All women produce some testosterone, higher than normal levels of which may affect your menstrual cycle and produce excess facial and body hair. A common cause of hirsutism in premenopausal women is PCOS while other causes may include congenital adrenal hyperplasia, being overweight or obese, an ovarian tumor, and/or use of birth control pills.
Most women have to reckon with some facial fuzz. But if your facial hair growth is way beyond normal and is causing you a lot of embarrassment and pain (while getting rid of it and otherwise!), it’s time to take a closer look at what’s causing it. Excessive hair growth in areas in which men usually have hair, as in the face, chest, neck, or tummy, is called hirsutism. But do take a little comfort in the fact that this is a common problem that affects around 5 to 10 percent of women.1
What Causes It?
The amount of hair that can be considered “excessive” or “normal” varies. For instance, your ethnic background may have a say in it – a little extra hair may actually just run in your family especially if you’re of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or South Asian descent. Some women seem to experience extra hair growth as they age, especially after menopause. Other than this, hirsutism is usually caused by high levels of male hormones (androgens) or when your body becomes extra sensitive to these androgens. This may happen due to a variety of reasons.
- The most common cause of hirsutism in younger women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a disorder that is characterized by high androgen levels and results in ovarian cysts and irregular periods.
- Obesity is associated with high levels of free testosterone in women and may contribute to hirsutism.2 Excess abdominal fat in particular can result in insulin resistance. High levels of insulin may also enhance androgen production.3
- Some medications like anabolic steroids or birth control pills with progesterone may mess with your hormone levels.
- Adrenal or pituitary gland disorders that cause the oversecretion of male hormones can be responsible for excessive hair. For instance, enlarged adrenal glands (adrenal hyperplasia) that results in the abnormal production of male hormones; pituitary adenomas (non-cancerous tumors) that secrete prolactin, a hormone associated with the production of androgens4; and Cushing syndrome which can be caused by tumors in the adrenal or pituitary glands can all trigger hirsutism.
- Tumors (tumors affecting the adrenal or pituitary glands as well as certain tumors of the lungs, ovaries, or digestive tract) can sometimes increase the secretion of androgens and cause hirsutism.5
What Can You Do About It?
- If you are experiencing a sudden and quick (within a few weeks or months) growth of excess hair, have developed other masculine features like a deepening of the voice, or are facing the absence of menstrual periods, you might want to see a doctor so that the underlying hormonal causes can be investigated and addressed.6 In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medication (for instance, eflornithine cream) or recommend hormone therapy to treat hirsutism.7
- Cosmetic options to remove unwanted hair that you can check out at home include waxing, shaving, or using hair removal creams. Laser hair removal and electrolysis will require the help of a professional.
- If you’re overweight, knocking off those extra pounds through a balanced diet and exercise can help control the underlying hormonal disorders such as PCOS causing the hair growth.
- Some herbal remedies described for hirsutism in alternative medicine may also be helpful. Spearmint (Menthaspicata labiatae) and neem (Azadirachta indica)8 are recommended in Unani for hirsutism and have been found to have anti-androgen properties. One study showed that spearmint tea twice a day for a month lowered the testosterone levels of women participants.9 Topical application of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) extract10 and nut grass (Cyperus rotundus) oil are also effective in treating hirsutism.11 Do remember to check with your doctor before using herbs that may affect your hormonal balance, though.
References [ + ]
|1, 2.||↑||Sachdeva, Silonie. “Hirsutism: evaluation and treatment.” Indian journal of dermatology 55, no. 1 (2010): 3.|
|3.||↑||Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) fact sheet, US Department of Health and Human Services.|
|4.||↑||HIGUCHI, KAZUMI, HAJIME NAWATA, TOSHIO MAKI, MASAYOSHI HIGASHIZIMA, KEN-ICHI KATO, and HIROSHI IBAYASHI. “Prolactin has a direct effect on adrenal androgen secretion.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 59, no. 4 (1984): 714-718.|
|5.||↑||Hirsutism, National Health Service.|
|6.||↑||R. Porter, J. Kaplan. The Merck Manual Go-To Home Guide For Symptoms. Simon and Schuster, 2013.|
|7.||↑||Treatments for hirsutism, National Health Service.|
|8.||↑||Sharma, J. D., R. K. Jha, Ira Gupta, Prabha Jain, and V. P. Dixit. “ANTIANDROGENIC PROPERTIES OF NEEM SEED OIL (AZADIRACHTA INDICA) IN MALE RAT AND RABBI.” Ancient science of life 7, no. 1 (1987): 30.|
|9.||↑||Grant, Paul. “A randomised clinical trial of the effects of spearmint herbal tea on hirsutism in females with polycystic ovarian syndrome.” (2008).|
|10.||↑||YOUSEFI, MARYAM, B. Barikbin, S. Givrad, HAMIDEH MORAVEJ, and R. KHOUSHNOUDI. “THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE EXTRACT OF SERENOA REPENS (SAW PALMETTO) IN IDIOPATHIC FACIAL HIRSUTISM (LETTER TO EDITOR).” (2009): 139-140.|
|11.||↑||EL-KAREAM, GHADA FAROUK ABD. “Role of Cyperus rotundus oil in decreasing hair growth.” Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology 1, no. 2 (2012): 111-118.|