Most women have to reckon with some facial fuzz. But if your facial hair growth is way beyond normal and is causing you a lot of embarrassment and pain (while getting rid of it and otherwise!), it’s time to take a closer look at what’s causing it. Excessive hair growth in areas in which men usually have hair, as in the face, chest, neck, or tummy, is called hirsutism. This typically indicates you have more male hormones (androgens) than you should. However, do take a little comfort in the fact that this is a common problem and around 7% women in the USA suffer from hirsutism.1 Also, it is treatable.
Women from the Middle East, South Asia, and the Mediterraneans are more likely to have excess body hair.
But remember, the amount of hair that can be considered “excessive” or “normal” varies. For instance, your ethnic background may have a say in it – a little extra hair may actually just run in your family especially if you’re of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or South Asian descent.
1. Changes In Hormonal Balance
Some women seem to experience extra hair growth during puberty, pregnancy, or as they age, especially after menopause, due to shifts in hormonal balance, with an increase in male hormones.
When you are pregnant, the levels of testosterone in the blood serum rise naturally, which may lead to hirsutism. The symptoms resolve after the baby’s birth when the testosterone levels go back to normal. During menopause, the ovaries secrete less and less estrogen while the production of testosterone continues unhindered. As a result, the levels of androgens in the body rise abnormally and lead to virilization or masculine features.
Some medications like anabolic steroids or birth control pills with progesterone may mess with your hormone levels and trigger hirsutism. Other medicines include progestins, testosterone, bimatoprost, or cyclosporine.2
The most common cause of hirsutism in younger women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a disorder that is characterized by high androgen levels and results in ovarian cysts and irregular periods.
Obesity is associated with high levels of free testosterone in women and may contribute to hirsutism.3 Excess abdominal fat in particular can result in insulin resistance. High levels of insulin may also enhance androgen production.4
5. Hormonal Disorders
Adrenal or pituitary gland disorders that cause the oversecretion of male hormones can be responsible for excessive hair. For instance,
- Adrenal hyperplasia or enlarged adrenal glands that results in the abnormal production of male hormones
- Pituitary adenomas or non-cancerous tumors that secrete prolactin, a hormone associated with the production of androgens5
- Cushing syndrome which can be caused by tumors in the adrenal or pituitary glands
Tumors affecting the adrenal or pituitary glands as well as certain tumors of the lungs, ovaries, or digestive tract can sometimes increase the secretion of androgens and cause hirsutism.6 Sometimes, a tumor in the pituitary gland could also result in excessive hair. So if you notice a sudden spurt of hairiness, you should always visit the doctor.
7. Genetic Or Idiopathic Causes
Some cases of hirsutism are genetic. Like we mentioned, women from certain ethnic groups are more prone to body hair and the cause is chiefly genetic. Even if you don’t belong to these ethnic groups, a little extra hair may run in your family.
If you have facial hair or male-pattern hair growth though your period cycle, though your androgen levels are normal and you have none of the above-mentioned causes, you probably have idiopathic hirsutism. This means that the exact cause for hirsutism is not known, though it is likely that there’s a disorder in the way androgens function in your body. About 20% of the cases of hirsutism are of this type. In this case, the hair growth starts after puberty and has a slow progression.7
Caution: If you are experiencing a sudden and quick (within a few weeks or months) growth of excess hair, have developed other masculine features like a deepening of the voice, or are facing the absence of menstrual periods, you must see a doctor so that the underlying hormonal causes can be investigated and addressed.8
Use Medicines Or Hormone Therapy
In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medication (for instance, eflornithine cream) or recommend hormone therapy to treat hirsutism.9
Try Waxing, Shaving, Or Laser Hair Removal
Cosmetic options to remove unwanted hair that you can check out at home include waxing, shaving, or using hair removal creams. Laser hair removal and electrolysis will require the help of a professional.
Fight The Root Cause With Diet And Exercise
If you’re overweight, knocking off those extra pounds through a balanced diet and exercise can help control the underlying hormonal disorders such as PCOS causing the hair growth.
Try Herbal Remedies
Some herbal remedies described for hirsutism in alternative medicine may also be helpful. Spearmint and neem10 are recommended in Unani for hirsutism and have been found to have anti-androgen properties. One study showed that spearmint tea twice a day for a month lowered the testosterone levels of women participants.11 Topical application of saw palmetto extract12 and nut grass oil are also effective in treating hirsutism.13
Do remember to check with your doctor before using herbs that may affect your hormonal balance, though.
|↑1||Bode, David, Dean A. Seehusen, and Drew Baird. “Hirsutism in women.” American family physician 85, no. 4 (2012): 373-380.|
|↑2||Hunter, MELISSA H., and Peter J. Carek. “Evaluation and treatment of women with hirsutism.” American family physician 67, no. 12 (2003): 2565-2572.|
|↑3, ↑7||Sachdeva, Silonie. “Hirsutism: evaluation and treatment.” Indian journal of dermatology 55, no. 1 (2010): 3.|
|↑4||Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) fact sheet, US Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑5||Higuchi, Kazumi, Hajime Nawata, Toshio Maki, Masayoshi Higashizima, Ken-Ichi Kato, and Hiroshi Ibayashi. “Prolactin has a direct effect on adrenal androgen secretion.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 59, no. 4 (1984): 714-718.|
|↑6||Hirsutism, National Health Service.|
|↑8||R. Porter, J. Kaplan. The Merck Manual Go-To Home Guide For Symptoms. Simon and Schuster, 2013.|
|↑9||Treatments for hirsutism, National Health Service.|
|↑10||Sharma, J. D., R. K. Jha, Ira Gupta, Prabha Jain, and V. P. Dixit. “Antiandrogenic Properties Of Neem Seed Oil (Azadirachta Indica) in Male Rat and Rabbi.” Ancient science of life 7, no. 1 (1987): 30.|
|↑11||Grant, Paul. “A randomised clinical trial of the effects of spearmint herbal tea on hirsutism in females with polycystic ovarian syndrome.” (2008).|
|↑12||Yousefi, Maryam, B. Barikbin, S. Givrad, Hamideh Moravej, and R. Khoushnoudi. “The Effectiveness of the Extract of Serenoa Repens (Saw Palmetto) in Idiopathic Facial Hirsutism (Letter to Editor).” (2009): 139-140.|
|↑13||El-Kaream, Ghada Farouk Abd. “Role of Cyperus rotundus oil in decreasing hair growth.” Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology 1, no. 2 (2012): 111-118.|