What is Hormonal Hair and how can I get rid of it?
Annie Jones - a Bearded Lady
The Problem of Facial Hair
Most people have some facial hair, men generally have more of course and children have less but for many women facial hair is a huge embarrassment. Maybe we shouldn’t care so much about something so trivial but when the assistant at the checkout calls you “Sir” although you are wearing a pretty dress and have obvious female assets, something has to be done obviously. As Bearded Ladies are not exactly de rigueur in the circus these days, the choice seems to be either get rid of the facial hair or admit defeat and apply for the sex change people think you are having already.
Men are often proud of their beards but women spend hundreds if not thousands trying to rid themselves of excess facial hair. Indeed, how would the beauty industry survive without all the waxing, threading, shaving, depilatory creams, tweezers, epilators, pulsing light treatments, laser therapists and electrolysis we invest in? For most women the least expensive solutions of waxing and depilatories actually do work well and are probably all you will ever need. If not, you can always invest in gadgets or pamper yourself with some expert beauty therapy, but what happens when you have “hormonal hair”?
What causes “Hormonal Hair and what is it really?
First of all we have to understand that the entire human body is covered with hair, this is the case from birth. A soft “peach fuzz” type of hair covers most of the body and serves the purposes of insulation and “wicking” sweat away from the skin. This type of hair is called vellus hair and is usually nearly invisible or at least very fine. The hair of the scalp develops quickly into “terminal hair” and that is true of all of us unless afflicted with alopecia.
When boys and girls reach puberty an increase in androgens in the body produces more terminal hair and some of it is much more coarse. Teenagers hitting puberty develop pubic hair in the genital and underarm regions, but boys have more androgens circulating and develop a beard and coarser body hair. Now these male hormones do serve a purpose for women too. They are a precursor for oestrogen and progesterone and some androgens (in the form of testosterone) continue to circulate and give us energy and a sex drive. Androgens are not actually bad for women when balanced with female hormones but in the case of hormonal hair they are either over-produced or a decline in oestrogen and progesterone has produced an imbalance and the action of androgens targets areas of the body that would be more usual in men.
Sometimes this has a genetic cause – some people are just prone to be more hairy than others. More usually the problem arises because of a hormonal disorder or imbalance. Medical issues that can cause an imbalance and too much circulating androgen include puberty, menopause, polycystic ovarian disorder (PCOS), congenital adrenal hyperplasia, metabolic disorder (a trilogy of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and pre-diabetes), diabetes itself and hypertrichosis which is fortunately a rare genetic phenomenon.
Hair growth caused by androgens tends to be coarse and very difficult to get rid of. The harder you try, the more facial hair you get because the cause of too much hair is too much circulating androgen hormone. It starts when you pluck the first one or two hairs on your chin and over time the problem increases. Before you know it, you have the beginnings of a skinny moustache (in the style of Damien Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs) and at this point you probably start waxing or using depilatories. Everyone tells you not to shave because it grows back coarser. The truth is it will grow back whether you shave or use any other method and despite what the packet says, if it is hormonal hair, it will return stronger, thicker and darker than ever.
How androgens work on human hair.
Why is hormonal hair so troublesome?
Normal hair growth is relatively easy to deal with at home or at the beauty salon but hormonal hair just keeps on growing and multiplying and seems almost to fight back when treated. You may start with one or two stray hairs in your twenties which are easily treated but as you get older you notice more.
Before you know where you are you are regularly plucking thirty or forty hairs out and in two or three days you have thirty or forty more. In desperation now you try a stronger depilatory only to find it burns your skin and leaves most of the hair behind. It hasn’t read the bit about going down into the pore and producing a thinner hair than if you shave. Hair soon grows back in force and you have the start of a Van Dyke special.
