Unwanted hair is a strictly feminine problem; unwanted facial hair is a particularly personal one. Great numbers of women suffer from this complaint. In most cases, the symptom is not a disease, nor is it related to any internal disorder. But as a symptom in itself, it can produce much heart burning and soul searching.
Beauty is the eternal goal of every woman, and in our society hairiness is equated with masculinity. Despite the legal arrival of equality of the sexes, the sexual distinctions in regards to appearances are still poles apart. However, men like their women to be feminine. The age of chivalry has virtually died, but the mental concept lingers on. Therefore, the suggestion that a woman should have whiskers like a man is appalling. It strikes at the very essence of her womanhood.
Indeed, many women develop mental hang-ups and anxiety states, and every doctor has seen frank cases of depression over this seemingly simple symptom. Doctors talk about hirsutism. This usually means there is an excessive growth of hair on the face, breasts, limbs or abdomen.
Most women have a greater or lesser amount of hair growing on the limbs, but this seems more acceptable for reasons that seem on the surface totally unrealistic. Moreover, scalp and pubic hair seem all right too, but maybe women equate this with some protective function that is designed to retain their modesty.
Whatever the primordial reasons (and it is unlikely that these will ever be fathomed), the stark fact remains that hirsutism with the distribution noted will remain a controversial female talking point for many decades to come. It will also be a fair point, and one for which a suitable answer is being eternally sought.
In the vast majority of cases, unwanted facial, breast, abdominal hair, or heavy growths on the limbs, is entirely harmless. Most women with excessive hair growth have no sinister, hidden internal disease.
The condition is clinically referred to by doctors as constitutional or physiological hirsutism. A very close and detailed physical examination will not reveal any other signs of virilisation (mannishness). There is nothing to worry about; just as some women have long, pointed noses with a bump in the middle, and others have short, stubby ones with no bump, or some have big, prominent ears, and others small ones, or some are endowed with very feminine chest contours, and others are unhappily given no shape at all so some women have hair here and there where they wish it wasn’t.
Often there is a family tendency to the unwanted hair situation. A parent with excessive hair will often produce a daughter with the identical problem. But this does not always hold true. If physical and investigatory examination does not indicate the presence of any untoward physical pathology, the patient is usually reassured of this. At least this often removes a mental burden that some serious disease, or a cancer, may be lurking in the internal depths. Many brighten perceptibly when told the good news.
In recent years, an increasing amount of research has been carried out to try to discover some universally suitable product that will selectively remove facial, breast and abdominal hair (and probably excessive hair from the limbs), but at the same time not interfere with the normal hair distributions of the scalp, eyebrows and other parts where its presence is acceptable. Herein, of course, lays the major problem.
However, by chance, a form of medication that has been used by doctors for many years for other purposes was found to have a favorable effect on women with facial hair. It is called spironolactone (Aldactone). When given in an oral false-color scanning electron micrograph of a number of strands of normal human hair, dose of 100 mg a day for many months, it appears to reduce facial hair growth. It should be given under medical supervision.
It usually takes nine months or maybe longer for its full, maximum beneficial effect to be reflected on the face. It may be necessary to increase the daily dosage. This is tailored to the woman’s response. Usually there are no adverse side effects.
Sometimes it is noted that there is an improvement in skin appearance, especially if the woman had been prone to facial pimples. These also tend to diminish.
It is believed it works by blocking testosterone uptake by the hair follicle. Each sex has some hormones of the opposite sex (i.e. women have some testosterone circulating in their blood). This may be the reason why masculine-type traits occur (facial hair). By blocking the uptake of this chemical there is no further stimulation to hair growth, which then stops. Medication is continued more or less indefinitely. The treatment is not effective for everybody, but many consider it worth a try. It seems to be less effective for women past the menopause.
There are still other methods available, especially in those with small growth, or in circumscribed specific regions. For relatively small amounts, electrolysis by an experienced operator is by far the best and most permanent method. In this manner, the hair root is destroyed, and further growth from each treated follicle is impossible.
Some women claim that as the follicles are destroyed, hair grows from new ones – but this is more in their imagination than real. As a precautionary note, always attend a person, who is an expert in this field, otherwise it is possible to have a series of tiny scars that protrude above the skin surface. Long-term, these may become a greater problem and more obvious than the hairs that preceded them. A good operator will usually leave a smooth, scar-free result.
For larger areas, depilatory creams may be used. However, this is a temporary measure, and the hairs will grow again. But a few weeks respite may be obtained. For special occasions, this can assist. But the creams will remove hairs completely, including the fine, soft, downy hair that gives the face some of its characteristic charm and softness. So, think well before resorting to this as a regular method. Depilatory waxes are not for the face.
Larger areas and hair growing on the upper lip may be treated with peroxide bleaches if the color is dark and prominent. This will lighten the shade and make the hair much less noticeable. Some women foolishly resort to shaving with a razor. This is a bad routine for the face. It tends to make the skin coarse, tough and masculine-looking and accentuates the very feature that is the problem.
Breasts and abdomen. Very often the amount of hair in these areas is minimal. Frequently a few solitary hairs grow from the general breast area, or the nipple or surrounding areolar region. (This is the pinkish-brown circular area surrounding the nipple.)
Electrolysis is generally the method of choice for these hairs, many of which grow quite long.
A recurring problem, especially in summer months when bikinis and brief beachwear are worn, is hair peeping from underneath the clothing. Admittedly beach wear is extremely scanty these days, and one might say, -Serve them right!” However, electrolysis is often the most suitable method. If the growth is too profuse for this, depilatory creams are suitable. Or even shaving can be used, for the skin is not under such close scrutiny as facial skin.
Arms and legs. Often heavy growth of hair occurring on the upper or lower limbs is best removed by depilatory waxes. This often gives results that can last for some weeks. Electrolysis is quite unsuitable for such extensive areas, and the skin is not under close scrutiny by others. Depilatory wax use is rather uncomfortable, but it is quite successful for large areas. It also removes the very tine hairs that cover the skin in general, but this is not so important to appearance in these regions.
All methods of hair removal may be facilitated by the application twice daily of an estrogen (female hormone) cream, such as dienoestrol 0.01 per cent.
In a very small minority of women, a pathological basis for the unwanted hair actually exists. This is often associated with other forms of virilisation also, such as deepening of the voice, facial pimples, reduction in size of the breasts, an increase in the size of the body muscle structure, thinning of the hair of the scalp and with a recession of the normal hairline. The clitoris tends to enlarge in size; the menstrual blood-flow is often reduced and comes at more widely spaced intervals.
When hirsuties is associated with symptoms of this nature, then it is time that a woman should undergo a full medical investigation.
Special investigations are undertaken at large, well-equipped clinics, usually at major hospitals. The urine is checked for the presence of special products called 17-keto-steroids, and the blood checked for testosterone levels.
If present, these could indicate the presence of internal growths that are producing excessive hormonal levels. Surgical removal may be followed by a recession of the symptoms.
Latrogenic hirsuties. There is another form of hirsuties worth mentioning. Certain forms of drug medication may contain hormones (especially male hormone) that produce male-type symptoms, including hirsuties. When the medication is stopped, the hair disappears and a return to normal occurs.
Sometimes steroid drugs are given to pregnant women, and these may contain progesterone. It has been found that this may result in virilisation of the fetus. However, these days most doctors are extremely cautious in prescribing any form of drug medication during pregnancy.