Menopause and hirsutism (excess hair)
What is hirsutism?
Hirsutism is an excess of hair on the face and/or body, due to high levels of androgens stimulating the hair follicles. Androgens are male like hormones (such as testosterone). All women naturally produce a small amount of male hormones in tissues such as the ovaries. These male hormones are converted into oestrogen which has functions in puberty and during menstruation.
Women with high androgen levels may have excess hair that is thicker and darker than the pale thin hairs you commonly see on your face and arms. The hair typically grows in areas where it is more usual for men to grow hair such as the sideburn area, chin, upper lip, around nipples, lower abdomen, chest and thighs.
Hirsutism, especially on the face, can be quite distressing for some women, and can affect a woman’s body image and self esteem, and subsequently, her quality of life.
Some of the most common causes are weight gain, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and menopause. Rarer causes include severe insulin resistance, steroid use, some medications, Cushing’s syndrome and very, very rare causes are adrenal or ovarian tumours.
Hirsutism and menopause
Some women may develop hirsutism during or after menopause, particularly in the facial area. This is because of several factors including weight gain over menopause and change in hormone levels.
If you are going through, or have gone through menopause and are experiencing hirsutism, you should see your doctor to rule out potential causes before proceeding with treatment.
Treatments may include:
If hirsutism is occurring as a result of weight gain, taking steps to reduce or manage your weight may be helpful. Healthy eating and physical activity are important.
For more information see Physical Activity and Healthy Eating
Non-medical cosmetic treatments
Conservative treatment options such as waxing and bleaching can prove helpful for women experiencing excess hair, and depending on the cause, are usually tried first. Laser therapies and electrolysis can also be useful measures for reducing hair growth.
There is a variety of medical treatments (e.g. Spironolactone acetate) that can be used alone or in combination with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for treating hirsutism. In premenopausal women, the oral contraceptive pill is effective but postmenopause, oral forms of HRT are preferred as they are lower in dose. Ask your doctor for more information about these options.
There are medicated creams containing eflornithine that are available for treating facial hirsutism. These creams act by reducing new hair growth. Speak to your doctor for more information.
Content Updated February 4, 2011