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Facial Hair in Women

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What causes facial hair in women?

All women have hair on their faces and body but it is usually fine and light in colour.  There are many reasons why a woman may experience excessive facial hair growth, as well as over other parts of her body.  In the majority of cases the cause is changes in hormonal balance which can be experienced during puberty, pregnancy, after the menopause or if a woman suffers with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).  Other causes can be:-

  • Certain medicines
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Tumours

Excessive hair growth in areas in which men usually grown hair usually indicates the presence of excessive male hormones (androgens), or an increased sensitivity to them. This condition is called hirsutism. All women produce a small amount of the male hormone testosterone, but higher than normal levels may increase your sex drive, effect your menstrual cycle and produce excessive facial or body hair.

Pregnancy – During pregnancy the levels of testosterone in the blood rise which may lead to increase hair growth.  After the baby’s birth, testosterone levels will return to normal and you should notice hair growth returning to normal.

Menopause – during menopause the ovaries secret decreasing amounts of estrogen while the production of testosterone is unaffected, resulting in overall higher levels of testosterone.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS is the most common cause of hirsutism in younger women.  Benign cysts form on the ovaries which can affect hormone production.  This will often lead to excessive hair growth as well as irregular peroids, infertility, weight gain and acne.

Hormonal disorders – Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, Cushing’s disease and Acromegaly are conditions which affect the production of hormones which may result in hirsutism as one of the symptoms.

Obesity – Women with obesity can experience excessive hair growth.  This can be a result of the body producing high levels of insulin which can increase the production of testosterone.

TumoursTumours affecting the adrenal or pituitary glands and some tumours of the lungs, ovaries or digestive tract can increase the production of male hormones. If you are not already aware of suffering with a tumour, but notice a sudden growth of hair, consult your GP.

Medicines – some medicines such as anabolic steroids, minoxidil (for high blood pressure) and the contraceptive pill can affect your hormone levels, resulting in excessive hair growth.

Some cases of hirsutism are genetic with women from certain ethnic groups being more prone to excessive hair growth which starts from puberty and has a slow progression.

Diagnosis

If you experience a sudden growth of excess hair, a deepening voice, absence of menstrual periods or are concerned about increased hair growth, make an appointment to see your GP so that any causes, hormonal or otherwise, can be investigated and dealt with.

Your GP is likely to ask you questions about circumstances and extent of excessive hair growth you are experiencing and will examine the areas of concern. You will be asked about the pattern and speed of growth, as well as when you noticed any changes.  The GP will run tests to check your hormone levels. If they are high in androgens, they may send you for an ultrasound to check your ovaries or a CT scan to check your adrenal gland. These tests can show if you have any tumours.

What treatments are there for facial hair in women?

There are a number of treatments you may want to consider:-

  • Bleaching can effectively make dark hair less noticeable but will need to be done every 3-4 weeks.
  • Shaving is quick and easy, but you may experience stubble between shaves which can be unpleasant. You may find you will need to shave every day.
  • Waxing removes hairs from the roots so they take longer to grow back than shaving. Waxing is generally more painful though and can cause the skin to redden for a shortly while.
  • Epilators, like waxing, remove hair from the root and can be used to treat large areas.
  • Hair removal creams (depilatory) remove hair from the skin much like shaving but hair won’t feel as stubbly when it grows back and may last a couple of days longer before you feel the need to repeat the process.
  • Prescription hair removal cream (Elfornithine), marketed under the name Vaniqa, is used to slow down the growth of facial hair by inhibiting the enzymes required for the hair to grow. You should notice an effect within 8 weeks and it can be used alongside other hair removal methods. It is applied twice daily and can help treat excessive hair growth on the face and under the chin. This cream must not be used if you are under 18 or are pregnant.
  • Electrolysis can be a permanent solution but may require several treatments. Not only is it fairly expensive it can be quite painful and may cause scarring or changes in your skin colour.
  • Laser hair removal uses powerful beams of light to destroy the hair follicles. This treatment does not result in permanent hair removal but can leave the skin hair free for longer periods than home removal methods.  It can, however, leave you with permanant side effects including redness, scarring and change of skin colour.
  • Oral contraceptives may be considered by your GP for hirsutism effecting large areas of the body. Certain combined contraceptive pills (Co-cyprindiol) can treat excess hair growth by blocking the effects of male hormones in the body.

If any of the above treatments aren’t suitable, don’t work or adequately treat the problem, your GP is likely to refer you to a specialist.