Many women are born with or grow facial hair. Most will agree, when facial hair goes rogue, it’s unnerving and often unappealing. So why do women grow rogue facial hair, and what can be done about this? Renewal Institute director Dr. Maureen Allem answers Longevity’s Q&A.
Rogue facial hair is called hirsuitism
Rogue facial hair is a condition called hirsutism. This means excessive hair appears in a male pattern on women’s bodies. Some medical conditions can cause moderate or severe hirsutism, the most likely being polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS causes irregular periods and hormone imbalances that result in abnormal hair growth, as well as hair loss at the front of the head.
There are other causes too, such as idiopathic hyperandrogenemia, a condition where women have excessive levels of male hormones. These hormones, called androgens, are made in the hair follicles or are sent out from the ovaries or adrenal glands.
Further causes are congenital adrenal hyperplasia, an inherited condition that is triggered when the adrenal glands make abnormal amounts of steroid hormones, such as androgen and cortisol, as well as hypo- or hyperthyroidism.
However, many women who don’t have hirsutism, or any medical condition whatsoever, consider their hair growth “excessive”. And, as we age, the quality, thickness and density of our hair growth deteriorate, especially as our hormone levels fluctuate and lessen over time.
Are there different types of facial hair?
While there aren’t different types of hair, there are different categories of hair that may appear on a human body in various areas and at different stages of life.
You’ll find tiny, thin, and translucent hair on your cheeks, your forehead, your nose, and even your earlobes. This is called vellus hair. It’ll begin developing during childhood and, as you get older, it’ll mature and can be replaced by thick, dark hair.
Notice random course hairs on areas such as your chin? These little irritants are down to genetics and, no, plucking them out with tweezers won’t make them grow back thicker or in multiples.
Should women take it seriously when they notice facial hair (on themselves or on their child)?
It’s certainly something to pay attention to. It could be a warning sign that something is wrong.
Are there any supplements that can help with unwanted hair growth?
Botanicals such as saw palmetto, beta-sitosterol, and nettle help to reduce DHT, the hormone that causes abnormal hair growth and acne. Some of the compounds in cruciferous vegetables are beneficial, so upping your cruciferous vegetable intake, from a food-based perspective, is helpful.
What is the best long-term method of treating facial hair?
Facial hair is traditionally very difficult to treat, as it’s hormone-dependent. Some laser hair-removal systems use infrared light to target the germ cell in the hair follicle. Data has shown that about 30-90% of the hair doesn’t grow back after the end of the treatment cycle. The success of these laser treatments depends on the initial heat of the laser treatment. No pain, no gain.
We can’t guarantee 100% permanent hair removal. Occasional maintenance or touch-up treatments will be required. Laser treatment requires the hair to have a colour, as it’s the colour (or chromophore) that the laser targets in order to destroy the hair follicle. Therefore, white and light hairs are the most difficult to remove. Light hairs may require more treatments and more maintenance, and more modest results should be expected. Grey hair can’t be treated with laser.
Can you remove facial hair by plucking it?
When done correctly, plucking removes the entire hair from the follicle, keeping it from growing back for up to six weeks.
There are certain creams advertised on the Internet that promise to remove hair permanently. Do these work?
No hair-removal treatment can get rid of hair permanently. There are a variety of ways to get rid of hair for weeks, months, or longer periods of time. The best remedy for unwanted facial hair would be to address the critical systems mentioned below.
How do you treat facial hair from an integrative perspective?
There are five critical systems that you need to focus on to ensure optimum hormone production and balance:
Manage your blood sugar
Insulin resistance affects hormones in several ways. Insulin surges can up-regulate an enzyme called 17,20-lyase, which increases the production of testosterone and leads to PCOS. However, not only do testosterone levels go up with insulin resistance in women but estrogen levels can too, because 17,20-lyase converts DHEA, which is an adrenal hormone, into the estrogen-testosterone pathway. Taking steps to address blood sugar dysregulation, such as eating healthy food, avoiding flour, sugar, and industrial seed oils, and adjusting your carbohydrate intake based on your blood-sugar response, can help.
Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis – This is also referred to as adrenal fatigue syndrome. You need to manage stress, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, engage in regular stress management, and address any gut issues or any other chronic health issues that may cause a stress response in the body.
Look after your gut
Gut – Inflammation caused by dysbiosis or leaky gut suppresses the function of the hypothalamus and the pituitary in the brain, which produce the stimulating hormones, and also suppresses the function of the adrenals and the ovaries that produce the actual hormones. Dysbiosis also increases the production of certain downstream estrogen metabolites such as 4-OH and 16-OH, which are proliferative, meaning they can contribute to breast and prostate cancer, and decreases the production of 2-OH, which is protective against those conditions.
Detoxify your body
Detoxification – eating a healthy diet, following an estrogen detox diet, and adding supplements such as a good probiotic and glutathione will be beneficial.
Ensure essential fatty acid balance
If you don’t have enough omega-3, and you have too much omega-6, it can drive the production of prostaglandins and lead to an inflammatory environment. However, sufficient amounts of omega-3 from cold-water fatty fish or taking fish oil, EPA, and DHA, promote the conversion of the prostaglandins into less inflammatory substances or pathways.
Have you got any other advice for women with this problem?
Self-acceptance is perhaps the best gift you can give yourself.
Self-acceptance without condition means that you accept yourself as you are, flaws and all. Look after yourself, eat well, exercise, sleep well and meditate. Focus on being happy.
Who is the specialist?
Dr. Maureen Allem, the founder and Medical Director of the Renewal Institute, consults at the Parkhurst, Morningside, Fourways, and Waterfall branches in Gauteng and the Cape Quarter, Constantia, and Claremont branches in the Western Cape. She is a general practitioner with a special interest in aesthetic and integrative/anti-aging medicine and procedures. She also trains all the new doctors and oversees each branch by rotationally traveling between them. Her full biography is listed below.