There are certain parts of the body where hair does not usually grow. Yet some people continue to sprout hair in these usually bare areas. Hair of this nature can be considered superfluous. Both men and women can grow from superfluous hair that impacts their appearance and lifestyle. While the definition of unwanted hair varies by gender, many of the underlying causes and treatments are the same.
The idea of superfluous hair is largely based on cultural norms and gender variation. For example, in cultures where women do not shave under their arms, female armpit hair is not superfluous. In the U.S., the most common locations for male superfluous hair is on the the shoulders and the back. For females, typical places for superfluous hair are the face and chest.
The causes of superfluous hair vary by gender. Superfluous hair in men is usually tied to increased levels of androgens such as testosterone. In women, high levels of androgen can also add to superfluous hair, a condition referred to as hirsutism. Hirsutism is a side effect of many other health complications including Cushing's syndrome, caused by hormone imbalance, polycystic ovary syndrome and even tumors. Some medications, such as danazol, can cause hirsutism as a side effect. Studies have shown that women of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian ancestry are more prone to hirsutism. Many of the conditions that result in superfluous hair are hereditary, and hirsutism can be considered a genetic condition as well.
Although the sudden growth of hair in unusual places can indicate a more serious underlying condition, hair growth itself is innocuous. However, the embarrassment that can result from superfluous hair can be serious enough for some people to seek solutions. As mainstream concepts of beauty promote certain aesthetics, deviations from this ideal are troublesome for some people. People with unwanted hair can be the targets of taunting, staring and even isolation.
While conventional wisdom states that hair should only grow in certain areas, excess hair can be of some benefit as well. For instance, men with copious back hair have some natural protection from UV rays on a sunny day. In addition, some people actually find hairiness appealing, even in unconventional places.
There are dozens of solutions to help remedy the problem of unwanted hair. Some people seek to remove the hair completely, while others simply want to cover it up. One way to cover up superfluous hair is with bleach. People with darker hair may have a more difficult time seeing results with this method. Plus, if you have a lot of hair, people will still notice your unwanted hair even if it is bleached. For those who seek to get rid of the hair, options vary in price, permanence and level of discomfort. The easiest and cheapest way to get rid of hair is to shave it. However, shaved hair will grow back in just a couple days. Also, if your superfluous hair is in a hard-to-reach area like your nose or ears, shaving is more challenging. Others apply chemicals called depilatories that dissolve the hair. The main problem with a depilatory is that many people are allergic to the chemicals. Another method is waxing, in which hot wax is applied to the hair and then stripped off with a cloth. Although waxing usually gets rids of hair for many weeks, it's often painful and unless you purchase at-home wax, it can be expensive. On the more permanent side, electrolysis uses electrical current to destroy the hair follicles. Since electrolysis treatment requires multiple sessions, it's pricey. In addition, some people scar from the electrolysis process. For those who want a more permanent but less painful solution, laser treatment is an option. However, like electrolysis, laser treatment is expensive and time-consuming.