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Hirsutism I Unwanted Hair Growth in Women

Uncover the science behind hirsutism, its cultural implications, and effective strategies to manage excess hair growth in women during perimenopause and beyond. Empower yourself with knowledge, self-care tips, and hair...

Let's talk about something we have all dealt with at some point, but rarely discuss openly: hirsutism, or excess hair growth. As we age, particularly during perimenopause and menopause, we may start to notice more hair on our faces, necks, or other unwanted areas. While it can be frustrating and embarrassing, it's important to understand the science behind it, the cultural stigma attached to it, and how we can manage it effectively. In this article, we'll discuss what causes hirsutism, the cultural history of female hair growth, and some tips to help you deal with unwanted hair.


Cultural History and Stigma of Unwanted Female Hair Growth

Throughout history and across different cultures, the presence of body and facial hair in women has often been viewed negatively. In almost all cultures the stigma attached to female hair growth is deeply ingrained in cultural norms and beauty standards. Women with visible body or facial hair may experience social ostracism or even be considered unclean (4). If you feel that this is silly and particularly hypocritical coming from men that have never groomed any part of their own body hair - then we and many other women agree with you. Having hair on your body is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of, no matter what others (men or women!) tell you. 


However, the pressure to conform to societal beauty standards has led women to go to great lengths to remove unwanted hair. In India, for example, traditional hair removal practices such as threading and waxing have been passed down through generations. However, the cultural stigma surrounding hirsutism can be damaging to a woman's self-esteem and mental health. Let’s dive into why this happens and what you can do about it.


Causes of Hirsutism: PCOS, Perimenopause, and Androgens

Hirsutism is mainly caused by an increase in androgens, a group of hormones that regulate the development of male characteristics, including hair growth. Women also produce androgens, but in much smaller quantities. However, certain conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and perimenopause can cause an increase in androgen levels, resulting in unwanted hair growth (1).


PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects 5-10% of women of reproductive age, causing irregular periods, acne, and hirsutism. The condition is characterized by elevated levels of androgens, which can lead to the growth of excess hair on the face and body (2).


Perimenopause, on the other hand, is the transitional period before menopause, where hormone levels start to fluctuate. During this time, estrogen levels may decrease while androgen levels remain stable, causing an imbalance that can lead to hirsutism (3). Several other factors can contribute to increased androgens during perimenopause, such as ovarian dysfunction, adrenal gland issues, insulin resistance, and obesity.  During perimenopause, hormonal fluctuations may further exacerbate hirsutism in women with PCOS due to the imbalance between estrogen and androgen levels. Several other factors can contribute to increased androgens during perimenopause, such as ovarian dysfunction, adrenal gland issues, insulin resistance, and obesity. 


Duration of Hirsutism and its Relation to Post-Menopause:

The duration of hirsutism varies from person to person, as it largely depends on the underlying cause and individual hormonal fluctuations. In some cases, hirsutism may improve once hormone levels stabilize post-menopause. However, this is not always the case, as each woman's experience with menopause and hormonal changes is unique (6).


For some women, the decrease in estrogen levels during menopause may lead to an imbalance in the ratio of androgens to estrogens. This imbalance could continue to cause hirsutism even after menopause. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional to assess your specific situation and determine the appropriate course of action to manage hirsutism during and after menopause. 



Living with Hirsutism: Support and Self-Care

In our journey of embracing our bodies and dealing with hirsutism, it's crucial to prioritize self-care and seek support from our loved ones, healthcare professionals, and communities. Here are some tips on living with hirsutism and taking care of your physical and emotional well-being:

  1. Educate yourself: Understanding the science behind hirsutism and the factors contributing to it can help you make informed decisions about your health and find the right support.
  1. Seek professional help: A healthcare professional can help you identify the underlying cause of your hirsutism and develop a personalized treatment plan.
  1. Connect with others: Sharing your experiences and connecting with others who are going through similar challenges can provide emotional support and help break the stigma surrounding hirsutism.
  1. Focus on self-care: Prioritize your mental and emotional well-being by practicing self-care techniques such as meditation, exercise, and maintaining a balanced diet.
  1. Embrace your body: Remember that your body is unique, beautiful, and entirely your own. Whether you choose to remove your unwanted hair or let it grow, focus on self-acceptance and self-love.

Eight Tips to Get Rid of Unwanted Hair:

While it's essential to embrace our bodies and the natural changes that come with aging, managing unwanted hair growth may be important for our confidence and well-being. Here are five tips to help you deal with hirsutism:

1. Threading: Threading is an ancient technique commonly used throughout Asia to remove facial hair. It's less painful than waxing and can provide precise hair removal making it one of the most popular methods for upper lip, chin and eyebrow hair taming.

2. Bleaching: Bleaching is a convenient and non-invasive method for women looking to conceal unwanted facial hair. By using a specially formulated cream containing hydrogen peroxide or other lightening agents, the hair is lightened to blend in with the natural skin tone, making it less noticeable. While bleaching does not eliminate hair growth, it offers a temporary and pain-free way to improve the appearance of unwanted facial hair.

