You wake up in the morning, jump out of bed, and turn on the hot shower. As you wait for the shower to heat up, you look in the mirror and notice a single strand of hair on your chin and panic.
You think to yourself, “what is this, and why do I have it?”
You take out the tweezers, pluck that hair as fast as you can and get yourself ready for the day. After a day or two goes by, you take a look in the mirror of the car and notice a few more now on your neck and upper lip.
You schedule an appointment with your doctor to get proper testing done, and they discover you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, otherwise known as PCOS. What does this mean? What is PCOS? Who does PCOS affect? Why am I growing dark hair on my face?
Let’s discuss exactly what causes PCOS hair growth, and how you can treat it, if you decide to do so.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS is a hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. The cause of PCOS is unknown, but more and more research is coming out to help women better live with the diagnosis.
So what causes PCOS? Well, it’s not a simple answer, but experts believe it is caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental factors, which present as an imbalance of hormones in the body, like elevated androgens (male hormones) and insulin resistance.
This hormone imbalance causes symptoms like infertility/irregular ovulation, cravings, acne, male-patterned hair loss, hirsutism, and many others. Hirsutism is the darker, thicker hair growth seen in typically masculine areas, but on women -- i.e. upper arms, chest, back, stomach, face, chin, neck, etc.
Common Signs and Symptoms of PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a term that more and more women are becoming familiar with as they seek out treatment for symptoms. Unfortunately, the amount of research on how to help treat PCOS is still not where it should be.
That being said, here are the symptoms that doctors and scientists agree are correlated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome:
- Irregular or Missed Periods – Women with PCOS may miss periods, or have fewer periods (less than eight a year)
- Hair Growth in Unwanted Areas -- these locations could include the face, chin, chest, and other areas where men would usually grow hair. Roughly 70% of women with PCOS experience this.
- Thinning Hair - this is usually on your scalp, and is thought to be a result of excess androgens in your symptom which trigger miniaturization of the hair follicule. This can also be known as androgenetic alopecia, or female-pattern hair loss, and is one of the most distressing symptoms for women.
- Acne – Could show up on the face, back and chest.
- Weight Gain – Unwanted weight gain, especially around the midsection.
- Dark Spots on the skin, particularly around the neck, groin, and other areas where your skin creases. These can be a light brown to a dark brown color and be challenging to cover up. They are called acanthosis nigricans, and are associated with insulin resistance in PCOS.
- Skin Tags – usually found on the armpits or neck flaps, these can be uncomfortable if the skin rubs on them. A dermatologist can help remove these unwanted flaps very easily. They are also associated with insulin resistance in PCOS.
- Multiple follicles or cysts on your ovaries, which can lead to absent and painful periods .
As these signs and symptoms tend to be the most dominant among women with PCOS, there are a few others that can have a detrimental impact on your quality of life, such as mood swings, head and neck tension, food cravings, and more.
Who Does PCOS Affect?
PCOS affects females of all ages. It is associated with early maturation and puberty of young girls, and its androgenic and metabolic effects impact women well after menopause. As most females don’t discover PCOS until their early 20s or 30s, it can go undiagnosed for years, or even decades.
PCOS tends to be hereditary, so it can be helpful to discuss symptoms or concerns with female members of your family, and discover if they have struggled with anything similar. This can also help get a diagnosis early on and you can begin receiving the proper treatments.
Hair Growth Associated With PCOS
Unwanted hair growth (otherwise known as hirsutism) on certain areas of your body (such as the face, chest, and back) can be one of the toughest and most frustrating symptoms of PCOS.
The cause of this hair growth is thought to come from androgens that are produced by the ovaries and the adrenal glands.
If your hair follicles are hormone-sensitive, androgens may cause some vellus hairs to change to terminal hairs. Terminal hair is longer, darker, and more coarse than vellus hair and grows faster and thicker.
How to Diagnosis and Treat Hirsutism
The first thing you will want to do once you start to see those hairs popping up in unwanted areas is to contact your doctor. They may also recommend a visit to the Reproductive and Medical Endocrinologist.
Once you find the doctor you feel comfortable with, expect to go through testing that will include blood work, an ultrasound, special x-rays, and hormone tests to determine the levels of hormones within your body and the function of your ovaries and adrenal glands.
Once a full diagnosis is made, your doctor will develop a comprehensive treatment plan. This may include spironolactone, an anti-androgen drug most often used to combat the increased androgen levels associated with PCOS. This particular drug may help lessen the color and thickness of the unwanted facial and chest hair, prevent further hair loss on the scalp, and might even help improve acne.
If you’re planning or are pregnant, your doctor will not prescribe this particular medication as it is not safe for the baby in the fetus. One other great option to combat hair growth is Laser Therapy and Electrolysis.
During Laser Therapy, a beam of light is passed through the skin to the hair follicle to destroy the root and prevent the hair from growing back. There has been scientific research to show people with light skin and darker hair usually achieve the best results.
Electrolysis will include a tiny and fine needle inserted into the hair follicle.
A slight electric current will be sent through the needle into the follicle to help kill the root and prevent future hair growth. As both methods can be a bit uncomfortable, you need to speak with your doctor and choose the best option for you and your body to give you the best possible outcome for your hirsutism in PCOS.
Allara Health Is Here To Help
PCOS can cause a lot of unwanted signs and symptoms for women. Unfortunately, one of the most unwanted symptoms is hair growth in areas where women don’t usually have hair. It is critically important that, though hair growth on women’s bodies is often depicted negatively in the media (or not depicted at all), you keep in mind that there is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
Never be afraid or embarrassed to address these new symptoms as they arise in your body. Excess hair growth may be a sign that your hormones are not in balance, and that your body needs help from a healthcare professional. Be kind to yourself and remember that if you choose to combat this hair growth, there are safe and effective treatment options available.
And if you need help navigating symptoms associated with PCOS? Our care team is here to help and provide you with the best resources to get you feeling like yourself again! Join us today for help and support from our trained medical providers through Allara Health.
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Allara Health provides personalized treatment for hormonal, metabolic & gynecological conditions that utilizes a holistic plan that merges nutrition, lifestyle, medication and supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to heal your body.