Hirsutism: What Is It, What Causes It and How You Can Treat It
For a woman, removing facial hair is such a chore! Shaving and waxing and tweezing for hours on hours, just to have to repeat all that within a few days. What is a girl to do?!
The first step to managing your unwanted facial and body hair is understanding why it is there in the first place.
The medical term for excessive facial hair is hirsutism. When androgens in a woman’s body become out of balance, she may find herself taking on masculine features, like developing more muscles, having a deeper voice and, of course, undesired facial hair.
What Causes Unwanted Hair?
There are actually several conditions that could cause a woman to develop hair where she does not want it. Some of the more common ones are listed:
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS
is the most common culprit. PCOS is a complex disorder but the most obvious sign is the development of abnormal cysts on the ovaries. This could cause a woman to experience symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles, unexplained weight gain, trouble losing weight, infertility and excessive body hair. The best way to curb PCOS is to speak to your endocrinologist about some medication to regulate your hormones again. Metformin is the most popular medication for PCOS as it helps regular insulin and androgen levels. However, as with any new medication, please talk to your doctor about metformin to ensure it is the right medication for you.
means you have no immediate medical conditions or any hormonal imbalance in your blood work. Usually this type of hirsutism is genetic. And even though there is no visible culprit, it does not mean that you are totally free and void of any hormonal disturbances. With idiopathic hirsutism, your testosterone is very sensitive, even though you may have a normal amount in your blood. 5-alpha-reductase is an enzyme involved in the metabolism of testosterone and estrogen and when it is suppressed with anti-androgen medication, a reduction in facial hair is very possible.
can also be a culprit to excessive hair. When insulin levels in the body become too high, type 1 or 2 diabetes can development. The correlation between diabetes and hirsutism is the difficulty losing weight due to poor dieting and not controlling insulin levels, thus resulting in weight gain. Irregular insulin and weight gain are symptoms of PCOS, as explained earlier as the main cause of hirsutism. A low glycemic diet and plenty of disciplined exercise will make the world of difference with your diabetes and your hormonal imbalance.
is another potential cause of your hirsutism. This occurs when your thyroid is overactive. Your thyroid controls your metabolism. Often times, hasty symptoms are seen such as losing weight abnormally fast, increased heartbeats and having to use the bathroom more often. Hormones in the thyroid have been known to affect androgenic involvement in metabolism so when there is a disturbance in the thyroid, an androgen imbalance is not impossible.
Steroidal medications, smoking, birth control and pregnancy could throw your hormones for a loop as well.
Are There Medications for Hirsutism?
There is no cure for hirsutism. However, you can drastically reduce it with medications. The most popular anti-androgen is Spironolactone. This medication suppresses excessive testosterone activity. Finasteride and Flutamide are two other medications that work as anti-androgens as well. Vaniqa is a FDA approved topical medication that blocks androgen receptors in follicles, thus reducing hair growth gradually. As with any new medication, please discuss with your doctor to ensure you are a good candidate for these medicines.
How Can I Remove the Hair Safely?
There are cheap and conventional ways to remove hair but most of them are temporary fixes. The permanent hair removal methods take patience, some pain tolerance and budgeting!
: It is the fastest and most convenient way to remove hair. The proper way to shave is to shave in the direction of hair growth. It’s tempting to hair against the hair growth because you may get better, smoother results, but you may also develop annoying ingrown hair. Best way to fight ingrown hairs is to exfoliate your skin gently and always use a nice, moisturizing lather for better traction with the blade.
: This can be done at home or in a salon. Warm wax is applied to the skin and pull in the direction or against the direction of the hair growth. Hairs stay gone for several days or weeks since it is removed from the root as opposed to just the surface, as with shaving. It’s important to make sure your skin is clean and dry before waxing. There different types of waxes: hard wax often times require no muslin strips but harder to clean up; soft wax typically requires strips but clean up easier; cold wax which works just like hard wax and soft wax except no heat is required; and sugaring, an ancient technique which involves applying melted sugar on the skin for hair removal. Due to the abrasive natural of waxing, it’s not unusual to find your skin red and swollen after a session, though the reaction goes away quickly.
