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Can Hormonal Contraception Be a Helpful Hirsutism Treatment?

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Updated April 22, 2011

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Question: Can Hormonal Contraception Be a Helpful Hirsutism Treatment?

Hirsutism is excessive male-pattern hair growth in certain areas of a woman's face and body, such as the mustache and beard area. Androgens, the dominant sex hormones in men, can be responsible for these conditions. Women normally have low levels of androgens, but abnormally high levels of androgens can lead to excess hair growth. Given that hormonal contraception can reduce the levels of free androgen in your system, certain combination birth control pills can be a helpful hirsutism treatment.

Answer:

Over two-thirds of women living in the United States will use hormonal birth control (like the Pill) at sometime during their reproductive years. If you using this type of birth control, you may not even be aware of its noncontraceptive benefits. Certain hormonal contraceptives have been shown to diminish the effects of hirsutism. It is important to note that women may react differently to specific contraception, so this information is intended as a general overview. Please keep in mind that hormonal contraception is meant to be used for birth control (to prevent an unintended pregnancy) -- potential noncontraceptive benefits can be considered when determining which hormonal birth control method to use.

The following is a list of various prescription birth control methods that have been shown to be an effective hirsutism treatment:

  • Combination OCs: All of these birth control pills have the potential to improve hirsutism because they can reduce the levels of free androgen in your body (androgens initiate and maintain the acne and hair growth). Androgenic effects refer to the likelihood that the progestin (in contraception) may cause unpleasant side effects. Progestins with higher androgenic activity may increase the chances of androgen-related side effects like hirsutism. Pills with formulations of higher estrogen, lower androgen potencies may be better at reducing hirsutism.


  • Research has also shown that combination pills that contain the second generation progestin levonorgestrel as well as the third generation progestin desogestrel were both effective in improving hirsutism.


  • Yaz: In a small randomized controlled trial, a drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol pill (Yaz) was just as effective in improving hirsutism as Diane 35, Dianette, Ginet-84 and Estelle 35 (oral contraceptives containing cyproterone acetate and ethinyl estradiol) and Valette (an oral contraceptive containing dienogest) - all of these birth control pills are often used to treat conditions aggravated by androgenic hormones.


  • The Patch: It appears that the patch can combat some androgen-related issues, similar to that of certain combination OCs. Because of this, the patch can have a positive effect on androgenic conditions such as hirsutism.


  • Ineffective: Combination birth control pills have the potential to improve hirsutism because they increase sex hormone binding globulin which leads to the reduction of the levels of free androgen. Because it is not taken orally, the NuvaRing may have a lesser effect on sex hormone binding globulin, so it does not show the same ability to improve hirsutism. Progestin-only pills are not normally considered an effective hirsutism treatment either.

Sources:

Batukan C, Muderris II. "Efficacy of a new oral contraceptive containing drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol in the long-term treatment of hirsutism." Fertil Steril 2006; 85:436–40. Accessed via private subscription.

Breitkopf DM, Rosen MP, Young SL, Nagamani M. "Efficacy of second versus third generation oral contracpties in the treatment of hirsutism." Contraception 2003; 26:349–53. Accessed via private subscription.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Noncontraceptive uses of hormonal contraceptives." Practice Bulletin No. 110, Jan 2010 115:206-218. Accessed via private subscription.

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