    <3 to all the struggling ladies

    • Jeni - Hair Loss Hell
      November 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      I’m sorry to hear about your hand injury as well! That must have been scary! I’ve had a lot of health problems in the past five years, and they sort of give me perspective, but they also just make me so frustrated that so many things are wrong with me. But of course it could be worse – I know a lot people that are struggling with way worse things than hair loss. And it would be pretty stupid if I got cancer from going on a hair loss drug. Even though there are 1000 things worse than hair loss, what I hate about it is that it’s probably permanent. I’ve managed to fix/manage a lot of my other ailments, but not the hair loss.

      • Dana
        November 8, 2011 at 6:54 am

        My sister in law says that you know your warranty is up when you go into the doctor and every time they tell you something else is “broken” or failing. I can see why people just quit going when they get older. :/

  • T
    November 8, 2011 at 7:45 am

    I hope the propecia works for you. I am in the same situation as you. Debating on taking this drug. I think we can drive ourselves crazy reading and reading. You just want someone to say take this, it will work and everything will be great. I will follow your posts and wish you all the best.

  • Noelle
    November 10, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I tried Proscar for 6 years. The good news is I didn’t get any side effects or increased shedding. The bad news is I didn’t get any good results either :( But that doesn’t mean it won’t work better for you! Right now I’m taking a break from all medications. In the meantime I went to a dermatologist and she gave me a prescription for Latisse to put on my receding temples. It’s really for lashes but the doctor said some of her patients have experienced hair regrowth with it. I haven’t tried it yet because it’s so expensive and comes in a really tiny bottle. I read online that the makers of Latisse might create a product for scalp hair loss soon. I’m crossing my fingers until then ;)

    • Jeni - Hair Loss Hell
      November 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      Let me know how it goes once you start Latisse. That’s another thing I want to try, but since I want to grow hair all over my head, it’s not practical. I know Allergan (Latisse maker) is doing clinical trials for hair loss, but I don’t know when it would come out for that, and how much it would cost.

  • Paula
    December 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    O.k. here is the bottom line. Avodart 2.5mg with sprinolactone 100mg is the state of the art treatment for female hairloss. Avodart at the 2.5mg dosage has shown in studies to regrow hair within 6-8 months. The doasge on the spironolactone is ideally 200mg to see significant hair growth but that is risky because it can elevate your potassium, which helps to regulate your heart rythym. I only use 100mg of spironolactone. Spironolactone is especially good for regrowing hair in the front of your hairline. You have to stay on it. I am post-menopausal and taking finasteride 2.5mg (which I am going to change to the Avodart next week when i see my dermatologist) and spironolactone 100mg and it has has helped with regrowth in the front and top, and I believe, in holding the line on more hair loss. Hair loss is greater in the winter months for everyone so expect more in the winter. The other things I use which definitely help make it look thicker are Nioxin shampoo, conditioner, and thickener for blow drying. They also help eliminate dht on the scalp. Lastly, but most importantly, another product I use without fail is Dermatch. It is a product you wet, paint on the roots after you wash your hair, and then blow dry. It is phenomenal and comes in quite a few shades. It thickens my hair substantially, even in the front, and is not hard to use. It does not come off unless you wash it off. It has made a huge difference in the way my hair looks and covers the thin areas and scalp well. The only down side is that it can make the top look a little dull if I get heavy handed with it. How much you use is up to you. It is much better than the Joan River’s poduct, which I have tried. Just google it on the internet. (I am not a seller of the product and have no business interest in the company). The other thing you can do to make your hair thicker is color it brown. Brown hair looks thicker than blond hair. Color adds volume to the hair by thickening the strand . Vitamins can also help. Take a CVS Hair, Skin and Nails vitamin as directed or something similar every day.

  • Jen
    January 14, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Hi Jeni,
    I was so happy to find your site, it is very informative and has made me feel a little less alone about my hair loss, so thank you! I wanted to ask if you could provide an update on how the Proscar is working for you so far?

  • Judy
    May 10, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    Hi Jeni,
    I was so glad to find your blog tonight and I can honestly say, I know exactly how you feel about your hairloss. I feel as though I am grieving and have slipped into some type of deep depression. I have gone to doctor after doctor and have been appalled at their lack of concern or willingness to help (even the female doctors) all of whom had FULL heads of lovely hair. There is NO WAY they can possibly relate to what we are all going through!!!
    There are times that I do not leave my home for as much as 15 days at a time because I am so depressed and embarrassed with my thin hair.
    I feel if some type of treatment had been started in the very beginning, it i might not have gotten this bad. Although ALL of my hormone levels were abnormally elevated 6 years ago (including DHEA, DHT, and even estrogen) no one was willing to listen or try to find out why my hormones had gone crazy. I am 53 years old and going throught menopause, thus my estrogen should not have been so elevated. I am terrified that the elevated DhEA and DHT have caused shrinkage of my hair follicles which in turn may have caused permenant damage.
    I hope and pray that the Propecia or whatever you choose will work for you and I thank you for doing so much research on women’s hair loss. I find it infuriating that so much research has been done on men’s hairloss, to the point that Propecia is known to work for them. Yet it is far more traumatizing for women to suffer hairloss and we are the ones who receive the least amount of research and studies.
    I too have put off getting a wig or a hair replacement system for some strange reason. I think I feel like once I go there, that it means I have finally given up and I hate losing a battle!!!! At this point however, if I could find a qualified doctor who truly felt a transplant would work for me……….. I WOULD actually do it. I just don’t know where to go or who to trust with something so expensive and invasive. I have seen pictures of women who have less hair than I, as well as what appears to be finer textured hair than what I have and it appears transplants worked for them. I even saw a nurse who had always had a high forehead and wanted a transplant to bring her hairline further down (and it worked) but I haven’t found a doctor willing to even TRY it for me.
    Thanks for sharing and best wishes to you. I will continue to follow your progress as we all support each other! Judy

  • Lise
    November 13, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    I am female thinning since 37. Have used proscar and minoxidal 4% for over 12 years. Works like a charm. I wish Latisse would bring something out or there would be topical finasteride which would have much less potential side effects.

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