Hirsutism

If you're a woman and you have a lot of hair growing in places where it normally does just for men, like your upper lip, chin, chest, stomach, or back, that’s a condition called hirsutism.

The hair is often dark and coarse, instead of the light, fine “peach fuzz” that covers most of the body.

About 5% of women in the U.S. have hirsutism.

Causes

It's often caused by genes, hormones, or medication.

Genes. Sometimes, hirsutism runs in families. If your mother or sisters have it, you're more likely to get it. It's also more common in people from the Middle East, South Asia, and the Mediterranean.

Hormones. Many times, the condition is linked to high levels of male hormones (called androgens). It's normal for women's bodies to make these, and low levels don't cause excess hair growth. But when these amounts are too high, they can cause hirsutism and other things, like acne, a deep voice, and small breasts.

High levels of male hormones and hirsutism are common in women who have:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome , which causes small cysts, or fluid-filled sacs, to form on your ovaries.
  • Cushing's syndrome, which you get when you have high levels of the stress hormone cortisol for long periods of time.
  • Tumors in your adrenal glands (which make hormones like cortisol) or your ovaries.

Medication. Some drugs can change the hormone levels in your system, so you grow unwanted hair on your face or body. This can happen with:

Treatments

If you have more facial or body hair than you want, there are a number of ways you can remove it.

Weight loss. If you’re overweight and drop pounds, your body should make fewer male hormones, so you should grow less hair on your face or body.

Shaving. You can remove unwanted hair easily with a razor or electric shaver. You may need to shave daily to avoid stubble growth. Some people get razor burn from shaving too often, but a soothing cream may help.

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Tweezing or threading. There are different ways to pluck hair out at the root. You can use tweezers. Or you can hire someone to “thread” -- use a long, tight strand to loop around and remove each unwanted hair. These methods can cause pain and redness.

Waxing. A quick way to remove lots of unwanted hair by the root is with melted wax. Often you get this done in a salon. Wax is applied to the skin, then removed quickly. It can cause pain and redness.

Creams. Some creams have strong chemicals called depilatories. You apply the cream, let it sit for a while, and when you wipe it off, the hair goes with it. They can irritate sensitive skin, so test a small spot before you use one on a large area.

Electrolysis. You can remove hair for good with electrolysis, a pricey service that zaps hair at the root with an electric current. After you repeat the process a few times, hair should stop growing in treated areas.

Laser Hair Removal. The heat from lasers can remove hair, but you need to repeat the process a few times, and it sometimes grows back. The treatment targets hair at the root, so it’s painful and could damage or scar your skin.

Medication. Doctors can prescribe drugs that change the way your body grows hair. When you stop using the medication, hair will grow back, though.

  • Birth control pills make the body produce fewer male hormones. With regular use, you should have less hair on your face or body.
  • Anti-androgen blockers help your body make and use fewer male hormones, so you should grow less hair over time.
  • Vaniqa (eflornithine) is a face cream that slows hair growth where you apply it.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on September 04, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Hirsutism.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Hormones and the Skin.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Removing Hair Safely.”

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