If you’re a woman who has an excessive amount of hair – a condition known as hirsutism – or who finds that it grows in unusual places, it may make you feel self-conscious about your appearance. While it might not be something you wish to discuss with anyone, you should talk about it with your doctor because there are ways of managing it. Here’s what you need to know about causes and treatments.
What is Hirsutism?
Hirsutism is the medical term used to refer to excessive hair growth in women. The hair is usually thick and dark, and may appear on the:
- Face (commonly the upper lip or chin)
- Anal and genital area
Many of those with the condition also experience other symptoms such as oily skin, acne, a receding hairline and a deeper voice than usual.
What Causes Hirsutism?
Hirsutism is caused by an excess of male sex hormones called androgens, or an increased sensitivity to androgens. This is usually caused by polycystic ovary syndrome – a condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work. However, in around 10% of cases there are no obvious causes.
How is Excessive Hair Growth Treated?
There is no cure for hirsutism but there are treatments that can help manage the condition, the most obvious being hair-removal methods. Shaving, waxing and plucking can remove the excess hair, while bleaching can make it less noticeable. Some like to use more long-lasting or permanent methods of removal such as electrolysis, laser hair removal and intense pulsed light treatment. Certain hair-removal methods can cause skin irritation for some people, so choose what works best for you.
In some cases, taking a contraceptive pill can control hirsutism. Co-cyprindiol and some combined contraceptive pills are usually the ones prescribed as they contain ingredients which suppress male sex hormones. However, they are only suitable for premenopausal women.
Eflornithine is an alternative medication that can be prescribed to both premenopausal and menopausal women. It’s a cream that can be applied thinly to your face twice a day to slow hair growth. This is usually recommended by your GP if hair-removal treatments alone are not effective and contraceptive pills are either unsuitable for you or haven’t worked.
Hirsutism is sometimes associated with being overweight, so find out your body mass index (BMI). If it indicates that you’re overweight, try to adjust your diet and exercise regime to help you lose the excess pounds, and this may reduce your body’s production of androgens.
While excess hair growth can cause anxiety, embarrassment or get you down, remember that it’s more common than you might think. Between one and three women in every 20 who have not yet started the menopause are affected, and it becomes much more common in older women. Make sure you discuss your symptoms with your GP so the best treatment for you can be determined.
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