You hear facial hair and I guess you immediately think of a man, right? Have you ever wondered why that happens? The thing is that we all have hair. Sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes darker, sometimes lighter; but we all have it. PCOS, though, can increase hair growth on our face, body or chin, AKA Hirsutism.
Hair and hormones in PCOS
The topic of hair is a little more complex than “you either have it or you don’t,” because it has a lot more to do with genes and hormone production and secretion. An increase in Testosterone and other androgens (a group of hormones responsible for male characteristics, among other things) can sometimes lead to hirsutism (the medical term for increased hair growth). Hirsutism is when women (or individuals assigned female at birth) develop hair that is thick, coarse, and dark. This grows in places like the face, neck, chest, lower abdomen and back, buttocks or thighs. It is directly related to the production and secretion of our androgen hormones.
Hirsutism vs. hypertrichosis
There are so many fancy words to describe hair growth, I wouldn’t blame you if you are a bit confused!
Just to remind you, hirsutism is dependent on the production and secretion of androgens. It describes increased hair growth in women which follows a male distribution pattern. For example, when seeing the effects of androgens, hair usually grows on facial areas, lower back, lower abdomen, and legs. This is because those areas are usually those where men (who have naturally higher levels of androgens) grow hair.
Hypertrichosis, on the other hand, is when excess hair grows anywhere on the body and is over and above the normal hair growth for the person’s age, sex and ethnicity. It is a relatively rare condition and can be genetic, caused by medications or malnutrition (e.g. eating disorders or cancer). Hypertrichosis is not due to increased androgens and so is not caused by PCOS.
What does PCOS have to do with my face/body/chin hair?
Due to the hormonal differences in conditions such as PCOS, excess hair in women can be seen more often in people with PCOS. PCOS is characterized by an irregular menstrual cycle, ovarian cysts, and/or evidence of elevated androgens (e.g. increased hair growth or acne). The Hormona team has written an interesting piece on the 5 biggest misconceptions of PCOS which I highly suggest you take a look at!
Hirsutism can also exist with other hormonal conditions such as Cushing’s disease and other adrenal gland disorders, insulin resistance as well as some medications.
Treatments for excessive or unwanted face/body/chin hair
The great news about all this is that excess or unwanted hair is highly treatable! Meaning, you can make it go away. For all those that were waiting for the end to find out how you can remove hair safely, here it is.
There are 3 main options: Treatment with medication (also known as pharmacological intervention), hair removal, or a combination of the two.
If you are already taking medication for other symptoms of PCOS then you might have already noticed a reduction in your face/body/ chin hair.
It is best to speak to a doctor before proceeding with any type of medication. This is so that your doctor can run any tests they consider necessary and reasonable. It also helps them form a comprehensive treatment plan.
Hair removal techniques:
Before we start this section, I just want to point out that leaving your hair exactly the way it is is completely okay! It is your body and you should feel free to have hair or not have hair, exactly as you please. If you are finding that your hair is bothering you though (and don’t get me started on how society makes women feel like we shouldn’t grow hair) then you might want to try some of the options below.
Waxing can be effective as it doesn’t have to be done as often as other methods of hair removal such as shaving. However, waxing can aggravate your skin, especially when not done correctly, or if you have sensitive skin. It can also leave your pores vulnerable, potentially forming pimples or leading to ingrown hairs.
Other options also include threading and using tweezers. It does take longer, but you may be eliminating some of the aggravation to your skin.
Shaving can be quick, easy, and effective. You can do it in the comfort and privacy of your own home and you can do it as often as you like. A common fear around shaving is that hair will grow back thicker and darker than it already does, and at super-lightning speed. Your hair always grows at the same rate (this is just surprisingly quickly, and more noticeable when you have just shaved).
Laser hair removal
Electrolysis and laser hair removal therapies are the closest we can get to permanent or near-permanent hair removal, though both can be costly. Depending on your preferences, pain tolerance, and a bunch of other personal factors, there are a few options to choose from. As mentioned in my other article linked above, my best advice to you is to keep things clean (hygienic) and safe.
Overall, humans have hair. And that includes women, too! PCOS is one condition that can increase hair growth on our body/face/ chin. If you want to remove it, cool, if you want to keep it, that’s cool too! But we shouldn’t feel shame for having it.
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