You know how we ladies freak out when we notice some unwelcome little body hairs popping out in places like the upper lip and chin. Now try to imagine this hair growing on a greater scale not only your chin but on your chest, arms and legs somewhat like a man. Well this is actually a hair growth condition called Hirsutism.
Wikipedia describes Hirsutism as excessive hairiness on women in those areas where terminal hair is absent or minimal. It’s a condition in which the hair distribution in a woman takes on a male pattern.
Hirsutism is due to over expression of androgens – male sex hormones. Females usually produce minimal amounts of androgens, insufficient to result in any clinical manifestations. Most of the time Hirsutism is mild and does not raise any alarm but occasionally it may be due to an androgen secreting tumor. Therefore this excessive hair growth has to be evaluated by a medical professional.
A few well known causes of Hirsutism are:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where the ovary has multiple cysts. It results in ovarian dysfunction and is associated with acne, frontal balding, infertility and irregular menstrual cycles.
- Idiopathic Hirsutism – idiopathic means lacking a cause. It has no known cause but is managed like PCOS. It does not lead to irregular menstrual cycles and just raises cosmetic concerns.
Treatment for Hirsutism is not mandatory especially if it’s mild and idiopathic. It is normally down to the individual to decide to treat this condition. This choice is often affected by culture and ethnicity. Take, for instance, women from Middle East and the Indian sub-continent generally grow more hair than women from The Far East. In some cultures women are encouraged to keep hair but in the West, revealing fashion forces women to remove ‘excess’ body hair.
In general, treatment is long term as it involves constant suppression of androgen secretion. Some of the typical medication used for suppression of androgen secretion includes:
- Birth control pills – They improve the regularity of menstrual cycles and can even restore them completely plus they suppress androgen secretion however if you wish to get pregnant you have to terminate this medication.
- Anti-androgens – They inhibit the production of androgens or block their sites of action (receptors). Commonly used anti-androgens include spironolactone, finasteride and cyproterone acetate
The effects of medication may take as long as 6 months to be manifested so other methods are used concurrently to cut down on the hair growth.
Hair Removal Techniques for Hirsutism
Laser and Electrolysis
These techniques target the hair follicle. Electrolysis uses a fine needle to direct a current to the hair follicle to destroy it while laser treatment targets a laser beam to the hair follicle to kill it. Electrolysis is best suited for smaller areas.
Laser is better in treatment of large surface areas and is preferably used in the light-skinned with dark hair as dark skin will absorb much of the laser beam energy resulting in potential skin damage. Although both are considered as permanent hair removal techniques, in Hirsutism they have to be followed up with anti-androgens or else hair will re-grow.
It’s been tried and tested and has passed the test of time. Shaving involves cutting the hair shaft near the skin level using razor blade or an electric shaving machine. This method is low-cost but can lead to skin irritation e.g. razor burns and ingrown hairs because you have to shave very often.
Chemical Hair Removal, Waxing, and Bleaching
Hair removal agents and Brazilian waxing is used to remove hair and bleaches can be used to lighten hair or match it to skin color so as to camouflage it. Be on the look-out for any allergic reactions to depilatories and bleaches.
A popular dermatological cream called Eflornithine hydrochloride (Vaniqua) is popularly used to delay the growth of unwanted facial hair in women unfortunately it doesn’t eliminate hair permanently. Results take around 6-8 weeks to be manifested.