Oral finasteride, a type II 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, is one of the most effective treatments available for androgenic alopecia (AGA). However, concerns over the drug’s potential side effects prevent many men from ever considering the medication.
In the last several years, nearly a dozen studies have shown that certain formulation topical finasteride may confer the same hair growth-promoting benefits as oral finasteride, but with less systemic drug exposure. For those worried about side effects, topical finasteride is often a stepping stone toward an effective treatment protocol for hair regrowth.
In this article, we’ll uncover how to make topical finasteride using crushed pills – which is perhaps the least expensive alternative to DIY topical finasteride. We’ll also explain why doing so might be short-sighted, and that there is likely a better way to reduce costs for topical finasteride, but also control for the quality of the product: diluting topical finasteride that is already purchased.
Why Make Topical Finasteride at Home?
Most people consider making DIY topical finasteride for two reasons:
- Cost savings. Compounding pharmacies often charge $50-$100 per month for topical finasteride, thus pricing out a lot of men and women who would otherwise be interested in trying it. However, oral finasteride prescriptions are often 2-5 times cheaper on a monthly basis. This has led many to wonder, “Why don’t I save money by crushing my finasteride pills into a solution and apply that topical directly on my head?” While there are cost-savings behind this logic, the actual step-by-step process is a little more involved (more on this later).
- Control over dilutions. Most big-brand formulations of topical finasteride use dilution percentages that actually expose users to more finasteride each day than if they were to use the drug orally. For instance, Hims sells a 0.3% topical finasteride solution, of which many customers will apply 1 mL daily or more to cover all balding regions. That actually equates to 3 mg of finasteride exposure daily, which is 3 times the amount of drug prescribed daily for oral consumption (i.e., 1 mg). Under these circumstances, if just 0.2 mg of that topical drug escapes the scalp skin and enters the bloodstream, most users will experience the same systemic hormonal modifications as if they were to instead just use the oral medication.
To elaborate on that second point, just see this chart below, which shows just how little finasteride needs to be consumed to affect serum levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
With that in mind, see this other cart, which shows topical finasteride’s effects on serum DHT – a proxy to estimate systemic drug exposure – while controlling for the daily exposure (in mg) of finasteride applied to the scalp. The higher the daily dose, the higher the systemic reductions to DHT.
For these reasons, many topical finasteride users prefer to have the ability to titrate their daily dosages of the topical. They can do this by:
- Using less of the topical finasteride solution. The shortcoming: with less solution, you may not be able to apply the topical to all balding regions.
- Using topical finasteride fewer days per week. The shortcoming: this throws off the rhythm of a daily routine, and at a certain threshold, reduces efficacy.
- Making their own topical finasteride. The shortcoming: it takes additional work, and it’s not always clear if you did it right.
Moreover, a lot of people presume that making their own topical finasteride is as simple as crushing their own prescription of finasteride pills into water, then applying that directly to the scalp. It isn’t.
Nonetheless, most people opt for option #3: making their own topical finasteride. And most people prefer to do this by crushing pills. While we strongly recommend getting properly formulated topical finasteride prescribed to you and made by a compounding pharmacy, for those who don’t heed this advice and instead go with the pill-crushing approach, here are some educational resources (and a free calculator) that might help you.
Making Topical Finasteride By Crushing Pills: Step-By-Step Instructions
Before proceeding, it’s important to recall what your goals are for opting to try topical finasteride. In 99% of cases, it’s going to be to minimize the risk of adverse events while maximizing the chances of growing new hair. If that is your goal, consider the following.
1. Settle on a daily dose of finasteride exposure
Serum DHT reductions act as proxies for estimate systemic absorption from topical finasteride, and thereby the risk of side effects. On that note, the only clinically studied formulation of topical finasteride that (1) demonstrated effectiveness in men and women, and (2) led to no changes in serum DHT, is one that exposed participants to ~0.1 mg daily of topical finasteride. That’s 1/10th the amount of the standard oral dose prescribed for androgenic alopecia.
This dose of topical finasteride is typically applied daily in the following formulas:
- 0.01% at 1 mL daily – good for those with localized hair loss
- 0.005% at 2 mL daily – good for those with diffuse hair loss (more topical to spread across the scalp)
So, for those who want to be as cautious as possible, this is probably the dose that is most appropriate to start for topical finasteride. Higher doses also work, and also still likely confer a reduction in side effect risk, but at the expense of guaranteed DHT reductions elsewhere in the body. With the 0.1 mg low-dose formula, this risk (according to the clinical literature) is a lot lower.
