Hirsutism

What Is Hirsutism?

Hirsutism is a condition in women in which you have a lot of hair growing in places where it usually does just for men.

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.

Symptoms of Hirsutism

With hirsutism, extra hair will grow on your:

  • Face
  • Chest
  • Lower stomach
  • Inner thighs
  • Back

Causes and Risk Factors of Hirsutism

Common causes of hirsutism include:

  • 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.
  • 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:
  • Drugs that have hormones, like anabolic steroids
  • Drugs that spur hair growth, like minoxidil (Rogaine)
  • A drug called danazol (Danocrine) that can help with endometriosis, when the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside the womb

Risk factors for hirsutism

A few things can make hirsutism more likely, including:

  • Family history. Some conditions that run in families and affect your hormones can cause hirsutism.
  • Ancestry. Women from Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, or South Asian backgrounds are more likely to have extra body hair.
  • Obesity. Extra weight causes your body to make more male hormones, which can make hirsutism worse.

Diagnosing Hirsutism

Your doctor will look at your hair growth and check for any other signs of hirsutism, like acne. They might rule out other conditions with tests including:

  • Blood tests to check your hormone levels
  • Ultrasound to look at your ovaries and uterus
  • X-ray to examine your adrenal glands

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Treatments for Hirsutism

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 may make fewer male hormones.
  • 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.
  • 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 and then removed quickly. It can cause pain and redness.
  • Creams. Some creams have strong chemicals called depilatories. You apply the cream and 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 service that zaps hair at the root with an electric current. After you repeat the process several 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 several times, and it sometimes grows back. The treatment targets hair at the root, so it’s painful and could damage your skin.
  • Medication. Doctors can prescribe drugs that change the way your body grows hair. But when you stop using it, hair will grow back.
  • Birth control pills make the body produce fewer male hormones. With regular use, you should have less hair on your face or body.
  • Anti-androgens help your body make and use fewer male hormones.
  • Eflornithine (Vaniqa) is a face cream that slows hair growth where you apply it.

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on September 11, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Hirsutism.”

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

FDA: “Removing Hair Safely.”

Mayo Clinic: “Hirsutism.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Excessive Hair Growth (Hirsutism).”

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