3. Laser hair removal: Laser hair removal such as IPL is a more permanent solution that targets hair follicles and inhibits hair growth. This method can be expensive and may require multiple sessions, but the results can be long-lasting (5). There are many salons offering laser hair removal with Kaya being a pioneer and leader in the space in India. Suitable for your entire body including facial hair.

4. Sugaring is a natural hair removal technique that has been practiced for centuries in various regions, including India. It involves using a paste made from sugar, water, and lemon juice, which is applied to the skin and then removed, taking the hair with it. The sugaring paste can be prepared at home and is a gentle alternative to waxing, making it suitable for sensitive skin.

5. Waxing: Waxing is a more long-lasting solution that can keep hair at bay for weeks at a time. It can be done at a salon or using at-home waxing kits. Keep in mind that waxing can be painful, especially for those with sensitive skin. Waxing can be used on your face but is particularly suitable to get rid of excess hair growth on other parts of the body. For sensitive areas (bikini area for example) look for salons that offer ‘hard wax’ whereas for larger and less sensitive areas (arms, legs, back, belly) traditional wax will be quicker.

6. Shaving: Shaving is a quick and easy way to remove unwanted hair. While it may not be the most long-lasting solution, it's an affordable and painless method that can be done at home.


Natural at home remedies 

7. Turmeric and gram flour paste: A traditional Indian remedy for hair removal involves creating a paste made from turmeric and gram flour (also known as chickpea flour or besan). Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, while gram flour helps exfoliate the skin. To prepare the paste, mix equal parts turmeric and gram flour with water or milk, then apply it to the desired area. Allow the paste to dry, then gently rub it off using circular motions, removing the hair in the process. This method is best suited for fine hair and may require repeated applications for optimal results.

8. Papaya and turmeric paste: Papaya contains an enzyme called papain, which can help break down hair follicles and slow down hair growth. To make a papaya and turmeric paste, blend a few pieces of raw papaya with a pinch of turmeric powder until you have a smooth paste. Apply the mixture to the area with unwanted hair and let it sit for 15-20 minutes before rinsing it off with water. This method may not remove hair instantly but can help weaken hair follicles and reduce hair growth over time when used consistently.


Lastly, there is the option of Medication: In some cases, medications such as anti-androgens or hormonal contraceptives can help regulate hormone levels and reduce hair growth. It's essential to consult with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and find the best treatment plan for your specific needs.



Key takeaway

As women, we need to be gentle with ourselves and remember that our bodies undergo various changes throughout our lives, including hair growth. If you are struggling with hirsutism during and/or after menopause you should consult with a healthcare professional to assess your specific situation and determine the appropriate course of action. Know that personalized treatment plans can be developed to manage hormonal imbalances and alleviate the symptoms of hirsutism.

Having said that, it's really time for us to break the stigma surrounding hirsutism and create a more accepting environment where women can discuss their experiences openly. Whether you choose to remove your unwanted hair or let it grow, remember that your body is unique, beautiful, and entirely your own.

 

FAQ

Frequently asked question by Women Like You

I have PCOS and struggle with hirsutism. Will this go away once I go into Menopause?

As a woman transitions into post-menopause, her hormone levels may stabilize, but the underlying hormonal imbalance caused by PCOS might persist. This means that hirsutism related to PCOS could continue to affect women even after menopause. However, it is important to note that each individual's experience with PCOS, perimenopause, and menopause is unique, and the severity of hirsutism may vary among women. It is essential for women with PCOS who experience hirsutism during perimenopause and post-menopause to consult a healthcare professional. A personalized treatment plan can be developed to manage hormonal imbalances and alleviate the symptoms of hirsutism.

Are there natural removal and/or home remedies to get rid of unwanted hair?

Yes there are two at home remedies that are frequently used:
1. Turmeric and gram flour paste: A traditional Indian remedy for hair removal involves creating a paste made from turmeric and gram flour (also known as chickpea flour or besan). Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, while gram flour helps exfoliate the skin. To prepare the paste, mix equal parts turmeric and gram flour with water or milk, then apply it to the desired area. Allow the paste to dry, then gently rub it off using circular motions, removing the hair in the process. This method is best suited for fine hair and may require repeated applications for optimal results.

2. Papaya and turmeric paste: Papaya contains an enzyme called papain, which can help break down hair follicles and slow down hair growth. To make a papaya and turmeric paste, blend a few pieces of raw papaya with a pinch of turmeric powder until you have a smooth paste. Apply the mixture to the area with unwanted hair and let it sit for 15-20 minutes before rinsing it off with water. This method may not remove hair instantly but can help weaken hair follicles and reduce hair growth over time when used consistently.

Sources used

Sources we have used to base the content of this article on.

Medical journals

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Souter I, Sanchez LA, Perez M, Bartolucci AA, Zakaria M, Diamond MP. The prevalence of androgen excess among patients with minimal unwanted hair growth. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2004;191(6):1914-1920. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15592263/

ACOG Committee on Practice Bulletins--Gynecology. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 108: Polycystic ovary syndrome. Obstet Gynecol. 2009;114(4):936-949. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19888063/

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Schmidt PJ, Luff JA, Haq NA, Vanderhoof VH, Koziol DE, Calis KA, Rubinow DR, Nelson LM. Depression in women with spontaneous 46, XX primary ovarian insufficiency. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011;96(2):E278-287. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21047924/

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