Get Help With Your Hirsutism, Excess Hair & Other Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Symptoms

Hirsutism is one of the common symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and also one of the most difficult to deal with. That’s because hirsutism or excess facial/body hair growth is a visible symptom of PCOS that can affect the way a woman feels about her body. So it is encouraging to know that a wide variety of treatments are available to manage hirsutism, and it is important to discuss with your doctor how much these symptoms affect you.

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Why Does PCOS Cause You to Have Excessive Facial and Body Hair?

Androgens, sometimes referred to as male hormones, are normally present in both men and women — but at much lower levels in women. All women produce small amounts of androgens in body tissues, including in the ovaries.

In women, the female sex hormone oestrogen makes the hair fine and soft. The male sex hormone androgen is responsible for coarse, dark hair. An excess level of androgens imparts male-like characteristics such as excessive body hair, scalp hair loss, and acne. This kind of hormonal imbalance is often seen in people with PCOS who show elevated levels of androgens and hence have excess growth of facial and body hair, known as hirsutism.

Hirsutism tends to have a pattern. The hair often grows in areas where it is more typical for men to grow hair, such as the face, chin, chest, and back. Also, this hair is thicker and darker than usual.

Other Factors That Impact Hairiness

Remember that hairiness is not the same thing as hirsutism. How body hair grows can be determined by a number of factors, and your genetics play a huge role in the colour, distribution, and thickness of your hair. Hirsutism should be differentiated from generalised excessive hair growth, which is mostly seen on forearms or lower legs and is not due to androgen excess. It is imperative not only to identify the cause of hirsutism but also to determine the right treatment based on the main causative factor.

One way to differentiate between normal hair growth and hirsutism is to check for growth patterns. Has your hair growth suddenly become more coarse? Do you observe hair growth in areas of the body such as the face, back, chest, abdomen, and inner thighs?

If you are experiencing such male-pattern hair growth along with irregular periods, scalp hair loss, acne, and weight gain, it is advised to see a doctor who will recommend appropriate blood tests that can check for your PCOS risk levels.

What Is an Endocrine Disorder?

PCOS is an endocrine disorder, which means it affects the endocrine system. The endocrine system consists of eight major glands in your body that are involved in growth and development, sexual function, metabolism, and mood. Improper functioning of the endocrine system can result in hormonal imbalance, meaning hormone levels that are too high or too low. In PCOS specifically, an imbalance in the hormone levels of insulin and androgen is responsible for causing the symptoms.

What Are the Health Effects of Hirsutism?

PCOS is an endocrine disorder, which means it affects the endocrine system. The endocrine system consists of eight major glands in your body that are involved in growth and development, sexual function, metabolism, and mood. Improper functioning of the endocrine system can result in hormonal imbalance, meaning hormone levels that are too high or too low. In PCOS specifically, an imbalance in the hormone levels of insulin and androgen is responsible for causing the symptoms.

How to Remove Hair

For hirsutism, threading, shaving, and waxing are all effective in reducing hair growth. Depending on your preference and suitability, you can choose any of these methods. Though they are simple and inexpensive, these methods are temporary and have their own side effects, like physical discomfort, scarring, or in some cases, folliculitis or irritant contact dermatitis. For some people, laser hair removal is another option that can give longer-lasting results than shaving or waxing.

Shaving

Shaving is one of the easiest and most common methods of hair removal. Not only can you shave any part of the body, but shaving is also painless and cost-effective. Having said that, the results are temporary (up to a few days) and you need to shave every few days to maintain the desired results. Although it seems like a simple technique, shaving can cause razor bumps, nicks, or cuts if not done properly.

Waxing

Waxing is another common hair removal method that gives longer-lasting results than shaving (up to a few weeks). Waxing removes the hair from the follicles (root), thus delaying the growth of new hair. You can easily wax large parts of the body, such as arms, legs, underarms, delicate areas, and even upper lips. However, waxing can be painful and might not suit everybody. If you have sensitive skin or any skin conditions, waxing can leave your skin red or irritated. It is also not recommended to wax if you are using certain medications such as isotretinoin or certain antibiotics.

Depilatory Hair Removal Creams

Depilatories are products in the form of lotions, creams or gels that dissolve unwanted hair. Depilatories give longer-lasting results than shaving and are easy to use. These products can sometimes irritate your skin, so it’s best to test them out first before applying them to a larger area. To do this, apply a small amount of product to a small area and see if it burns or stings. Wait for 24 hours after applying the product, and if you don’t have a skin reaction, you can use the product.

Laser Hair Removal

For women with PCOS who are struggling with excess facial hair or body hair, laser hair removal is the most effective treatment for significant hair growth reduction. And thanks to advances in technology, most people can safely have laser hair removal. It is important to note that laser hair removal can be dangerous in inexperienced hands and should be performed only by a trained professional.

