No one wants to be the Bearded Lady! How PCOS could be the cause of your Beauty Dilemmas
We are all familiar with the idea of the “bearded lady”. Once a common attraction in fairs and sideshows, these strange women would smile at spectators, showcasing their trailing, lengthy beards. People would gasp, people would stare, some would laugh, but it was an unusual sight, a woman with facial hair. The reality is, the ‘bearded lady’ probably suffered from a medical condition called PCOS, a hormonal imbalance that affects roughly 10% of the female population, that’s over 7 million in the U.S. alone!
PCOS affects millions. Yet, women are often reluctant to talk about it. Could it be that no one wants to be labeled the ‘bearded lady’? Of course. For those who suffer from PCOS, it is the last image you want in your mind. For many, the embarrassing outward symptoms are a source of shame and frustration. No woman wants facial hair, acne, fertility problems, hair loss and weight gain, but those are common symptoms that plague those with PCOS.
The truth is PCOS can have debilitating effects on your self-esteem, self-worth and the way you interact with others. It can make you less confident, shy or embarrassed. To keep this condition a secret can also put a strain on your psyche.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, also known as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders in women. The cause of PCOS, though, is unknown. Most experts think that several factors, including genetics, could play a role. Researchers also think insulin may be linked to the disease. Many women with PCOS also have what is called insulin resistance, where there is too much insulin in their bodies.
PCOS is basically a hormonal imbalance. In women, the ovaries make more androgens than normal. Androgens are male hormones that females naturally make. However, at higher levels, they affect female development and the release of eggs during ovulation. It can also cause many distressing changes in appearance.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
There are many signs and symptoms that a woman may experience, but it varies from woman to woman. Some of the symptoms include:
- Infertility (not able to get pregnant) because of problems with ovulation and menstruation. In fact, PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility.
- Infrequent, absent, and/or irregular menstrual periods
- Hirsutism, which is increased hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, back, thumbs, or toes
- Cysts on the ovaries
- Acne, oily skin, or dandruff
- Weight gain or obesity, usually with extra weight around the waist
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
- Acanthosis Nigricans, which are patches of skin on the neck, arms, breasts or thighs that are thick and dark brown or black in colour.
How do you get tested for PCOS?
PCOS cannot be diagnosed with one test alone and it’s tricky to pinpoint since the symptoms vary. That is why PCOS has been known as the “Silent Killer”. Early diagnosis of PCOS is important as it has been linked to an increased risk of insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Weight gain cannot always be viewed as a sign of PCOS, as it doesn’t always manifest in every patient. Many women may experience obesity, yet there are others who may be very lean. Multiple cysts on ovaries in a "string of pearls” pattern can also be an indicator for PCOS, but not all the time. You also do not have to be menstruating to have PCOS. Post-menopausal women can also suffer from it.
Elevated blood sugar levels could also be a warning sign. Studies have shown that approximately 40% of patients with diabetes and/or glucose intolerance between the ages of 20-50 have PCOS. The good news is that early diagnosis and proper education can help women lower all these risk factors and live a happy, healthy life.
The sad thing is 5-10% of women of childbearing age are affected, but less than 50% of women are diagnosed with PCOS.
If you suspect you have it, talk to your doctor or OB/GYN. Your doctor will talk to you about your medical history, perform a physical exam, and may run some tests. You may be sent for a pelvic ultrasound, which might show enlarged ovaries with small cysts. Blood tests may also be ordered. Doctors will check your hormone levels, including your male hormone levels and your thyroid. They will also check your blood sugar levels, to check for insulin resistance.
What are some of the treatments?
The symptoms of PCOS can be distressing for many women, especially those that effect their appearance. Luckily, there are a variety of treatment options available. We quickly list a few below. (Infertility is also a common problem with PCOS, but for treatment options, it is best to consult your doctor or fertility specialist.)
Acne is very common in women with PCOS. While there is no cure, there are a number of prescription options and over the counter treatments to help you manage it. Besides the traditional acne treatments, such as Salicylic acid and Benzoyl Peroxide, there are some other options available to PCOS sufferers:
• Birth control pills: They are the usual first choice. They can help reduce the production of androgens by regulating the menstrual cycle.
