Topical finasteride is an effective treatment for androgenic alopecia – particularly for those interested in better localizing the drug’s effects to the scalp. Unfortunately, prescriptions for topical finasteride can cost as much as $50-$100 per month.
This prices out a lot of people who would’ve otherwise committed to the topical had it not been for its costs. It’s also led others to ask, “Can I make topical finasteride at home? Can’t I just crush up my finasteride pills or dilute another topical finasteride?”
The answer to each question is yes, with caveats. While topical finasteride can be made at home – and at a low cost – anyone who intends to try this must formulate the product properly. This might entail:
- Removing the coating of finasteride pills prior to crushing them
- Matching carrier agents when diluting already-existing topicals
- Knowing how much finasteride to add to a formulation to maximize scalp DHT reductions while minimizing the risk of systemic absorption.
- Adjusting finasteride dilutions to control for total daily drug exposure, particularly for those with diffuse vs. localized hair loss.
In this article, we’ll reveal a step-by-step process for how to make topical finasteride – either by crushing finasteride pills or diluting an already-purchased topical. We’ll also provide a topical finasteride calculator that automatically calculates step-by-step instructions for you, all depending on your desired dilutions and starting ingredients. It’s also 100% free. See below.
Oral Finasteride: Efficacy & Side Effects
Oral finasteride is an effective FDA-approved drug used to treat androgenic alopecia (AGA). It reduces a hormone known as type II 5-α dihydrotestosterone (DHT) – which is causally linked to the balding process. Between 0.2 mg to 1.0 mg of finasteride daily can lower DHT levels by 70%, which is enough suppression to therapeutically improve AGA outcomes in 80-90% of male users in two years.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X15529357
While most men and women tolerate finasteride without issue, clinical studies consistently show that finasteride adversely impacts a small portion of users. Between 5% to 15% of men trying the drug report mild-to-moderate side effects ranging from diminished libido to brain fog. This is because finasteride does not just reduce DHT in scalp levels, but also across all other tissues in the body such as the brain and testes. For a portion of men and women, DHT reductions of this magnitude across all body tissues can cause undesired effects.
Topical Finasteride: Is It Still Effective? Does It Have A Better Safety Profile?
To reduce the risk of side effects from oral finasteride, many people opt to try finasteride delivered topically. After all, clinical studies demonstrate that compared to 1 mg daily of oral finasteride, daily use of 1 mL x 1% topical finasteride is “non-inferior” to the oral formulation.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19172031/
With topical delivery, users often believe that since they are isolating finasteride to the scalp skin, they can expect less finasteride to reach other parts of the body – thereby preserving DHT levels in other organ sites beyonds the scalp and lowering their risk of side effects.
But is this true?
On the one hand, clinical studies corroborate that some formulations of topical finasteride appear to reduce the risk of side effects versus oral finasteride. On the other hand, the dose per mL of topical finasteride influences this risk – as does the amount of topical finasteride applied daily along with the carrier ingredients used inside the topical formulation.
1. Daily Drug Exposure & Influence On Systemic Absorption
We can use reductions in blood levels of DHT as a proxy to estimate how much topical finasteride leaks from the scalp tissues into the blood stream, thereby traveling to other parts of the body and potentiating DHT reductions other organs.
For reference, see the following chart which summarizes clinical studies on topical finasteride in relation to its impact on DHT levels in the blood. Keep in mind that all daily exposure volumes of topical finasteride in this chart were clinically effective at improving hair. On the y-axis, we have the total daily exposure of finasteride (in mg) as a topical. On the x-axis, we show reductions to serum DHT, which acts to estimate the amount of systemic exposure of the drug (even when applied topically).
As we can see, according to the clinical literature, the only daily exposure volume of topical finasteride that improves hair loss but does not impact serum DHT levels is 0.005% x 2 mL of topical finasteride daily, which equates to just under 0.1 mg daily of finasteride applied to the scalp.
Therefore, if you intend to make topical finasteride at home with the goal of (1) improving hair loss while (2) minimizing systemic drug absorption, consider finasteride formulations of ~0.1mg daily. At higher daily doses, you can still achieve hair regrowth, but this might come at the expense with more systemic drug absorption and thereby a higher risk of side effects.
2. Carrier Agent Influence On Systemic Drug Exposure
Beyond the daily drug exposure of topical finasteride, the carrier agents used in a topical finasteride formulation also impact the amount of drug absorbed into the skin, and consequently the blood stream.
The outermost layer of the scalp’s epidermis is known as the stratum corneum. This skin layer acts as a barrier for what can enter the skin, and what can escape. It’s also a critical barrier of protection for human survival. Without a stratum corneum, human skin would absorb much more of the outside world – i.e., any nutrients, viruses, microorganisms, and/or pollutants we touch – and we’d be at a much higher risk of exogenous threats.
Unfortunately, the stratum corneum also creates a challenge for topical drug delivery. So, to bypass the stratum corneum, product formulators often add what are called “carrier ingredients” to a topical in order to allow for that topical’s active ingredients to penetrate beyond this layer and deeper into the skin — where that active ingredient can reach target areas and have a therapeutic effect.