The way laser hair removal works is that a laser emits light that is absorbed by the pigment (melanin) present in hair follicles and generates heat. This heat damages the hair follicle, thus delaying or inhibiting future hair growth.

Laser hair removal does require multiple treatments; a single use of the laser is not enough. And the results may vary depending on your hair colour and skin type. Although laser hair removal does not guarantee permanent results, when the hair regrows, it is usually finer and lighter in colour.

Electrolysis

Electrolysis works by sending electrical currents through the hair follicle which damage the follicle, preventing the hair from growing back. Since hair grows in cycles, you may need multiple sessions for hair to be removed permanently. Electrolysis is the only permanent way to remove hair, and once the hair is removed, you won’t need maintenance treatments. It can work on all skin types, regardless of colour. Electrolysis should be performed by professionals only; in inexperienced hands, it can cause scarring or burns.

Diagnosis

Depilatories are products in the form of lotions, creams or gels that dissolve unwanted hair. Depilatories give longer-lasting results than shaving and are easy to use. These products can sometimes irritate your skin, so it’s best to test them out first before applying them to a larger area. To do this, apply a small amount of product to a small area and see if it burns or stings. Wait for 24 hours after applying the product, and if you don’t have a skin reaction, you can use the product.

Treatment

Hirsutism is one of the PCOS symptoms that takes the longest to show improvement. While other PCOS symptoms like irregular periods and weight gain can start improving as early as 3 months in, hirsutism can take 9 months to see a visible difference — and often longer. Usually, women opt for a combination of cosmetic treatments such as shaving, waxing, or lasers along with medications such as oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) or anti-androgen drugs to manage hirsutism. Although cosmetic treatments for hirsutism do help in making it easier to live with the symptoms, they only provide short-term solutions. You have to develop sustainable lifestyle habits to see changes in hirsutism and to manage PCOS for life.

Following a healthy lifestyle is a very important part of your treatment plan. This means eating a nutritious and balanced diet, exercising regularly, managing stress, and getting good quality sleep each night. Following a healthy lifestyle helps manage the underlying hormonal imbalance, which can in turn reduce signs of hirsutism.

Medications

In cases in which cosmetic treatments haven’t worked for excess hair or acne, birth control pills or OCPs can also help. Although we associate OCPs with birth control, they can also help manage PCOS symptoms by reducing the levels of androgen in the body. This is because most oral contraceptives in the market today contain anti-androgen agents. These basically reduce the amount of free testosterone in your body, which diminishes these symptoms.

Anti-androgens are also available for use in more severe cases of scalp hair loss, excess facial and body hair growth, and acne. Anti-androgens should be considered in treating hirsutism only after cosmetic therapy and 6 to 12 months of OCPs haven’t worked for you (Spironolactone is one such anti-androgen drug). However, anti-androgen drugs can be harmful to an unborn child, as they can cause birth defects. For this reason, anti-androgens must be used with some form of contraception in women who are not trying to conceive.

You should take these drugs only under the guidance and advice of a medical professional.

Ayurveda and Natural Remedies

One of these therapies is using spearmint tea for hirsutism. Recent research has shown that spearmint tea may be used as a treatment for mild hirsutism in women. Its anti-androgenic properties may help reduce the level of free testosterone in the blood, which can help manage hirsutism better. However, the research on using spearmint tea for hirsutism is limited, and more robust studies are required before any conclusions can be made in regard to its effectiveness.

Having said that, it is encouraging to know that natural remedies like spearmint tea can be beneficial to your diet. But home remedies alone will not help you reverse PCOS and are only a complementary therapy to your treatment. Always discuss any home remedies you’re trying with a doctor.

Talk to a PCOS Professional

If you are not sure whether your excess facial hair or body hair could mean hirsutism, speak to a doctor who can help you understand the root cause of your symptoms. Being hairy does not always mean hirsutism. Hirsutism has a pattern, and a professional can help you identify the pattern. At Veera, our doctors and experts specialise in treating PCOS and giving you the care you deserve. Regardless of your symptoms and concerns, our care team can help you understand your body better and give you access to the right guidance and resources.

Take Our Online Assessment to Get Started

Symptoms of PCOS can show up in many ways, and hirsutism is one of them. If you are not sure if your symptoms indicate PCOS, take our free PCOS risk screening quiz that is developed by clinicians and experts to help you understand your PCOS risk levels. Depending on your symptoms and medical and family history, you could fall in the low-, medium-, or high-risk category.

This screening quiz is a great preliminary assessment to understand where you stand in terms of your PCOS risk levels, and it can help you access the right treatment options.