Q I have a problem with excess hair on my face and some on my body. I think it’s related to polycystic ovary syndrome. Can you help?
A Millions of women suffer polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which affect how the ovaries work. The exact cause is unknown but PCOS often runs in families. Overweight women are more at risk and many PCOS sufferers have a family history of diabetes and high cholesterol. There are ways to help excess facial and body hair (hirsutism) but treating the underlying cause is not a quick fix.
Polycystic ovaries contain lots of harmless tiny cysts: Normal ovaries have about half the number. They are under-developed egg follicles and many PCOS sufferers have fertility problems because ovulation doesn’t take place.
All women have some male hormones (androgens) but women with PCOS usually have more than normal, or they are more active than usual. These hormones can lead to hair loss on the head and/or excess hair on the face and often the body. Acne is another common problem.
First establish a diagnosis. See your doctor if you have symptoms such as hair problems, acne or oily skin, irregular or no periods, problems getting pregnant or weight gain. You will probably have a blood test, and possibly an ultrasound scan (to see if you have cysts).
You may see a specialist. If your GP doesn’t have a particular expertise in PCOS, you will likely be referred to a gynaecologist, endocrinologist (hormone specialist), or dermatologist.
Hormonal excess is treated by drugs. Specific types of contraceptive pill or anti-androgen drugs block the effects of the male hormones. Consultant dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe of the Cranley Clinic, London (drnicklowe.com), favours spironolactone, a diuretic that has an anti-androgen effect. Metformin, which slows insulin production, is sometimes prescribed.
Targeted laser therapy helps clear excess hair. Dr Lowe uses an Alexandrite laser, which has a focused wavelength. It is far more effective than the intense pulsed light (IPL) lasers often used in beauty salons, and needs fewer sessions. (It works on different skin colours but not on grey/white hair without pigment.)
Vaniqa cream slows the growth of unwanted facial hair. This topical medicine is applied twice daily. Over time, it helps about 80 per cent of cases, as long as it goes on being applied. You can use it with laser therapy, or other hair removal methods.
Hair and skin problems may occur with normal androgen levels. According to Dr Lowe, partial PCOS is also common, where hair follicles and sebaceous glands are more reactive to normal androgen levels. He advises the same hair removal methods.
Follow a low GI (glycaemic index) diet and take regular exercise, sadvises consultant gynaecologist Michael Dooley (thepoundburyclinic.co.uk). And read The Ultimate PCOS Handbook by Colette Harris & Theresa Cheung (Harper Thorsons, £14.99).
A Real Stone Age Treat
Not everyone can treat themselves to the relaxing bliss of a Hot Jade Stone Body Massage at London’s Thai Square Spa, but our tester picked up some lovely DIY tips. At the Spa, two therapists massage your back and limbs, using the stones to relax muscles. Our tester reported that ‘the combined head and foot massage is especially delicious, but even if you can’t persuade two friends to stroke your knots away you can replicate one of the loveliest aspects of this treatment at home – a warm foot bath combined with a hot compress on your neck.’ Pop a few drops of aromatherapy oil in a big bowl (Thai Square Spa uses de-stressing basil and lemon grass) or try our favourite Magnesium Oil Original Flakes, to relax achy joints. Soak a small towel in the hot water first, wring it out, wrap it around your neck and say ‘Aaah…’. Hot Jade Stone Body Massage, £240 for two hours, thaisquarespa.com, tel. 020-7240 6090. Magnesium Oil Original Flakes, £9.95 for 1kg (enough for two to four footbaths).
3 of the Best: blocked nose treatments
Salcura Sinose Nasal Spray: effectively helps the causes and symptoms of bunged up noses without side effects. £6.99 for 25ml.
Olbas Oil: sprinkle this herbal blend on your pillow, on tissues or into a bowl of hot water for a wonderfully clearing inhalation. £2.79 for 10ml, nationwide.
Sterimar Blocked Nose Sea Water Nasal Spray: natural spray, recommended by doctors and suitable for all ages from 3 upwards, gently cleans and clears nasal passages. About £6.99 for 100ml.
APP Of The Week
From abdominal pain and burns, to contraception and nosebleeds, the free NHS Direct App (from the Apple App store) covers 40 common problems, giving symptoms and basic advice. Voted ‘really useful’ by testers. The NHS Direct phoneline (0845 4647) is available 24/7.