When Things Get Hairy

If you’re a woman who’s noticed unusually thick and coarse hair on your face and body, you may have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).  It’s the most common cause of excessive hair growth, called hirsuitism in medical terms, in women.

PCOS is an endocrine disorder that’s highly associated with overweight, especially around the waist, and with insulin resistance. It’s thought that excess insulin causes the ovaries to secrete extra testosterone, leading to masculine physical effects including acne, male pattern baldness, and body hair. Other symptoms of PCOS include menstrual changes, as well as acanthosis nigricans and sleep apnea, both of which are associated with type 2 diabetes. Women with PCOS often develop type 2 diabetes.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you’ve become hirsuit, it’s most important that you address the underlying cause by talking with your doctor about PCOS and diabetes. What’s good for your health will be good for your hirsuitism.  Medicines to reduce insulin resistance may be helpful, as well as medications to boost your feminine hormones and reduce your masculine ones.  Losing weight may also help.

Hirsuitism Today, Gone Tomorrow

If you’ve taken action with your doctor and you’re still concerned about excess hair, there are a number of steps you can take.  Bleaching can help if the hair isn’t too thick. Actual hair removal is done in one of two ways:  depilation or epilation.  Depilation is the process of removing the part of the hair that lies above the skin. Shaving's the most common example, but it's often irritating and leaves a rough stubble. Chemical depilatories, which cause the hair to disintegrate above the skin, work for large hairy areas if more expensive treatments such as electrolysis and or laser epilation are out of reach.

Epilation means removing the intact hair and its root together as one. There are several common methods, including plucking, tweezing, and waxing, as well as home epilating devices that remove hair by a rotary or frictional method. None is permanent, and all involve the possibility of follicle (root) inflammation, but they are relatively inexpensive and effective.

Permanent epilation methods include electrolysis, thermolysis, and laser epilation,  Electrolysis and thermolysis use a fine electric wire to destroy the hair by sending an  electric current down the hair shaft.  Both methods are slow and require multiple treatments, and their success depends on the skill of the operator.

Laser hair removal is one of the newest and most expensive hair removal techniques.  Pigment in the hair absorbs pulses of light that destroy the hair without damaging the surrounding skin.  It’s most effective on light-skinned people with dark hair, because the laser specifically targets pigment. The procedure has to be done several times, to catch hair in all stages of growth.

No matter how you deal with hirsuitism, it’s vital that you see your doctor first. Hirsuitism is a sign of endocrine problems, potentially PCOS and type 2 diabetes.  Receiving medical treatment for those problems and improving your health are the best way to face down  hirsuitism. 

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