Hormonal Contraception as a Hirsutism Treatment

multiple packs of birth control pills

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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.

If you use this type of birth control, you may not even be aware of its non-contraceptive 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 non-contraceptive benefits can be considered when determining which hormonal birth control method to use.

Birth Control That Is Effective as a Treatment

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

Combination Oral Contraceptives

Combination 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 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.

Birth Control That Is Not Effective

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.

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Article Sources

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  1. Mihailidis J, Dermesropian R, Taxel P, Luthra P, Grant-Kels JM. Endocrine evaluation of hirsutism. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2017 Feb 16;3(1 Suppl):S6-S10. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.02.007

  2. Martin KA, Anderson RR, Chang RJ, et al. Evaluation and Treatment of Hirsutism in Premenopausal Women: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2018;103(4):1233-1257.doi:10.1210/jc.2018-00241

  3. 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.

Additional Reading

  • 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.

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