18/07/2013 08:29 BST | Updated 16/09/2013 06:12 BST

I Welcome The War on Prescription Hair Loss Medication Being Illegally Sold Online

It reached my ears this week that in Birmingham, the UK's medical regulatory body (the MHRA) seized £3,000 worth of hair loss treatments that were being sold illegally online without a prescription. It is just one of a number of recent interventions by the body, and I worry that men and women concerned about hair loss may be putting themselves at risk more than ever by trying to save money buying treatments over the internet. For reasons I will discuss below, buying prescription hair loss medication online is extremely dangerous.

The first obvious problem is that should you buy online, there is no way of ensuring that quality control of the medication has taken place. In fact, how can you tell that the medication even is what it claims to be? If the sellers are so eager to make a fast buck that they're not worried about breaking the law, it stands to reason that they might not be so fastidious about ensuring their medications are all legitimate. The black market of fake medication is only too happy to replicate packaging, so just because your medication looks legitimate, it may well not be.

The second issue is that even if your medication is the real thing, it may be harmful to you on account of not being suitable for you to take. There is always a good reason why prescription medications require the approval of a doctor: they might be high strength, or there may be a significant risk of side effects or other potential complications. For instance, certain ingredients may not be suitable for those with high blood pressure, or other relatively easy to manage medical conditions that a doctor would pick up on but you may forget about, or perhaps your family medical history rules out certain medications, too.

So, without undergoing sufficient consultation with a doctor, prescription medications should not be used. When you consider that a trip to the doctor or a specialist often involves an examination, further tests and follow ups before medication is prescribed, buying medication online suddenly feels a whole lot riskier. This also applies to using prescription only hair loss treatments, even topical ones like high strength minoxidil.

Whilst side effects from the two medications that the MHRA has licensed for use to treat hair loss - Propecia and minoxidil - are very unlikely at less than 2%, certain groups are at higher risk than others. Even though side effects generally disappear if the medications are persevered with, this is not always the case, and at Belgravia we advise all patients to stop using the medications if side effects appear, in case they get worse. This kind of clinical monitoring is an important part of the hair loss treatment process, however with medication bought online there is nobody to call other than your GP if you experience side effects.

So, with all this in mind it is a relief to hear about the seizures of hair loss medication in Birmingham, which comes as part of a worldwide crackdown where it was revealed that £26.8 million worth of illegal medicines were being sold online, including fake Viagra, skin lightening products and slimming tablets. At Belgravia, we do not sell our medications on our website, and our resident dermatologist approves every treatment plan to ensure that all the necessary questions have been asked when selecting prescription medications for our patients. So, before you try and save a few quid by buying medications online that require a prescription, consider that you can't verify their contents, you can't take advantage of specialist support, and you may well be at risk of credit card fraud, too.