When used with oral contraceptives, the male hair-loss medication finasteride (brand-named Propecia) may also help improve hair loss in women, Italian researchers report.
"This treatment was well accepted by the patients, who judged the results to be even better than the investigators," a team from the University of Bologna reported in the March issue of the journal Archives of Dermatology.
The study included 37 women, ages 19 to 50, who took 2.5 milligrams of finasteride by mouth daily, along with an oral contraceptive. The contraceptive was necessary because finasteride is known to cause birth defects.
The contraceptive used in the study was a type that also reduces levels of male hormones (which also circulate at small amounts in women). The researchers believed that might also help reduce hair loss in the women.
62% showed an improvement
The women's heads were photographed and their hair density was assessed at the start of the study and again a year later. At the follow-up, 23 (62 percent) of the women were rated as improved, according to comparisons of the photographs.
Thirteen patients were judged not to have improved and one woman's condition was rated as worse.
Twelve women had improved hair-density scores.
"Further studies are needed to establish optimal dosage and mode of administration of finasteride in premenopausal women and to definitively assess the efficacy of this drug compared with oral antiandrogens," the researchers added in a prepared statement.
As many as half of women experience female pattern hair loss during their lifetimes. Current therapy usually involves minoxidil, which is applied to the scalp in order to encourage hair regrowth. This medication is effective but not always well accepted by patients, the authors said.