Hirsutism is a term that refers to the growth of excess facial and body hair in women. It's suggested that 1 in 10 women suffer from hirsutism to some degree, although the severity of the problem may be worse for some women than others due to: age, ethnic background and hormonal change. The excess hair that grows appears thicker, darker and coarser than the fine hair that covers the majority of skin, and is known clinically as terminal hair.
Hirsutism can have a significant psychological impact on a person's wellbeing; excess hair on the facial area, such as the lips or chin it can cause emotional distress and embarrassment. If the problem occurs in other areas of the body, such as the thighs and pelvic region it can take its toll on the sufferer's desire to have sexual relationships over the long term.
Androgens are male sex hormones produced by the body responsible for the development of hirsutism. Androgens are present in all women, but those with hirsutism show signs of either an increased production of androgens, or an increased sensitivity to androgens.
Almost three quarters of hirsutism cases in premenopausal women are caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which women have a number of small cysts around the edge of their ovaries. PCOS can also cause: acne, weight gain and irregular periods. In rare instances, hirsutism in premenopausal women may be caused by hormonal disorders and medications containing anabolic steroids.
During the menopause hormone levels change which can produce a high amount of testosterone, which can increase the development of hirsutism.
Hirsutism typically develops as a woman reaches puberty and may worsen with age. After the menopause, the change in the balance of hormones can trigger excess hair to grow more frequently. It is thought up to three quarters of older women may have slightly increased facial hair as a result of this transition. Hirsutism in post-menopausal women is also known as ovarian hyperthecosis.
The early indications of hirsutism are excess growth of hair in parts of the body, such as:
Other unrelated hirsutism symptoms to look out for include:
If your hirsutism is mild, using hair-removal methods may be all the treatment you need. Shaving, bleaching, waxing, electrolysis and laser hair removal methods are short-term solutions that can be tested safely. If the hirsutism is affecting your quality of life, you may require further treatment, such as medication.
Contraceptive pills are only suitable if you have not yet started the menopause. A combined oral contraceptive or co-cyprindiol may be suggested by your healthcare provider. However, both medications may take approximately six months to work and have been known to produce side effects.
Vaniqa is an alternative medication that can be prescribed to both premenopausal women and menopausal women suffering from facial hirsutism. This topical cream treatment can be applied thinly to your face twice a day to reduce the severity and production of hair growth between treatments. It contains an ingredient called eflornithine which acts on the hair follicles to prevent hair growth. Results from clinical studies have shown that women using Vaniqa notice an effect within six to eight weeks. This treatment is not suitable for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.