Women grow up believing that their hair is their crowning glory, but what happens when it grows excessively over their bodies? A 2017 study revealed that about 50 percent of millennials believe too much hair can reduce their self-esteem.
But why does this happen, and how can a woman deal with it?
What Is Hirsutism?
Hirsutism is a very common disorder of excessive hairiness, especially in women. It is different from hypertrichosis, which is also characterized by abnormal and excessive hair growth but occurs in more areas and affects both sexes.
Hirsutism usually affects the chin and upper lip, lower abdomen, and pubic area (crack of the buttocks). But it may also occur on the chest and thighs and other parts, such as arms and legs.
Hirsutism can occur for the following reasons:
1. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a hormonal condition that affects fertility in women. Although there are many possible types of PCOS, one has something to do with testosterone, a type of androgen.
All women have testosterone, and it helps regulate reproductive processes and behaviors like sex drive. But males have ten times as much higher levels than females throughout the body. Therefore, excessive androgens in women can lead to more pronounced male-related bodily changes such as acne, weight gain, irregular periods, and hirsutism.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. However, researchers believe it may be caused by a combination of the following:
- A problem with ovulation
- Malfunction of the hypothalamus gland in the brain, which is responsible for the secretion of hormones that control the menstrual cycle and production of eggs in ovaries
- Abnormal insulin function
2. Cushing’s Syndrome (Adrenal Disorder)
Cushing’s syndrome is a disorder of the body due to high cortisol levels. Cortisol helps maintain blood pressure and blood sugar levels, among other important functions in the body.
However, Cushing syndrome can cause excessive androgen secretion by stimulating the reticulated areas. This will lead to symptoms such as hirsutism, weight gain, etc.
3. Drug-Induced Hirsutism
Hirsutism can be caused by certain drugs. These include corticosteroids, which increase the levels of cortisol that then stimulate the excessive production of androgen. Taking testosterone can also have the same effect.
4. Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is an inherited disorder caused by a problem with enzymes responsible for cortisol production.
5. Idiopathic Hirsutism
Idiopathic hirsutism is a condition in which the body’s androgen levels are extremely high for unknown reasons, even though the ovaries function normally. It occurs more frequently between 20 and 40 years old.
How to Manage Hirsutism
Hirsutism cannot be cured, but treatment can help manage the symptoms and make living with hirsutism more manageable.
1. Hair Removal Options
Hirsutism can be a difficult condition to live with for many women, which is why there are different hair removal options:
- Shaving: Shaving is an inexpensive way to remove unwanted hair. However, it can damage the skin and does not leave a smooth feel as waxing or laser treatments do. You might need to shave several times a week with this treatment option.
- Epilation: An epilator can pull out the entire hair from its root at once. It can be painful to use.
- Waxing: Waxing is one of the most popular methods of removing unwanted hair because it leaves skin smooth for weeks, even up to three months. However, it can also cause skin irritation and redness.
- Laser Hair Removal Treatment: Probably the most effective way of removing unwanted hair is using laser hair removal machines. The laser targets the pigment in your hair follicles, which will destroy them and reduce dark or coarse hairs over time. Although it is also one of the more expensive methods, hair damaged by the procedure seldom grows back.
2. Progesterone or Estrogen Therapies
Progesterone is a hormone normally produced in the ovaries. It works with other hormones, such as estrogen, to regulate the menstrual cycle and maintain pregnancy.
Studies show an inverse correlation between these female hormones and androgens: testosterone increases when progesterone and estrogen decline.
For this reason, doctors may suggest progesterone and/or estrogen therapies to help deal with excessive hair growth. Besides slower hair growth, these medications can also manage other symptoms associated with PCOS, such as weight gain and irregular menstrual cycles.
Note, though, that these medications are prescriptions. You need to ask a doctor to evaluate whether this is the best strategy to manage hirsutism.
3. Insulin-Sensitizing Medications
Insulin is a hormone naturally produced by the pancreas that helps your body get energy from food. If you have insulin resistance — meaning your body can’t use insulin effectively — it triggers the ovaries to produce more androgens.
In the end, hirsutism is often a symptom of an underlying illness. The best approach then is to treat the root cause, which will also manage other accompanying symptoms.