Hirsutism: Why Women Might Develop Excessive Facial Hair
Facial hair is a common occurrence, varying in characteristics such as texture and colour.
Some people may have delicate, light-coloured hair, while others may have dense, dark strands along their beard line, chin, upper lip, neck, and forehead.
It is worth noting that while fine hair is present in everyone, the presence of coarse hair can provide valuable insight into our bodies. In women, excessive and coarse facial hair is a condition known as hirsutism. In most cases, this condition is attributed to an overproduction of male hormones (androgens), particularly testosterone, which stimulates hair growth. However, other underlying causes may also contribute to this condition. In this article, Dr. Sahana, a dermatologist at Sushrutha Orthopaedic, Eye Care and Skin Centre in Bangalore sheds light on the topic of excessive facial hair in women, known as hirsutism.
“Cultural norms regarding beauty stigmatise women who possess facial hair, depicting it as an anomaly. We have been socialised to embrace the belief that women should strive for flawlessly hairless bodies, devoid of any visible strands,” says Dr. Sahana.
What does hirsutism mean?
Dr. Sahana explains that hirsutism is a prevalent condition characterised by the excessive growth of hair that mainly impacts women and individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB). Instead of the usual fine hair known as "peach fuzz", hirsutism can lead to the development of coarse, dark hair growth on the upper lip, chin, chest, abdomen, or back. According to Dr Sahana while hirsutism can be distressing, there are treatment options available.
Hirsutism primarily impacts women and individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB). The likelihood of experiencing hirsutism is higher if there is a family history of conditions associated with it, particularly polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Reasons women might have excessive facial hair according to Dr. Sahana
Discussing the reasons behind excessive facial hair in women, Dr. Sahana explains that hirsutism, or the excessive growth of body or facial hair in women, is primarily caused by elevated levels of androgen hormones such as testosterone and androstenedione. “While androgens are naturally produced by both males and females, individuals assigned female at birth usually have lower levels,” said Dr. Sahana. However, when a woman's skin becomes unusually sensitive to androgens or her body overproduces these hormones, hirsutism can occur, she adds.
Here are various conditions according to Dr. Sahana, that can contribute to hormonal imbalances and the development of hirsutism.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS):
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance condition that commonly starts during puberty. As time passes, PCOS can lead to various symptoms such as excessive hair growth, irregular menstrual cycles, obesity, infertility, and occasionally the development of multiple cysts on the ovaries.
Cushing's syndrome arises when the body experiences elevated levels of the hormone cortisol. It can result from excessive production of cortisol by the adrenal glands or prolonged use of steroid medications like prednisone.
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
It is an inherited disorder marked by irregular production of steroid hormones, including cortisol and androgens, by the adrenal glands.
Adrenal Gland Disorders
Adrenal gland disorders such as tumours and cancer can also contribute to the development of hirsutism. When an adrenal tumour is present, it can cause an overproduction of hormones that disrupt blood pressure and sugar levels. Additionally, symptoms like headaches, fatigue, weight loss, irregular periods, and weight gain may manifest as well.
Certain medications can contribute to the development of hirsutism, a condition characterised by excessive hair growth. Examples of such medications include minoxidil, danazol (used for treating endometriosis in women), testosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone.
In some cases, the cause of excessive facial hair growth may not be identifiable. This condition, known as idiopathic hirsutism, is characterised by the absence of an underlying medical condition. It is believed to be related to a combination of genetic factors and the body's response to normal levels of androgens.
Genetics play a significant role in determining an individual's hair growth patterns. Some women may have a family history of hirsutism, making them more prone to excessive facial hair. Certain ethnicities, such as those of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent, are more likely to have a higher prevalence of facial hair.
Hirsutism, excessive body and facial hair can be a long-term challenge. Treatment can be effective, but hair may regrow if hormone levels become imbalanced again. Laser hair removal or electrolysis offers more permanent results than temporary methods. Some conditions causing hirsutism may need lifelong treatment. Managing hormones, weight, and diet, and seeking support can help ease the symptoms.
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