If you're one of the 5 to 15 percent of women who experience excessive hair growth in a typically male pattern, there's a word for your condition: hirsutism. Possible treatments depend on the cause and may include hair removal, weight loss and hormones to stop facial hair growth.
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About Hirsutism in Women
If you're dealing with the occasional stray chin hair or patch of nipple hair, congratulations: Your body is perfectly normal. As the Mayo Clinic explains, hirsutism results in excessive amounts of dark, coarse hair sprouting in places that are typical of a male body, like the face, chest and back.
One of the most useful analyses about hirsutism appears in the August 2019 issue of American Family Physician. There, researchers relate that polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and idiopathic hyperandrogenism (excess androgen hormones from an unknown cause) account for more than 85 percent of cases of hirsutism in women.
Other potential causes identified by the Mayo Clinic include Cushing's syndrome, certain medications, hereditary family traits and, in rare cases, androgen-secreting tumors.
As the AFP analysis notes, hirsutism may be treated with medication — typically a combination of oral contraceptives and other medications, including finasteride, spironolactone and topical eflornithine. You might also choose to use temporary hair removal methods — such as shaving, waxing or plucking — or opt for permanent hair removal methods like laser treatments or electrolysis.
Potential Complications of Hirsutism
As the Mayo Clinic points out, some women may feel self-conscious about the unwanted body hair that results from hirsutism, sometimes to the point of depression. Some of the conditions that cause hirsutism may present additional complications — these include obesity, which can increase androgen production and pose a higher risk of certain health problems including heart disease and some cancers; and inhibited fertility from PCOS.
The Mayo Clinic also cautions that some of the medications used to treat hirsutism carry a risk of birth defects — so, if you're taking any, talk to your doctor before you consider becoming pregnant.
Vitamins for Unwanted Facial Hair?
There's a sparse, but rapidly growing, body of scientific evidence indicating that you may be able to turn to vitamins to prevent facial hair growth. Here are a few key examples:
In the September 2019 issue of Biological Trace Element Research, researchers report on the results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 60 women with PCOS. They found that using magnesium and vitamin E together resulted in a significant reduction in hirsutism.
In another study published in Biological Trace Element Research, this time in the March 2018 issue, researchers reported on another placebo-controlled study involving 60 female volunteers. They found that after a 12-week intervention, taking a combination of magnesium, zinc, calcium and vitamin D caused significant reductions in hirsutism.
Finally, in a January 2019 issue of the Journal of Ovarian Research, the study authors reported that a combination of vitamin D and probiotic supplements produced a significant reduction in hirsutism. However, it's not clear whether the improvements described were due to remedying an underlying nutrient deficiency, or came about via a different mechanism.
Read more: The Anti-Androgen Diet
Other Supplements for Hirsutism
Because anti-androgenic medications are sometimes used to treat hirsutism, it is possible that plant-derived anti-androgens might also provide some relief. A few examples of plant-based anti-androgens noted in the spring 2012 issue of the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism include spearmint tea, licorice, Chinese peony, green tea and black cohosh.
That doesn't mean you should run right out and take any of those supplements to reduce body hair or unwanted facial hair. Always consult a medical provider before taking supplements, which can produce unexpected interactions with other medications or supplements, or worsen hormonal imbalances instead of correcting them. That goes double if unwanted facial hair has come on suddenly, because it may signal a serious medical condition.
- Mayo Clinic: "Hirsutism"
- American Family Physician: "Hirsutism in Women"
- Biological Trade Element Research: "The Effects of Magnesium and Vitamin E Co-Supplementation on Hormonal Status and Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome"
- Biological Trace Element Research: "Magnesium-Zinc-Calcium-Vitamin D Co-Supplementation Improves Hormonal Profiles, Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial"
- Journal of Ovarian Research: "Vitamin D and Probiotic Co-Supplementation Affects Mental Health, Hormonal, Inflammatory and Oxidative Stress Parameters in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome"
- International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: "An Update on Plant-Derived Anti-Androgens"
- Natural Health Solutions for PCOS
- Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, “Managing Premenstrual Symptoms,” June, 2009
- University of California at Berkley