: A pair of tweezers latches to the undesired hair and YANK! Hair is removed from the root, not to return for several days. While this is a quick fix for small areas, tweezing is not recommended for large areas. It’s also painful and tweezing too often may cause the skin to get irritated and hyper-pigmentation may develop.
: Another ancient technique involving two soft, thin pieces of string wrapped around a follicle and pulled out. It has the same effect as tweezing but it is quicker and typically done in salons. The results last for several weeks but is can be just as painful as the other techniques mentioned.
Laser Hair Removal:
Laser hair removal has been around for a couple of decades. It involves a very concentrated laser disabling hair follicles. Laser hair removal is ideal for large areas like the back or the legs. At one point, laser hair removal was not intended for people with very dark skin or people with blond, red or grey hairs. But now, with advancements in technology, just about anyone can get the procedure done. It can be painful, especially for folks with darker toned skin, but the results are long lasting; however, touch-up treatments may be necessary down the line.
: This method has been around for nearly a century. It involves a thin needle being inserted into a hair follicle and energy being delivered through the needle to disable that follicle. Once the follicle is completely damaged after a number of sessions, blood cannot flow to it, thus testosterone cannot reach it. Electrolysis is the only FDA approved method for permanent hair removal. It’s recommended for small areas like the sideburns or chin. It can be painful, so be sure to invest in some numbing agents or discuss them with your electrologist.
Which Method of Removal is The Best?
If you are looking for temporarily relief, consider shaving. It’s cheap and it does the least damage to your skin, if done correctly. If you want something that will last a little longer, consider waxing. There are natural and organic waxing products that are designed for sensitive skin, so the “ouch” factor should not stop you from trying it. If you want fast, more longer lasting or even permanent results, invest in laser hair removal. After 5-10 sessions, you will likely be hair free. But none of these methods are 100% perfect. Ingrown hairs and irritation may still occur so remember to do your part and clean, exfoliate and hydrate your skin routinely.
Any Natural Treatments for Hirsutism?
There are several natural supplements you can use to try and curb your excessive facial hair. Some of these have been medically documented to show promise in reducing hirsutism. Others serve as popular old wives’ tales.
Tea is very popular in areas like Asia, Europe and The Middle East. Spearmint tea in particular has been studied and found to have anti-androgen behaviors. Two cups of spearmint tea a day could drastically reduce your hirsutism.
: This natural carbohydrate-like compound is found in nature and when taken daily, researchers found that it helps regulate hormonal imbalance in women, thus reducing their excessive hair.
This is a plant that closely favors celery. Researchers found, when taken in gel form and applied on the skin, fennel reduced the thickness of unwanted hair.
Lavender and Tea Tree Oil
: An Italian study found that lavender and tea tree oil, when diluted and applied to facial hair, may reduce the appearance of the hair in women with mild cases of hirsutism.
Lemon and Potatoes
: When applied to the skin daily for several weeks, oldwives’ tales claim that the juice from lemon and potatoes the will slowly bleach your facial hair and reduce its growth.
Turmeric, Honey and Chickpea flour
: Many cultures in the Far East, especially in regions in and surrounding India, swear that a turmeric paste of chickpea flour and honey applied to the face for several days and weeks will eventually stop the hair from growing.
Who Do I Talk To About My Hirsutism?
You can express your dilemma to your general doctor. He or she will likely require you to fast the morning before your blood is drawn to look at your hormonal levels. If there is an imbalance, they should refer you to an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in hormonal disorders. That individual may run more test or start you on the proper medication. Even if your hormonal levels are normal and you still exhibit excessive androgenic characteristics, they may still advise you to talk to an endocrinologist or even a gynecologist to plan the right treatment regimen for you. If these doctors claim they cannot help you and to just invest in hair removal methods, politely leave and search for a second or third or fourth opinion. Many doctors are not always versed in dealing with complex hormonal conditions, regardless of their accolades. Know when to get up and leave.
In the meantime, consider purchasing some spearmint tea or some of the other supplements mentioned earlier. As long as they do not cause you distressing side effects, what do you have to lose? But of course, discuss these supplements with your doctor to ensure they will not counteract with any other medication you may be on.
There is a means to the hairy madness. You do not need to feel embarrassed no more! Talk to you doctor today and manage your excessive hair once and for all.