Unwanted facial hair is usually not related to a serious illness. However, it can be caused by several different factors, sometimes in combination. Since every woman is different, only a doctor can provide your diagnosis.
You may have heard the term “hirsutism” (hur-soo-tiz-um) used when discussing unwanted facial hair. Hirsutism is the medical term used to describe excessive hair growth in women specifically in “androgen dependent areas” (i.e. places where hair usually grows on men). This includes the face as well as the neck, chest, tummy, and back. Hirsutism is a fairly common condition that varies in degree from woman to woman.
[a.k.a. idiopathic] A common cause of unwanted facial hair in women. This is an inherited trait passed down through your family. In some cases, this may be related to your ethnic background or race. For instance, women from South Asian or Mediterranean countries are more likely to have darker, denser hair.
A side effect of a medication you are taking. Some drugs induce hair growth in general, and some drugs contribute to unwanted facial hair.
|•||Glucocorticoids - sometimes found in allergy or asthma medication and also used for various autoimmune disorders and organ transplants|
|•||Cyclosporin - used to suppress the immune system after organ transplants and also used to treat psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and arthritis|
|•||Progestative implants - intra-uterine devices (IUDs) with progesterone or progestagen|
|•||Body-building drugs - i.e. ‘anabolic steroids’|
|•||Phenytoin (or epanutin) - used to treat epilepsy|
|•||Phenothiazines - used in drugs that treat various psychological disorders|
|•||Diazoxide (a.k.a. eudemine) is used to treat long term hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) or very high blood pressure|
|•||Minoxidil - The oral version is used in the treatment of very high blood pressure|
All women produce small amounts of male-type hormones, such as testosterone, in the adrenal glands, the ovaries and in fat and muscle tissue. Unwanted facial hair can develop if one or more of these sites increase production. There are several medical conditions that can cause unwanted facial hair, but most are quite rare. The most common factors that can lead to changes in hormone levels with subsequent increases in facial hair are:
|•||PCOS - Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is fairly common in women of childbearing age and can cause unwanted facial hair. This condition is usually diagnosed in adulthood, but its symptoms often start in the teenage years. Women with unwanted facial hair caused by PCOS don't always have other symptoms of the condition.|
|•||Menopause - At the end of the fertile phase of a woman's life, hormonal changes occur that result in the permanent cessation of monthly periods or menstruation. These changes can also contribute to other changes in the body, such as an increase in facial hair.|
|•||Obesity - Excessive weight may cause changes in how the hormones are regulated and/or increase the amount of the male hormone produced by the body which can lead to hirsutism. Obesity is also often associated with PCOS.|
The only way to determine the cause of your unwanted facial hair is to consult a doctor. To arrive at an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will probably need to perform a physical examination and ask you some questions, such as:
|•||Do other members of your family also have excessive amounts of hair?|
|•||What medications are you taking?|
|•||Have your periods been regular?|
|•||Are you pregnant?|
|•||Have you noticed other signs of excess male hormones, such as increased muscle mass, deepening voice, acne, or decreased breast size?|
Your doctor may want to take a sample of your blood to determine the levels of male and female hormones in your system. Occasionally, other hormone tests are needed and these may be done by an endocrinologist or gynaecologist. Sometimes, an investigation (such as a scan) of the ovaries or other glands may be helpful.