Your friends recommend the latest electronic hair removal gadget and you watch the adverts. It always works on the pretty young models (who have normal facial hair growth, not the hormonal variety) and it has a sixty day money back guarantee. You can’t lose, so you buy it only to discover it leaves you with stubble that you have to exfoliate and by evening it is growing back. You have a five o'clock shadow without even shaving. You can’t return the device because the small print warns you it is unsuitable for diabetics and ineffective against hormonal hair. Bother! You have the shadow without the shave, so you start to shave while you save up for laser treatment. Might as well whack them all at once and you have to shave before laser treatment anyway… Reading the small print first this time, you find out that it is unlikely to work and may even make hormonal hair worse. The only solution is professional electrolysis that permanently kills the hair follicle – but wait, before you go to that huge expense, what is actually happening here?
Why does facial hair grow back thicker and coarser over time?
Whatever method you use for hair removal, what you are doing, for want of a better explanation, is taming and cultivating these hormonal hairs. Normal hair grows in a cycle. It has a growth period, it dies and falls out and then the follicle lies dormant for a while. Whatever method you use to remove unwanted facial hairs, if you are continually removing them all at once they will all grow back at the same time. Every few days there will be a new crop coming through and the hair growth is becoming synchronised producing a thicker beard. Meanwhile those androgens are busy ensuring every single one of those thousands of vellus hairs you never noticed before is turning into a terminal hair of the thick beardy variety.
A Bearded Lady and a Fascinating Article about the Evolution of Hair
Getting to the root of the problem - blocking the action of androgens.
The logical thing to do is to block the effect of androgens on hair growth. Androgen blocker drugs that may be prescribed for female hirsutism or androgen induced baldness include birth control pills, spironolactone, and cyproterone acetate. These are powerful drugs and you might not want to go down that route. I did a little personal research on this and discovered that there are also in fact several effective creams available from your doctor that contain androgen blockers and there is also Vaniqa which may only be available on private prescription.
However I also wondered if there was a simple solution that did not require an embarrassing interview with an unsympathetic physician, hospital hormone tests and a prescription to pay for. The good news is that there is something that is well worth trying first and that solution is spearmint tea. Unbelievable as it seems, two cups of spearmint tea a day will start working within a couple of weeks to reduce that hair growth. Brew it well and drink it strong – it tastes quite pleasant and as a bonus you will be cutting down on caffeine if you have it instead of tea and coffee.
Over a period of a couple of months, try combining two cups of spearmint tea daily with plucking out the thickest hairs. My experience is that you will find you are shaving less often and plucking fewer and much thinner hairs. The androgen effect is blocked so new growth is vellus hair, not terminal hair or beard, and the five o'clock shadow gradually disappears. You can rub your chin without feeling stubble and you no longer look like a guy auditioning for The Good the Bad and the Ugly. That has to be good!
As you can see, I have kept this article light and tried to be humorous, but as a diabetic it is my experience that this will work and that other methods do have very limited effectiveness on the dreaded hormonal hair. If it delays the expense of painful electrolysis sessions it is well worth the price of a few packets of spearmint teabags to test it out.
A 30 Day Trial of Spearmint Tea
Spearmint Tea is available on Amazon and Amazon UK too and can be purchased singly or in bulk.
Varieties of Spearmint Tea on Amazon and Amazon UK
Does it have to be expensive?
No, it is not necessary to buy the most expensive organic, standardised leaf tea product. The cheaper teabags will work too over time - the key to this is time and allowing the tea to infuse for a long time. I bought six boxes of Palanquin Spearmint Tea bags. I used Amazon Prime and it works out at just over £3 for 20 days treatment (40 teabags in a box) and five weeks into treatment I am noticing I have very little new hair growth.
Bulk purchase of Spearmint Tea
12 boxes, each containing 16 spearmint teabags. Organically grown.
Is Facial Hair a real problem?
Is facial hair a real problem for you?
Six weeks in, no five o'clock shadow, no more shaving or waxing, hardly a chin hair in sight and the one or two still growing out are much thinner to the extent of being hard to grip with the tweezers. I wish I had discovered spearmint tea five years ago!