Hirsutism: The Causes and Solutions to Excessive Hair Growth
Hirsutism is a condition prevalent in women with excess male hormones, mostly testosterone, where excessive growths of dark or coarse hair appear on their face, chest and back in a male-like pattern.
Both men and women produce androgens, commonly known as male hormones, and excessive facial hair in women can be a result of raised androgen production, increased sensitivity or an imbalance between male and female sex hormones.
Between five and 10 per cent of women suffer from hirsutism at some stage in their life. With a mild form, there may be significant growth of hair on the upper lip, chin, sideburn area and around the nipples or lower abdomen.
Hirsutism is characterised by the growth of mature hair so it will be the same colour as that growing on the scalp. Advanced hirsutism will cause mature hair to grow on the upper back, shoulders, chest and upper abdomen.
If hirsutism begins around the time of puberty, the cause could be hormonal problems and a doctor should be consulted. Around half of people with hirsutism have it caused by an excess of androgens such as testosterone, although some women for unknown reasons have hair follicles that are abnormally sensitive to androgens.
A common cause is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which is a condition defined by an imbalance of sex hormones. This is often characterised by irregular menstrual patterns, though if this is a more recent occurrence doctors may test for more serious conditions such as a tumour of the ovaries, adrenal glands or pituitary gland.
There is also growing evidence that links high levels of insulin to increased androgen production and consequently hirsutism.
Cushing syndrome is another cause which occurs when a person’s body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol. It can stem from taking certain medications over a long period of time or simply from the adrenal glands making too much cortisol.
Most women develop facial hair as they get older, particularly after menopause when the ovaries stop producing estrogen yet continue to produce androgens. However, females of any age can develop hirsutism.
The link between insulin and this condition means women who have Type 2 diabetes and are obese can often be susceptible, while others are genetically predisposed which means they will suffer from hirsutism without an underlying condition.
The Treatment Options
A combination of approaches can be most effective and includes oral contraceptive pills as well as anti-androgen medications to lower the level of androgen and block its action on hair follicles.
Women can also be advised to reduce their weight, go on a diet and exercise if they are obese or have PCOS. If the patient has an underlying hormonal disorder, then this must be treated. Prescription creams moreover can be directly applied to help slow the growth of new hair.
Another option is intense pulsed light treatment, otherwise known as IPL, which is a fast, safe and long-lasting solution. It makes use of broad wavelength light to penetrate the skin without causing any surface damage and applies heat to the affected areas where hair is then removed.
IPL has the added benefit of reaching down beneath the skin to fix superficial marks on the outer layer as well as treating conditions arising from deeper issues.