Hirsutism is a medical condition that refers to abnormal or excessive hair growth in women. Like men, women also have body and facial hair but you barely notice it because it is normally light in colour and fine in texture. The hair growth caused by hirsutism is usually dark and coarse. So, what causes facial hair on a woman? Read on and find out for yourself.

Understanding Hirsutism

There are two types of excessive hair growth — hirsutism and hypertrichosis. Hypertrichosis is the increase of hair growth anywhere on the body, while hirsutism is excessive hair growth on areas that are naturally hairy on men. This includes the face, abdomen, chest, back, and arms.

Is hirsutism common?

Based on the study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, hirsutism affects up to 10% of women. It can be hereditary and is typically more common among women of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and South Asian descent.

Is hirsutism dangerous?

While there are no direct health concerns with hirsutism, excessive hair growth on the body can affect a woman’s self-esteem.

Causes of facial hair on a woman

The main culprits behind hirsutism are the hormones androgen and testosterone. Too much production of these hormones can cause male-pattern hair growth and other symptoms like deepening of the voice, acne, decreased breast size, enlargement of the clitoris, balding, and increased muscle mass.

So, what triggers the overproduction of androgen?

There are several medical conditions that affect the production of androgen in the body. Some of the common ones include:

Disorders in the adrenal glands

Your adrenal glands are responsible for producing hormones in your body. They are found just above your kidneys. Common adrenal gland disorders include:

  • Adrenal tumours
  • Adrenal cancer
  • Cushing Syndrome - a condition where your adrenal glands produce too much cortisol or “stress hormones”.
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia - a group of genetic diseases that prevent the adrenal glands from producing hormones normally.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome

Commonly known as PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome is characterised by benign cysts that form on the ovaries — affecting your hormone production, menstrual cycle, and fertility.

Some of the symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Pelvic pain
  • Mood changes
  • Headaches
  • Infertility

According to studies, polycystic ovarian syndrome is the most common cause of facial hair on women. In fact, it is responsible for 75% of hirsutism cases.

Certain medications

Aside from illnesses, certain medications may also cause excessive hair growth in women. Some of them are:

  • Minoxidil - a medicine used to treat endometriosis in women. Also used to encourage hair growth.
  • Testosterone - usually taken to correct testosterone deficiency
  • Cyclosporine - a drug that’s usually used before organ operations
  • Anabolic steroids - many of these are synthetic versions of testosterone.

Who are at risk of developing excessive facial hair?

Now that we know what are the causes of hirsutism, let’s look at who is more likely to develop it.

Women who are obese - too much weight may stimulate overproduction of androgen.

Family history - most of the underlying causes of facial hair on women (i.e. polycystic ovarian syndrome and congenital adrenal hyperplasia) run in families. This means that if one of your family members develops hirsutism, there’s a big chance that’ you’ll get it too.

Ancestry - several studies show that women who are from South Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East are more likely to develop facial hair than women from other countries. Until now, doctors can’t pinpoint a reason why this is the case.

What are the complications of hirsutism?

Hirsutism in itself is not fatal but it can have a big impact on a woman’s self-confidence. As one study states: “Hirsutism is recognized to cause profound distress in affected women, due to cosmetic and psychosexual implications.”

The hormonal imbalance that causes hirsutism may have a significant impact on a woman’s health. For example, if you have the polycystic ovarian syndrome, you are at risk of infertility.

If you have Cushing’s Disease, you are more at risk of developing premature atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries), diabetes, and hypertension.

How to treat facial hair on a woman

Treating hirsutism may involve treating the underlying disorder that caused it. Aside from that, you can also develop a self-care routine to get rid of excess hair as well as various medications and therapies. Let’s discuss below some of the ways that you can treat excessive hair growth.

Oral contraceptives - hormonal contraceptives or birth control pills can help treat hirsutism that’s caused by excessive androgen production. This is a good option if you don’t want to become pregnant.

Anti-androgen drugs - these types of drugs are used to prevent androgens from “activating” inside your body. Anti-androgens are usually given if oral contraceptives are not effective. Spironolactone (brand name: Aldactone, CaroSpir) is the most commonly used anti-androgen drug. It takes about six months for results to become noticeable.

Vaniqa - this topical cream is specifically made for women who have facial hair. Vaniqa is applied directly to the affected area. Although it doesn’t get rid of existing hair, Vaniqa is very effective in slowing down new hair growth. You can see results within 4 - 8 weeks of using this product. You can buy Vaniqa online from Express Pharmacy today.