Excess Facial Hair in Women -- When to Worry
Approximately 10 percent of women experience excess facial hair. The condition is known as hirsutism. The cause may be genetic, but sometimes a medical problem exists that should be investigated. It's important to know when you should ask your doctor if there might be an underlying cause.
Hormones Contribute to Facial Hair in Women
Excess facial hair in women is defined by the presence of coarse, dark hair on the lip, chin, chest and sideburn area. It is the result of higher levels of the hormone dihydrotestosterone, a precursor to testosterone. Some levels of testosterone are normal in women, responsible for thick beautiful hair and eyelash growth. Estrogen and testosterone act together to provide normal hormonal balance.
There may be no underlying cause for excess body hair in women; the term used when there are no discernible medical problems is "idiopathic." When a medical problem exists, it usually appears at puberty and may be the result of polycystic ovarian disease, or abnormalities in adrenal gland function.
Older women who suddenly experience facial hair growth should have a medical exam to rule out the presence of ovarian, endometrial or adrenal cancer. Tumors associated with cancer secrete hormones that cause facial hair to grow rapidly.
Other medical causes include obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance. Young women with sudden weight gain who have recently discontinued oral contraceptives might see an increased growth in facial hair.
Drugs including testosterone and anabolic steroids also promote facial hair in women. Less common but serious health problems include include anorexia,, acromegaly, hypothyroidism, hyperprolactinemia and porphyria, all of which are also associated with hirsutism.
Ethnicity and familial tendency toward facial hair are normal in many women, and can be dealt with by using depilatory creams, bleaches or visits to the aesthetician.
If facial hair exceeds that which is culturally normal, it may be important to see your doctor for hormone testing or a review of medications that might be contributing to the problem.