Treating Frontal fibrosing Alopecia (FFA): Are retinoids better than finasteride?

Retinoids in FFA Treatment

FFA 102

Frontal fibrosing alopecia ("FFA") is an autoimmune disease that mostly affects women. It is classified as a "scarring" hair loss condition and hair loss is often permanent for many women. A variety of treatments are available including topical steroids, topical calcineurin inhibitors, steroid injections as well as oral treatments like finasteride, doxycycline, hydroxychloroquine and isotretinoin.

A new study from Poland set out to compare benefits of finasteride and "retinoids" (isotretinoin and acitretin) in women with FFA. The study included 29 women who were treated with a dose of 20 mg isotretinoin, 11 women treated with 20 mg acitretin and 14 treated with oral finasteride at a dose of 5 mg/daily.  Interestingly, 76% of patients treated with isotretinoin, 73% of patients treated with acitretin, and 43% of patients treated with finasteride had their disease halted over a 12 month observation period. 



This study is small and should be interpreted with caution for this reason. Nevertheless it is interesting and points to a potentially valuable role for retinoids that we really don't seem to see with classic lichen planopilaris (a closely related condition). The data in this present study however do not match other much larger studies of finasteride use in FFA which have suggested that a much higher proportion of FFA benefitted from use of this drug.

For now, this study provides us with evidence that retinoids can benefit some patients and should be at considered. Many women with FFA do have a tendency for increased cholesterol levels and the use of retinoids can significantly worsen this so caution and monitoring are needed.


Rakowska A, et al. Efficacy of Isotretinoin and Acitretin in Treatment of Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia: Retrospective Analysis of 54 Cases. J Drugs Dermatol. 2017.

Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Whistler office at 604.283.1887

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