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Propecia vs. Finasteride: What’s the Difference?

Kristin Hall, FNP

Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Nicholas Gibson

Published 07/15/2019

Updated 10/21/2023

Baseball versus football, merlot versus rosé, Propecia® versus finasteride. Life is full of choices between seemingly similar items — sports, wine and even hair loss treatments.

Sometimes, we have strong preferences. Other times, comparing two things can lead to more confusion. And when dealing with male pattern baldness, you want to be absolutely sure you’re making the right decision.

So what’s the difference between finasteride versus Propecia? Is there a difference? And what about that other hair loss treatment — how do Proscar® versus Propecia compare?

Don’t worry. We’ll discuss the differences between these common hair growth solutions below. So kick back with your beverage of choice while we tell you all you need to know about Propecia versus finasteride.

Let’s clear this up right away: When it comes to finasteride versus Propecia, both are excellent choices for hair loss.

The medications contain the same active ingredient, which, incidentally, is finasteride. One difference between these two hair loss treatments is the names (although it’s not the only difference, which we’ll explain below).

Propecia is the brand name of the medication made by a company called Merck & Co. Finasteride is both the active ingredient in and generic version of Propecia.

Propecia was originally released as Proscar designed specifically as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Proscar tablets containing 5 milligrams (mg) of finasteride are still prescribed for this purpose.

In 1992, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) approved a second finasteride medication called Propecia to treat male pattern baldness. Propecia contains a lower dose of finasteride than what’s prescribed for BPH (1 milligram versus 5 milligrams).

This hair loss medication is intended for daily use by men with symptoms of male pattern baldness, such as a receding hairline, baldness around the crown of the head or other signs of hair loss.

Generic finasteride and brand-name Propecia are FDA-approved for hair loss, along with one other medication, topical minoxidil.

Also known as androgenetic alopecia (or androgenic alopecia), male hair loss is caused by genetics and androgen hormones, affecting up to half of men by age 50.

Generic Propecia and the finasteride brand name treat male pattern hair loss the same way, as they’re essentially the same medication. The active ingredient works by stopping the production of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (or DHT), which can bind to receptors in the scalp and damage hair follicles.

DHT is converted from testosterone by an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase. By preventing the conversion of testosterone into DHT, finasteride reduces DHT levels throughout the body and shields hair follicles in the growth phase of the hair growth cycle from damage.

A review of finasteride as a treatment for male pattern baldness concluded that oral finasteride promoted hair regrowth and prevented further hair loss in a significant portion of men with male pattern hair loss.

Although it’s typically taken as an oral medication, topical finasteride is another option with promising results. It’s unclear whether DHT levels are affected by the topical version, but some studies found a decrease in hair loss and new hair growth with the use of topical finasteride.

So the results of finasteride versus Propecia are the same — which should come as a relief when you’re looking for an effective hair loss treatment.

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As mentioned above, finasteride is the active ingredient in Propecia. It’s available in several forms prescribed at various dosages, depending on the condition being treated.

  • Brand-name Propecia is sold exclusively as a 1-milligram tablet. Each tablet is intended for once-daily use.

  • The 1-milligram and 5-milligram finasteride dosages are prescribed for different purposes.

  • The 1-milligram version of generic finasteride is intended for use as a hair loss treatment. As with brand-name Propecia, this medication should be taken once a day to treat hair loss.

  • The 5-milligram version of generic finasteride is generally used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia. This finasteride dosage isn’t intended for use as a treatment for male pattern baldness and shouldn’t be used for this purpose.

Finasteride is a safe, effective medication for most men. However, like many other medications, it can cause side effects. 

Common side effects of finasteride include:

  • Reduced sex drive

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED)

  • Premature ejaculation (PE)

  • Decreased ejaculation volume

  • Breast tenderness or enlargement (gynecomastia)

  • Skin rash

While these side effects might sound alarming, they only affect a small percentage of men who use finasteride to treat hair loss.

Brand-name Propecia and generic finasteride may differ slightly in terms of what inactive ingredients they’re formulated with. But since they contain the same active ingredient, they generally cause side effects at an equal rate.

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Though brand-name Propecia and generic finasteride are alike in many ways, one of the biggest differences is price. As you’re probably aware, generic drugs are almost always cheaper than their brand-name counterparts.

As a brand-name medication manufactured by a major drug company, Propecia is significantly more expensive on a per-tablet basis than generic finasteride. 

A month’s supply of Propecia costs between $110 and $160 from most major pharmacies. The exact price you’ll pay depends on a range of factors, like the pharmacy location, insurance co-pays and deductibles.

In comparison, a month’s supply of generic finasteride can run between $20 and $60, depending on the specific brand you choose and the pharmacy where you purchase the medication.

Generic or brand name, you can’t get Propecia over-the-counter. But this guide on how to get finasteride walks you through getting a prescription from your healthcare provider.

Hair loss treatments, delivered

If it seems like your hair is here today and gone tomorrow, you want to ensure you’re choosing the right hair loss treatment.

So which of the effective hair loss treatments should you use, brand name or generic Propecia? Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Brand-name Propecia and generic finasteride contain the same active ingredient: finasteride. Finasteride slows hair loss and stimulates regrowth by lowering DHT levels in your body.

  • Generally speaking, you’ll see the same results from both medications. You may also experience similar mild side effects from both. Although they’re rare overall, some of the more common side effects relate to sexual dysfunction, like erectile dysfunction, low sex drive or premature ejaculation.

  • The main distinction between Propecia and finasteride is that the former is the brand name, while the latter is simply generic. The other major difference is the price. Brand-name medications tend to be more expensive than generic ones.

Besides finasteride, topical minoxidil is the only other FDA-approved treatment for hair loss. You can use minoxidil foam, liquid minoxidil solution or a combination topical finasteride & minoxidil spray.

Want to get started? Discuss hair loss treatments with a licensed healthcare provider online today.

7 Sources

  1. PROPECIA® (finasteride) tablets for oral use. (n.d.). Accessdata.fda.gov. Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2012/020788s020s021s023lbl.pdf
  2. Propecia. (n.d.). Accessdata.fda.gov. Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/020788s024lbl.pdf
  3. Zito, P.M., Bistas, K.G., Syed, K. Finasteride. [Updated 2022 Aug 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513329/
  4. Asfour, L., Cranwell, W., Sinclair, R. Male Androgenetic Alopecia. [Updated 2023 Jan 25]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Blackman MR, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278957/
  5. Shapiro, J., & Kaufman, K. D. (2003). Use of Finasteride in the Treatment of Men With Androgenetic Alopecia (Male Pattern Hair Loss). Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings, 8(1), 20-23. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X15529357
  6. Finn, D. A., Beadles-Bohling, A. S., Beckley, E. H., Ford, M. M., Gililland, K. R., Gorin-Meyer, R. E., & Wiren, K. M. (2006). A new look at the 5alpha-reductase inhibitor finasteride. CNS drug reviews, 12(1), 53–76. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6741762/
  7. Lee, S. W., Juhasz, M., Mobasher, P., Ekelem, C., & Mesinkovska, N. A. (2018). A Systematic Review of Topical Finasteride in the Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia in Men and Women. Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD, 17(4), 457–463. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6609098/
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kristin Hall, FNP

Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership. 

She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH

Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare. 

Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.

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