If you are a women and feel like you spend insane amounts of time removing body hair, you might be wondering what is considered normal. All women have body hair. It is normal a for women to have body hair on their legs, arms and under arms. It is usually light colored and fine in texture. If you are a women that has dark, coarse hair growing in other places such as your face, chest, back , or toes, you might have a medical condition causing it. The medical term for excessive body hair growth in women is hirsutism.
Genes: Hirsutism can be hereditary, Women of Mediterranean, South Asian and Middle Eastern descent tend to have more body hair. If other female members of your family have it , you most likely will to.
Hormonal Issues: Unwanted body and facial hair is not always a vanity issue. These are some of the medical conditions that cause women to be more hairy than normal:
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome : A group of symptoms caused by elevated androgens. Symptoms may include heavy, irregular or absent menstrual cycles, excess body and facial hair, acne, pelvic pain and infertility.
- Cushing’s Syndrome: A collection of symptoms caused by elevated cortisol levels, Classic signs may include high blood pressure, abdominal fat with thin arms and legs, a round face, a hump between the shoulders, weak muscles and acne.
- Adrenal Tumors: May be benign resulting in the over production of endocrine hormones or malignant causing adrenal cancer.
- Idiopathic : The cause of the excess hair is unknown cannot be found by medical evaluation.
Scheduling a doctors appointment is a good idea if feel like your hair growth is abnormal. An appointment with an endocrinologist is preferable but a gynecologist may also be able to evaluate and diagnose your condition.
Your doctor will usually diagnose hirsutism in the following ways:
- Pelvic and abdominal exam to detect masses.
- Blood work to determine levels of testosterone, DHEAS, cortisol and FSH.
- Ultrasound or CT scan to search for tumors or cysts on the ovaries or adrenal glands.
Ferriman-Gallwey score. This is a chart used to evaluate hirsutism in women. A score of 1-4 is given for 9 body areas. A score of 8-15 equals mild hirsutism, A score of 15 or higher indicates moderate to severe hirsutism.
- Birth Control Pills containing estrogen and progestin. This is the most common method of treatment for unwanted hair growth.
- Anti-androgen blockers. These are usually prescribed in addition to oral contraceptives if the pills are not effective on their own. The most common one used for excess hair growth is large doses of spirolactone which is also a diuretic. Be prepared to be in the bathroom all day if you are prescribed spirolactone.
- Prescription topical cream. Vaniqua is a RX cream for excessive facial hair in women. It is the only FDA approved topical hair growth inhibitor at the time of this writing. It is applied directly to your face, It won’t get rid of existing hair but will help to slow down new hair growth. If you live in the USA there is good chance your insurance will not help cover the cost of this. My endocrinologist fought with my health insurance over this one. We lost the appeal.
- Weight loss. Obesity can influence how hormones are produced and used by the body. If you are obese losing weight can sometimes decrease or correct some of the problems caused my hormone imbalances. Not everyone with hirsutism and specifically pcos are overweight, but a lot of women with the condition are.
Home Hair Removal Methods
Medical intervention can sometimes stop new hair from growing but will not get rid of the hair that already exists. Most women will choose to remove it themselves at home.
There are several home methods to remove unwanted body and facial hair.
- Plucking. This will remove hair from the roots. It is best to prep your skin with rubbing alcohol or witch hazel to avoid infections, plucking is time-consuming and not practical for removing large amounts of hair.
- Shaving. This is the most quick and cost effective way to remove large areas of hair. It only removes hair at the surface. Most women with pcos will need to shave daily and sometimes twice per day to keep up with the hair growth. I keep reading that shaving will not cause hair to grow back thicker and just appears that way. I wont bore you with the scientific details of this. Since it feels and looks thicker it is the same difference as far as I am concerned.
- Chemical Depilatories. This a cream or lotion applied to the skin that chemically breaks down the protein molecules of the hair shaft. It only removes hair at the surface but lasts longer than shaving.Depilatories can cause irritation or chemical burns if left on for to long. These creams tend to smell bad.
- Waxing. Warm wax is applied to the skin.once it hardens the wax is pulled from the skin removing the hair with it. It removes hair from the root and works well for large areas. The procedure is painful. Another disadvantage is that the hair needs to be a certain length to adhere to the wax, so there is a growing out period for the hair to be long enough. This can be done at home or professionally at a salon.
- Epilators: This is a hand held electrical device that mechanically grasps several hairs at once and pulls them out from the roots. It is more practical than plucking for large areas. It is painful. I use one and found that the pain subsides after you have been doing it for awhile on a regular basis. Exfoliate your skin prior to doing this. Otherwise you will have red bumps and ingrown hairs.
- Bleaching. This will not actually remove hair but will lighten it and make it less noticeable.
- Non prescription hair growth inhibitors. These creams do not remove hair but discourage and slow down future hair growth. They are used simultaneously with another hair removal method. Some of these can be bought over the counter at most drugstores. The ones I have personally found most effective I had to buy online.
Unwanted body and facial hair can be devastating and difficult to deal with. It is important to have your doctor evaluate the cause of your excess hair growth to rule out life threatening conditions such as adrenal cancer. Benign tumors can also cause problems if left untreated. Unfortunately, removing unwanted body and facial hair will be a life long challenge if it is caused by hormone imbalances. The good news is it can be managed by traditional medications as well as some holistic remedies. I will be discussing homeopathic methods to reduce hirsutism in future posts.