Excessive hair in women: Hirsutism and Hypertrichosis.
You hear facial hair and I guess you immediately think of a man, right? Have you ever wondered why that happens? The thing is that we all have hair. Sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes darker, sometimes lighter; but we all have it.
By that logic, wouldn’t it be silly to be embarrassed about it? It would be like being embarrassed that we also have toes. Yet, it’s become so natural for us that we try our best to remove or conceal it. Please know that it is absolutely fine to want to remove hair. It’s your body and only you can decide what to do with it.
Below I’m going to cover why some of us may have more facial hair than others. Plus, if you do want to remove it, ways you can do so safely. If you’re interested in reading more about beauty ideals and their impacts, I’ve written a piece on it, which you can find here.
Hair and hormones
The topic of hair is a little more complex than ‘you either have it or you don’t’ because it has a lot more to do with genes and hormone production and secretion. An increase in testosterone and other androgens (a cluster of hormones responsible for male characteristics) can sometimes lead to hirsutism. Hirsutism is when women (or individuals assigned female at birth) develop hair that is thick, coarse and dark. This grows in places like the face, neck, chest, lower abdomen and back, buttocks or thighs. It is directly related to the production and secretion of our androgen hormones.
Hirsutism vs. hypertrichosis
Hirsutism has a genetic component, indicating that if a female family member has or is experiencing it, you may develop it as well. In fact, it can affect up to 10% of the female population worldwide. Interestingly, it is seen more commonly in those with Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage.
Recap: Hirsutism is dependent on the production and secretion of androgens. Hypertrichosis, on the other hand, is when excess hair is found on other parts of the body. For example, when seeing the effects of androgens, hair usually grows on facial areas, lower back, lower abdomen and legs. Hair growth in those areas is likely due to hirsutism. This is because those areas are usually those where men (who have naturally higher levels of androgens) grow hair.
It is important to mention that hypertrichosis is an extremely rare syndrome. I have included it here for a more comprehensive overview of information, but chances are, you don’t suffer from it.
Where PCOS comes into the picture
Due to the hormonal differences in syndromes and disorders such as PCOS (Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome), excess hair in women can be seen more often here. PCOS can be characterised by an irregular menstrual cycle, ovarian cysts, or elevated androgens seen through a blood sample. The Hormona team have written an interesting piece on the 5 biggest misconceptions of PCOS which I highly suggest you take a look at!
Hirsutism can also coincide with Cushing’s disease and other adrenal gland disorders, insulin resistance as well as some medications.
Treatments for excesive or unwanted hair
The great news to all this is that excess or unwanted hair is highly treatable! Meaning, you can make it go away. For all those that were waiting for the end to find out how you can remove hair safely, here it is. Scientists (researchers and doctors) recommend 3 main things: treatment with medication (also known as pharmacological intervention), hair removal, or a combination of the two.
It is best to speak to a doctor before proceeding with any type of medication. This is so that your doctor can run any tests they consider necessary and reasonable. It also helps them form a comprehensive treatment plan.
Hair removal techniques:
Waxing can be effective as it doesn’t have to be done as often as other methods of hair removal such as shaving. However, waxing can aggravate your skin, especially when not done right, or if you have sensitive skin. It can also leave your pores vulnerable, potentially forming pimples.
Other options also include threading and using tweezers. It does take longer, but you may be eliminating some of the aggravation to your skin.
Shaving can be quick, easy and effective. You can do it in the comfort and privacy of your own home and you can do it as often as you like. A common fear around shaving is that hair will grow back thicker and darker than it already does, and at super-lightening speed.
Electrolysis and laser hair removal therapies are the closest to permanent or near-permanent hair removal, though both can be costly. Depending on your preferences, pain tolerance, and a bunch of other personal factors, there are a few options to choose from. As mentioned in my other article linked above, my best advice to you is to keep things clean (hygienic) and safe.
Overall, humans have hair. And that includes women, too! So let’s normalise having hair without having a panic stricken reaction to seeing it grow on our bodies. If you want to remove it, cool, if you want to keep it, that’s cool too! But there is nothing wrong with you or me for having it. After all, it’s just another little part of being human.