• Spironolactone: Is a diuretic, which also reduces androgen production.
• Metformin: Can reduce insulin resistance, which also has been linked to abnormal androgen levels.
• Topical antibiotics: It can help reduce inflammation by killing the bacteria which is commonly found in acne.
• Accutane: It is an acne treatment usually used for when traditional acne medications do not work. You must be very careful to not get pregnant while taking this medication.
Our Suggestion? At Élan, we see many women who suffer from acne, PCOS related, or otherwise. We find that along with traditional acne products, it also helps to supplement your skincare routine with acne-reducing facials. If there is already skin damage due to long-term acne, scars or pitted skin, sometimes microdermabrasion helps, as it gently removes the top skin layers to reveal fresher, undamaged skin underneath.
HIRSUTISM (EXCESS BODY AND FACIAL HAIR):
Hirsutism in women can be extremely distressing. Unfortunately, because hair growth is linked to excess androgens or male hormones, it’s also one of the most common symptoms of PCOS. Thankfully, a woman has many options available to her:
• Shaving: It cuts the hair at the skin's surface, but it needs to be done frequently to maintain a hair-free appearance.
• Medications: Your doctor may recommend birth control pills to decrease androgen production, or another medication that blocks the effects of androgens on the skin. Eflornithine (Vaniqa) is another medication possibility. The cream slows facial hair growth in women. Some medications have serious complications and side effects, so consult your doctor for specific information on each medication.
• Waxing: Wax is applied to the area. A cloth is applied to the wax, then is ripped off to remove the hair follicle. At-home waxing kits can be difficult to use, so professional waxing is often recommended.
• Depilatory Creams and Bleaches: They dissolve hair using a combination of chemicals, while bleaches remove the pigment from the hair, making it less visible. These could irritate the skin.
• Electrolysis: A small needle is inserted into the hair follicle and a small current of electricity is applied to kill it. Make sure to seek the services of someone who is certified.
• Laser Hair Removal: An intense beam of laser light is directed at the area being treated. While not permanent, laser hair treatment will remove hair for much longer periods of time than waxing or other forms of hair removal.
• Hair loss can also be an issue with PCOS because excess androgens can cause a female version of male-patterned baldness. Some women use a thickening shampoo and conditioner. Talk to your health care provider about safe hair regrowth treatments.
• PCOS could also affect your eyebrow hair, leading to sparse or thinning brows. Permanent make-up may be an option. If done by a certified technician, they can appear very natural.
Our recommendation? At Élan, we see many women with excess hair, whether on the face or on the body. It can be embarrassing and hard to treat, but we do recommend at least a few sessions of electrolysis or laser hair removal. We have had much success with both treatment options, but book a free consultation to see which one would be right for you. We also do waxing, if you require occasional hair removal. If you would like to know more about the kinds of permanent make-up we offer, book a free consultation with one of our certified technicians.
For more information on PCOS, consult your doctor or specialist or visit the Canadian Women’s Health Network at: http://www.cwhn.ca/en/node/44804
- What is PCOS? By The American PCOS Foundation; URL: http://www.pcosfoundation.org/what-is-pcos
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) fact sheet By the Office on Women’s Health; URL: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/polycystic-ovary-syndrome.html#c
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) By the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Healthwise; Web MD; URL: http://www.webmd.com/women/tc/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos-topic-overview
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) By Mayo Clinic Staff; Mayo Clinic; URL: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20028841
- PCOS Symptoms and Signs By Nicole Galan, RN; About.com – Health; URL: http://pcos.about.com/od/pcos101/a/pcosymptoms.htm
- Treating the Symptoms of PCOS By Nicole Galan, RN; About.com – Health; URL: http://pcos.about.com/od/treatingpcos/tp/Treating-The-Symptoms-Of-Pcos.htm
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) By the Canadian Women’s Health Network; URL: http://www.cwhn.ca/en/node/44804