Increased hair growth in women can be perceived as a nuisance, especially in those who get heavy hair growth which, due to Western beauty ideals, is associated with male appearance. Increased hair growth in women is usually called hirsutism and can occur for a variety of reasons.
Male sex hormone, testosterone, is found in various amounts in both men and women. The hormone, for example, controls how much hair you have in places like armpits and genitals. Certain periods of life naturally result in altered hair growth. At puberty, hair is added to the armpits and around the genitals. Naturally around the menopause you can get thinner hair on the head and stronger hair on the face. The changes that occur around these hormone-intensive periods in life are expected.
The concept of hirsutism is about more unexpected changes in women’s hair growth, for example, hair that occurs in places where it is usually absent. There is also another term called hypertricosis, which generally means increased hair loss. Hirsutism is seen by some as a cosmetic problem, but annoying hair growth can be a frustrating nuisance that can lead to social withdrawal. This can contribute to depression and anxiety in the face of social situations.
Symptoms of hirsutism
The symptom is that the appearance and location of the hair can change. It can become coarser, darker and more visible. Medically, the hair types are called velellus and terminal hair. Vellus hair is discrete hair that covers the majority of the body while terminal hair is thicker, longer and darker. In hirsutism, places with velellus hair usually move to terminal hair.
Some common places where increased hair growth can occur are:
- The legs
Some conditions that cause hirsutism also cause other effects of male sex hormone. For example, it may be that the voice gets deeper or that you gain more muscle mass.
Causes of hirsutism
Some causes of increased hair growth in women are:
- Idiopathic hirsutism (increased hair growth with no obvious underlying cause)
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)
- Hormonal changes due to body disorders (unusual)
Idiopathic hirsutism means that the increased hair growth occurs without a clear cause. A common interpretation of idiopathic hirsutism is that, purely genetically, there is often more and coarser hair growth within the family. This can often be noticed in male relatives as well. In those with this type of increased hair growth, elevated levels of male sex hormones are rarely seen.
PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is an ovarian disease in which hormonal disorders lead to symptoms such as irregular menstruation, weight gain and increased hair growth. PCOS is a disease with varying severity of symptoms that is most often detected when you are having difficulty getting pregnant.
Some unusual causes of hirsutism are hormonal changes in the adrenal cortex, ovaries or pituitary gland.
Treatment of hirsutism
If you have a high amount of male sex hormone in the body, birth control pills can be used to increase the amount of female sex hormone, estrogen, in the body. Weight loss (if justified) can also be something that prevents heavy hair growth. There are also drug treatments and laser treatments, usually with limited or short-term effect.
In most cases of hirsutism, however, it is rather about finding effective cosmetic treatment rather than drug treatment. Contrary to popular belief, methods such as shaving and hair removal cream do not stimulate hair growth.
Some methods for increased hair growth are:
- Shaving (with mature razor with double razor blade after softening of the skin)
- Bleaching of dark hairs
- Hair Removal Cream
- Epilation (a method where hair follicles are destroyed by a weakly carrying needle)
When should you seek care?
If you have any of these signs, you should seek care at a medical center or gynecological ward:
- Men less than four times a year
- More hair on the body than before
- Difficulties in getting pregnant