Hirsutism is the term used for excess facial and body hair growth in women. It is one of the distressing and often embarrasing signs of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
The hair growth is similar to a male hair growth pattern – growing on the upper lip, chin and often more hair growing on the arms and legs. Some women may experience hair growth on their chest, extending from the pubic hair area onto the tummy and thighs. The severity depends on the degree of PCOS, culture and ethnicity of the woman.
What causes hirsutism in PCOS?
Women have the same number of hairs on their bodies and faces as men do. The male hormone (androgen), testosterone, makes hairs grow thicker, darker and longer, so that they appear more noticeable.
All women produce small amounts of testosterone and low levels of this male hormone allows terminal hairs to appear in the pubic (groin) and axillary (armpit) areas and around the brown circles of the nipple. This is normal and happens from around puberty. It is when there are higher levels of testosterone, hair starts to grow on the face, over the shoulders, tummy, thighs etc.
Medical treatment for hirsutism
Medical doctors and endocrinologists may prescribe various medications to help slow hair growth down and make it less noticeable. Some of the prescribed medications may take up to 12 months to make a significant difference and often continued for several years. Unfortunately, in most cases, the excess hair growth will return once tablets have been stopped.
Some of the medical treatments include:
- Oral contraceptive pill
Side effects include bleeding between periods, tender breasts, nausea and headaches.
- Anti androgen drugs such as cyproterone (to reduce testosterone)
Side effects of high doses include weight gain, depression, and loss of libido (sex drive).
- Spironolactone which is both a weak diuretic and anti-androgenic.
Side effects include tender breasts and irregular periods.
- Metformin – often used for diabetes, is commonly prescribed to women with PCOS to treat not just excess hair growth but other symptoms of PCOS.
Side effects include nausea, abdominal cramps, flatulence and constipation.
- Topical application of eflornithine (VaniqaÒ cream) has been shown to slow down facial hair growth by inhibiting a key enzyme involved in hair growth. It is said to slow hair growth in 70% of women.
Cosmetic treatment for unwanted hair
The following are examples of what women have used to remove unwanted hair:
- Depilatory creams
- Shaving – electric shavers are probably better than wet type, as there is less tendency to irritate or damage the skin.
- Electrolysis – may result in permanent hair loss, but takes time as a small area is treated every few weeks. It can be expensive and unskilled treatment may cause scarring.
- Laser therapy – useful for facial hair removal in certain skin types.
Natural treatment for hirsutism
The good news is there are effective, natural treatments for hirsuitsm. Treating the cause of your PCOS symptoms and signs is a MUST to overcome unwanted hair growth.
Your answers for the natural treatment of unwanted/excess hair are found in The Natural PCOS Diet!