Excess hair ina female is known as hirsutism. It has been traditional to divide patients with hirsutism into those with no elevation of serum androgen levels and no other clinical features (usually labelled 'idiopathic hirsutism') and those with an identifiable endocrine imbalance (most commonly polycystic ovary sydnrome (PCOS) or rarely other causes).
Famialial or idiopathic hirsutism does occur, but usually involves a distribution of hair growth which is not typically androgenic. Similarly, non-androgen-dependant hair growth occurs with drugs such as phenytoin, diazoxide, minoxidil and cyclosporin. Iatrogenic hirsutism also occurs after treatment with androgens, or more weakly androgenic drugs such as progestagens or danazol.
Rarer, and more serious, endocrine causes of hirsutism and virilization include congenital adrenal hyperplasia, Cushing's syndrome and virilization tumours of the ovary and adrenal. All these should be considered in any patients with hirsutism.
Shaving is best for legs, arms or facial hair. However, this hair removal method can cause ingrown hairs in the pubic region. Plucking is the most painful method, but may be the most worthwhile when there are just a few hairs you want to remove.
Be cautious when selecting hair removal creams over-the-counter: All creams are not the same. For instance, a hair removal cream designated for pubic hair should not be used to remove facial hair. The chemicals in these products dissolve the hair shaft and drawbacks can be significant. The chemicals can also cause superficial burns. If you have a history of allergic reactions, you may want to seek the advice of your doctor before trying any hair removal creams. There is a topical cream called Vaniqa, recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the slowing of facial hair growth in women. This cream slows growth, but will not remove the hair.
Hot waxing: You can do this at home or you can also have it performed by a professional in a salon. Hot waxing can be messy and may leave some hairs behind because they can break off. Infection is one side effect to watch for. Still, many women use this hair removal method in the bikini area and for hair on the upper lip.
Laser removal: This is one of the longest-lasting methods and generally requires 3-4 or more treatment sessions, but it is not for everyone: your hair must be dark in color.
Laser hair removal The laser beam or a light pulse works to destroy the hair bulb itself. The treatment can be expensive and sometimes painful. Be sure to select a doctor or technician who is highly trained and knowledgeable. You may require multiple sessions, but it can be used on many parts of the body where unwanted hair may appear.
There are two primary hair removal methods of electrolysis: galvanic and thermolytic.
Galvanic. Chemically destroys hair follicle. It is the oldest method used, but requires several treatments.
Thermolytic. Uses heat to destroy the hair follicle.
In either case, be sure to find a professional who is highly trained and knowledgeable with this hair removal method. Electrolysis can be used on all parts of the body to remove unwanted hair.
If none of these hair removal methods seem to address your particular problems, ask your doctor about oral medications to inhibit hair growth.
Dr. Tamer Fouad, MD
MB, BCh, MSc Internal Medicine.
Consultant of Hematology - Oncology.