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Reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Can finasteride or minoxidil cause acne? These popular and effective hair loss medications can cause side effects in some men, but acne generally isn’t one of them.
If you’re starting to develop a receding hairline, a bald patch near your crown or other early signs of male pattern baldness, your healthcare provider might have suggested using finasteride and minoxidil to bring your hair loss under control and promote healthy hair growth.
When used as prescribed, these medications can bring hair loss to a complete halt for many men. For some guys, they can even produce hair regrowth, meaning your hairline might start to fill back in or your diffuse thinning might thicken up, ultimately improving coverage.
Finasteride and minoxidil can cause side effects, including skin irritation. However, it’s very rare for these medications to cause or contribute to acne breakouts, including acne that develops on your forehead or around your scalp.
Below, we’ll discuss how finasteride and minoxidil work as medications for male pattern hair loss.
We’ll also explain why, if you’re starting to notice acne breakouts while treating hair loss, it could be a side effect of hair loss medication — but it’s unlikely that finasteride or minoxidil are directly involved.
Finally, we’ll go over what you can do if you’re prone to acne, from trying topical creams and other over-the-counter treatments to working with a healthcare provider to get prescription acne medications.
All medications can cause adverse effects, and finasteride is no exception. Potential side effects of finasteride include a lower level of interest in sex, erectile dysfunction (ED) and changes that may affect your ejaculatory volume.
These side effects from finasteride only occur in a small percentage of men. For example, study data suggest that decreased sexual interest occurs in 1.8 percent of men who take finasteride versus 1.3 percent of men treated with a non-therapeutic placebo.
Likewise, erectile dysfunction was reported by 1.3 percent of men who used finasteride in trials versus 0.7 percent of men who used a placebo treatment.
In other words, side effects from finasteride are generally rare, with even the most “common” issues affecting only a small percentage of men.
Currently, there’s no research suggesting that taking finasteride increases your risk of getting facial acne, hormonal acne or other adult acne breakouts.
There’s also no evidence to suggest that finasteride makes existing acne vulgaris worse — or that it prevents any popular acne treatments for men from working properly.
In other words, there doesn’t appear to be any reason to feel concerned about acne while you’re using finasteride to treat hair loss.
Like finasteride and other medications, minoxidil can cause side effects. Common side effects of minoxidil include temporary hair shedding, irritation of your scalp, a burning sensation and scaly, peeling skin in the areas the medication is applied.
In some cases, minoxidil products can also cause allergic contact dermatitis — an itchy rash that may affect your hairline and scalp.
In other words, minoxidil can affect your skin by producing itching, burning, discomfort and other reactions. Most of the time, these side effects occur early in treatment and go away as your scalp becomes more accustomed to the minoxidil solution or foam.
Although minoxidil can cause skin reactions, there’s currently no evidence suggesting it can cause acne breakouts or interfere with the treatment of acne.
Minoxidil isn’t an oily medication, meaning it isn’t likely to clog your pores and contribute to acne breakouts and higher-than-normal acne lesion counts.
There’s also no evidence to suggest that minoxidil stimulates the production of sebum, a natural oil produced by your skin that causes whiteheads, blackheads and other acne lesions.
In other words, you shouldn’t worry about dealing with new acne breakouts if you use minoxidil solution or foam to treat hair loss.
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So, if finasteride and minoxidil aren’t linked to acne breakouts, what can cause acne to develop on your skin?
Acne is a common skin condition, and it’s far from abnormal to develop it while you’re using medication, even if the medication itself isn’t responsible.
Numerous factors play a role in acne, including your production of certain hormones, a buildup of skin cells on your face or scalp and the amount of sebum (or oil) produced by your sebaceous glands.
Several hormones are involved in acne, including androgen hormones like testosterone. This is because testosterone plays a vital role in regulating your skin’s production of sebum, an oil-like substance involved in hydrating and protecting the skin.
Oily products, including certain hair styling products, may also contribute to acne. For example, some men develop pomade acne as a result of oil-based pomades, waxes and styling gels.
It’s also common for dead skin cells — which can build up on your skin as a result of the skin cell turnover process — to clog your pores and contribute to acne breakouts.
Put simply, a range of factors all play a role in acne pathogenesis (the development of acne), with each factor related to others.
If you use finasteride or minoxidil and suddenly notice that you’re developing more pimples than before or that your acne has abruptly become more severe, your first step should be to talk to a healthcare provider.
It’s normal for acne breakouts to come and go. For instance, people with mild or moderate acne vulgaris often develop pimples and other skin lesions in response to dietary changes, feelings of anxiety and issues such as ongoing stress.
Even simple things, like spending more time than usual in direct sunlight, may cause you to experience acne breakouts.
Your healthcare provider can check your skin and let you know what might be causing you to develop breakouts.
Depending on the severity of your acne, you may benefit from:
Using a cleansing face wash. Cleansing your face can help wash away extra sebum and reduce your risk of developing acne. Try adding a men’s facial cleanser to your skincare routine, either during your morning shower or before bed.
Treating acne with topical medication. Topical treatments, such as tretinoin, can help lower your risk of developing acne breakouts. You can find tretinoin as one of several ingredients in our Customized Acne Cream for men.
Taking oral acne medication. If you have severe acne, your healthcare provider might refer you to a dermatologist for treatment with oral acne medication, such as isotretinoin or an antibiotic.
Want to find out more about maintaining clear, acne-free skin? Our guide to getting clear skin for men covers everything you need to know, from common causes of acne to over-the-counter and prescription treatments for comedones, pimples, inflammatory lesions and more.
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Finasteride and minoxidil are currently the two most effective hair loss treatments on the market for men. They’re definitely worth considering if you’re starting to develop a receding hairline or have noticed other signs of hair loss.
While both medications can cause side effects, there doesn’t appear to be any link between using finasteride or minoxidil and developing facial acne vulgaris.
In other words, based on the science we have right now, using finasteride or minoxidil shouldn't increase your risk of dealing with acne.
However, there are a few things you should know before using these medications:
Although minoxidil isn’t linked to acne, it can cause itching and skin irritation. If you have any skin condition or are prone to dry skin or an itchy scalp, it’s always best to talk with a healthcare provider before using minoxidil.
If you already have acne, you should treat it while using finasteride or minoxidil. Consider using a topical cream such as our Customize Acne Cream for men to clear up your skin while you stimulate your hair follicles.
Both acne and hair loss take time to get better. It can take several months of treatment before you notice major improvements in your hairline, your hair density or your skin’s texture and tone.
If you’re ready to take action and treat hair loss with finasteride or minoxidil, get started by taking part in a hair loss consultation with a healthcare provider.
You can also learn more about your options, from medications to healthy habits, in our full guide to the best treatments for thinning hair.