Sunday, November 15, 2015
As a woman, excessive hair growth can be embarrassing. Society often dictates that women should appear hair-free in order to be considered feminine. Whether or not you agree with this view, excessive hair growth in places where only men usually get hair can be annoying.
The growth of excessive hair in areas of the body which only men usually grow hair, such as the upper lip, chin, chest and stomach is called hirsutism. This condition affects between 1 and 3 in every 20 women and can lead to embarrassment, a drop in self-confidence and even depression. Out of shame and fear of mockery, many women choose to treat this condition at home - but is this really the best way to treat it?
Women who suffer from hirsutism grow thick, dark and coarse hair on their body, as opposed to the thin and light hair which is normally found all over the body. This hair may appear in the following places:
Hirsutism is also often associated with other symptoms such as acne, oily skin, a receding hairline on the head and deepening of the voice.
Hirsutism is caused by either an excess of the male hormone testosterone (or androgens) or by the hair follicles being over sensitive to androgens causing them to grow excess hair. Both men and women produce testosterone in their bodies, with men usually producing a larger amount than women. In the case of hirsutism sufferers, the body produces too much testosterone, stimulating the hair follicles to grow thick hair in places usually associated with male hair growth.
High levels of testosterone are often found in women who suffer polycystic ovary syndrome. POS causes small cysts or fluid-filled sacks to form on the ovaries. POS is often the most common cause of hirsutism.
Hirsutism can often be found to run in the genes. Women whose mothers or sisters have hirsutism are much more likely to develop the condition themselves. The condition is also more common in women from the Middle East, Mediterranean and South Asia.
Certain medications can change the body’s hormone levels and this can result in unwanted hair growth. Drugs which can have this effect include:
Being overweight can be a factor in the development of hirsutism. Researchers have also found links between the high circulating levels of insulin in obese women and the development of hirsutism.
While it may be tempting to simply remove the excess hair caused by hirsutism by shaving or waxing, this should always be avoided. Repeated hair removal treatments such as these can cause skin irritation like rashes or folliculitis (inflamed hair follicles). Folliculitis can be painful and usually takes a few weeks to resolve itself, during which you must discontinue any hair removal methods completely. Shaving can also cause the hair to grow back thicker, darker and coarser which will only exacerbate the situation.
Other methods such as laser treatment, electrolysis and threading may be prolific at removing hair but they can also cause damage to the skin, especially in sensitive areas such as the face.
There is no cure for hirsutism, but our GP, Dr Helen Webberley can give you plenty of advice on how to manage the condition and prescribe the best course of treatment. Taking a contraceptive pill can often help to regulate the body’s hormone levels in premenopausal women as it boosts oestrogen levels to combat the excess testosterone.
Losing weight can also improve the symptoms of hirsutism by getting insulin levels under control. In addition to this, losing weight can also result in a decrease in the androgens in the body. There are several unlicensed drugs (medicines which have not been specifically tested for this purpose) that are known to be effective in the treatment of hirsutism, but these should be avoided and advice should always be sought from health professionals before taking any medication.