2. Consider your carrier ingredients
Carrier ingredients help carry a topical’s active ingredient into deeper layers of the skin, where it can have its desired effects. In the case of topical finasteride, carrier ingredients help bring finasteride through the stratum corneum and into the mesodermal sheath, outer root sheath, and dermal papillae cell clusters of hair follicles – where the drug can get to work inhibiting type II 5-alpha reductase and lowering scalp levels of DHT.
When it comes to topical finasteride, some carrier ingredients work better than others at enhancing skin penetration. For an example, see this chart:https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2977015/
There are a few key takeaways from this chart:
- Topical finasteride’s penetration into the skin is linear across 4 common carrier agents. That means the longer you leave in the topical without washing your hair, the more of it will absorb into the skin.
- This enhanced skin penetration will also come at the expense of higher systemic absorption of the drug. For these reasons, we recommend serum DHT testing regularly with topical finasteride. Our membership has resources on how to do this, and we can team members and researchers who will personally support you through this entire process if you need it.
- Don’t just mix your finasteride pills with water. As we can see from the chart, water is a terrible carrier ingredient for topical finasteride.
In our topical finasteride calculator (it’s free), we recommend a series of low-cost carrier ingredients for you, as well as links to the actual products. Please note: we do not receive commissions on any of those product recommendations, as doing so would undermine the objectives of this site: to be as unbiased as possible in our scientific analyses (and advice) to hair loss sufferers.
3. Before crushing your finasteride pills, remove any pill coatings
Depending on where your finasteride pills were manufactured, there’s a strong likelihood that the pills come with a protective coating that prevents incidental drug exposure from anyone who might’ve handled the drug without the intention of ingesting it. This is generally to prevent pregnant women from coming into incidental contact with the drug.
As such, if you’re going to use your prescribed finasteride pills to make topical finasteride, it’s critical to remove this protective coating from each pill in order to allow those pills a better chance at dissolving into the topical solution. You can do this by scraping the pills with a small knife or nail clipper, and then peeling off all of the coating with your finger tips.
4. Use our topical finasteride calculator to dial in your DIY, homemade topical finasteride formulation
The math involved in making topical finasteride isn’t likely solving an equation for quantum physics. At the same time, it’s also not as straightforward as many people would like. After all, you have to account for the following:
- Hair loss patterning (localized vs. diffuse) – as this determines if you’ll need 1 mL or 2 mL of liquid daily to cover all balding regions
- Dilution amounts – which, together with the mL of daily application, will determine your daily total finasteride exposure
- Adjustments for pill sizes (in mg). After all, oral finasteride pills are available in 1 mg and 5 mg daily doses, so you’ll need to account for this prior to crushing anything
To take the guesswork out of this process, we decided to do all of the math for you. Then we hired developers to integrate these math equations into an interactive survey that factors in all of the above, then spits out step-by-step instructions for how to make topical finasteride by crushing pills.
To reiterate, this calculator is not medical advice and is for educational purposes only. We still strongly recommend that you just get your topical finasteride properly formulated by a compounding pharmacy. Nonetheless, the calculator is there for those who decide to ignore this advice and instead take the cost-savings route toward topical hair loss treatments.
We produce content like this to benefit hair loss sufferers worldwide – regardless of their financial circumstances. With more access to free information, more men and women can seek effective hair loss treatments faster, and thereby improve their outcomes long-term.
With that said, these free resources represent just a tiny fraction of what’s available inside our membership community. If you’re looking for personal support on your hair growth journey, interactions with hair loss researchers, one-on-one video calls, and a customized hair growth protocol built around your needs, preferences, goals, and the evidence – our membership is the place where we offer these services.
It’s also the way in which we monetize this site, which is why we’ve never accepted any hair loss product advertisements or commissions – which otherwise comes with the risk of biasing our own research lens and interpretation of data. For evidence of how big this problem is, just take a look all of the other sites, forums, and YouTube personalities catering their content toward the sale of physical products to which they’re financially tied – which only serves those creators and, simultaneously, overwhelms the ecosystem of information accessible to consumers with biased advice.
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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.