The amount of body hair you have is largely determined by your genetic makeup and varies widely among women. Usually, a woman will only grow fine hair (peach fuzz) on her lips, chin, chest, abdomen, or back. However, when women grow coarse, dark hairs in these areas, typical of male hair growth, this is a sign of a common yet frustrating condition called hirsutism (HER-soot-iz-um).
While hirsutism can present itself in many areas of the body, this information guide focuses specifically in equipping women with the knowledge to tackle hirsutism on the face or neck also known as unwanted Facial Hair (UFH).
UFH is a medical condition that causes too much hair to grow on a woman’s face and neck. It typically begins to develop during puberty, however, an inherited tendency, hormonal imbalance, or various medications can cause it to appear at any age. Sometimes, the cause remains unknown (idiopathic hirsutism). Regardless of the cause, excess hair, especially on the face, can be a source of great distress for most women, leading to anxiety, depression and reduced quality of life.
There are, however, various strategies to help you effectively manage your UFH. Once a medical diagnosis of UFH is made, you and your physician can explore the treatment options available to you. It is, however, important your physician first rule out any underlying medical conditions.
What are the causes of unwanted facial hair?
Unwanted Facial Hair (UFH) growth in women can be caused by a number of issues. Most commonly, these issues are related to either a hormonal imbalance or the impact of various medications. Sometimes, however, the cause remains unknown (idiopathic hirsutism).
All women normally produce low levels of male hormones (androgens). Unwanted Facial Hair (UFH) growth in women may occur when the body makes too much male hormone. Conditions that can cause high androgen levels include:
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (POS)
POS is one of the most common identifiable causes of hirsutism. This condition is caused by an imbalance of sex hormone levels in a woman’s body that may result in irregular periods, acne, obesity, infertility and sometimes multiple cysts on the ovaries.
This is a condition that occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol, a steroid hormone involved in your body’s response to stress. It can develop when your adrenal glands – small hormone secreting glands located just above your kidneys – make too much cortisol, or it can occur from taking cortisol-like medications over a long period of time.
Increased cortisol levels disrupt the balance of sex hormones in your body, which can result in UFH.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
This inherited condition is characterized by abnormal production of steroid hormones, including cortisol and androgen, by your adrenal glands.
As hormone levels, and even weight, change during and after menopause, some women may find they develop UFH.
Other rare conditions
Rarely, tumours in the ovaries or adrenal gland, formed when abnormal cells grow out of control and clump together may cause UFH.
Some medications can cause UFH. These medicines include hormones, anabolic steroids and some immunosuppressive drugs.
Sometimes, there is just no identifiable cause. Excessive facial hair growth in women with normal androgen levels, regular menstrual periods and no other underlying conditions is called idiopathic hirsutism. This occurs more frequently in certain ethnic populations, such as women of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian ancestry.