Straight, No Chaser: Hirsutism (Abnormal Female Hair Growth)

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Have you ever wondered how and why some women develop more hair on their face and bodies than other women? That’s called hirsutism and is the topic of this Straight, No Chaser post.

What are the symptoms of hirsutism?

The first thing to appreciate about hirsutism is it doesn’t describe the fine, baby-like hair that normally appears on the body. The hair in hirsutism is thick and dark. It tends to present on the face, chest, back and sometimes on the abdomen. Other symptoms may include acne, decreased breast size, increased musculature, irregular menstruation and voice deepening.

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Why do these symptoms present?

Basically, hirsutism is seen in conditions that cause abnormally high levels of male hormones (androgens) in women.

Are there risk factors or medical conditions that make this more likely?

  • There are greater tendencies for certain ethnicities to experience hirsutism, including women of Middle Eastern, South Asian and Mediterranean descent.
  • Hirsutism is more likely in women whose mother also have it.
  • Medical conditions known to increase the level of male hormones in women include Cushing’s syndrome, tumors in the adrenal gland or ovaries, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Some medications also can cause hirsutism, including anabolic steroids, hormones and danazol (a medicine used to treat endometriosis).

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What can I do to get rid of the excess hair?

There actually are a few self-help techniques that work well for hirsutism.

  • Obesity involves an increased presence of hormones promoting hair growth. Lose weight.

Regarding hair removal, you will have to be careful to not exchange one problem for another. Many efforts used to remove hair lead to either stubble or facial irritation. Here are tips about a few such methods.

  • Shaving is the safest and easiest way to remove hair. The potential problem with shaving is the development of stubble, which is more likely if you don’t shave daily. Another problem is the level of skin irritation that can occur if you do shave daily.
  • Hair removal creams (aka depilatories) can be used without fear of stubble. However, these creams may irritate your skin, so it is often recommended to initially test creams for irritation on parts of your skin away from your face.
  • Bleaching paste may also be used but may also cause skin irritation.
  • Tweezing is good for removing stray hairs, and waxing is effective for removal larger areas. Waxing is more likely to produce skin irritation.

What are some professionally used methods for hair removal?

  • Electrolysis is a means of permanent hair removal facilitated by placing an electrical current into the hair follicle, destroying it. Perhaps your biggest risk here is ensuring your operator is licensed and competent prior to the procedure.
  • Laser hair removal is another means of permanent hair removal. It involves use of a laser light to damage hair follicles. This causes existing hair to fall out and prevents new hairs from growing back. Laser hair removal is expensive and has notable side effects, which may include redness, scarring and skin discoloration.

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When should I see my doctor about hirsutism?

A physician visit for hirsutism may be needed in these instances:

  • If your hirsutism occurs suddenly;
  • If your hirsutism is accompanied by irregular menstrual periods;
  • If your hirsutism is accompanied by deepening of your voice; and/or
  • If other methods of treatment don’t work. In these instances, different medical options may be employed, including prescription of birth control pills or other medications to counteract the male hormones.

Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.

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