Some common carrier ingredients are:
- Propylene glycol
But not all carrier ingredients are equally effective at their job. Depending on the active ingredient of a topical, some carrier ingredients do a better job than others at carrying a drug into deeper layers of the skin.
This is particularly true for topical finasteride. Just see this chart from an in vitro study measuring topical finasteride absorption across a 24-hour period, controlling for different carrier agents: ethosomes, hydroethanolic acid, liposomes, and water:https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2977015/
Keep in mind: the more finasteride that permeates into skin tissues, the more finasteride will absorb into the blood stream. Therefore, it is critical to be aware of this relationship when formulating your own topical finasteride at home.
Moreover, if you are diluting topical finasteride from a pre-existing topical, you must ensure that the carrier ingredients used in your new formulation match those used in the already-purchased topical. For instance, if your pre-purchased prescription of topical finasteride uses a liposomal base – which is a gel – but you’re trying to dilute that gel into a liquid formulation (with propylene glycol), the formulations won’t mix well, and you’ll just be wasting product.
How To Make Homemade Topical Finasteride
Here’s a recap of key factors to consider before opting to make topical finasteride at home:
- Control for daily drug exposure. Topical finasteride can still leak into the blood stream, and at higher daily doses, the effects of serum DHT can be as dramatic as if we were using oral finasteride. Formulations greater than 0.1mg daily appear to appreciably lower scalp DHT levels, but also serum DHT levels. With exposure volumes of 1.0 mg daily and higher, serum DHT can become reduced to the same level as oral finasteride.
- Control for daily application volume. Compared to people with localized hair loss (i.e., only temple recession and/or crown thinning), those with diffuse hair loss have a much larger area affected by pattern hair loss, and will thereby need to apply more topical (in mL) versus those with smaller areas of hair loss. Under these circumstances, finasteride dilutions may also need to be titrated in order to maintain a consistent daily exposure volume of the drug. For instance, if we want to keep total topical finasteride exposure consistent at 0.1mg daily, people with localized hair loss may only need 0.01% x 1 mL formulations, whereas those with diffuse hair loss may need to titrate their dilution to 0.005% x 2 mL in order to keep daily drug exposure constant while enabling an extra mL of liquid to cover all areas regions affected by hair loss.
- Select the right carrier ingredients. Different carrier ingredients have different capacities to bring finasteride through the stratum corneum. Over 24-hour penetration periods, one study found that topical finasteride formulated with ethosomes or hydroethanol outperformed formulations of liposomes or water. Having said that, better skin penetration also comes with higher rates of systemic absorption of finasteride into the blood stream.
- If making topical finasteride by diluting a pre-purchased topical, match the carrier ingredients. If you plan on diluting a pre-purchased topical finasteride, it is critical to match carrier ingredients between the old and new formulations.
- If making topical finasteride by crushing up oral pills, peel off any pill coatings prior to crushing. Failure to do this may resort in unwanted debris in your topical formulation and an incomplete dissolution of the finasteride pills in your topical.
If these factors feel overwhelming to control for, we completely understand. For these reasons, we decided to work with developers to build an interactive calculator that generates step-by-step instructions for you to make topical finasteride calculator.
DIY Topical Finasteride: Use Our Free Topical Finasteride Calculator
The following topical finasteride calculator not only controls for daily drug exposure, topical formulations, and carrier ingredients, but it also generates step-by-step instructions for your formulation based on whether you intend to make topical finasteride by crushing finasteride pills or by diluting an already-purchased topical.
We hope it helps!
When Homemade Finasteride Is Not Recommended
Technically speaking, making DIY topical finasteride is never advised. After all, finasteride is a prescription drug, and prescription drugs require careful manufacturing and dosing control from compounding pharmacies.
For these reasons, if you’re not so price sensitive, it’s best to leave topical finasteride formulating to the professionals and take yourself out of the equation. Otherwise, you open yourself up to the risks of improper dosing and/or inadvertently exposing others in your household to a drug they never intended to use in the first place.
So, consider getting a prescription of topical finasteride from a dermatologist or telehealth company as your first (and only) option.
Nonetheless, we also recognize that people are going to do whatever they want to do, and that despite us strongly recommending against DIY topical finasteride, people will do it anyway. While this page (and the calculator) are for educational purposes only, and while we obviously recommend seeking medical advice before doing anything, we hope that the resources here help guide those who are making topical finasteride toward doing so as safely and effectively as possible.
While we don’t recommend making topical finasteride at home, we also recognize that DIY topical finasteride can save consumers money, enable better control over daily drug exposure, reduce systemic DHT reductions, and lower the risk of adverse events associated with the drug.
Users can make topical finasteride by crushing pills or diluting pre-purchased topical finasteride. Our 100% free calculator can generate step-by-step instructions for you.
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Rob English is a researcher, medical editor, and the founder of perfecthairhealth.com. He acts as a peer reviewer for scholarly journals and has published five peer-reviewed papers on androgenic alopecia. He writes regularly about the science behind hair loss (and hair growth). Feel free to browse his long-form articles and publications throughout this site.