Excessive or Unwanted Hair in Women

Understanding excessive hair growth

Excessive or unwanted hair that grows on a woman’s body and face is the result of a condition called hirsutism. All women have facial and body hair, but it is usually very fine and light-colored.

The main difference between the typical hair on a woman’s body and face (often called “peach air”) and the hair caused by hirsutism is the texture. Excess or unwanted hair growing on a woman’s face, arms, back, or chest is often coarse and dark. The growth pattern of hirsutism in women is associated with virilization. Women with this disease often have features associated with male hormones.

Hirsutism is not the same as hypertrichosis, which refers to excess hair in areas not dependent on androgens (male hormones). Hirsutism is excessive hair growth in areas typically seen in men, such as the face and lower abdomen. Hypertrichosis, on the other hand, can increase hair on any part of the body.

According to the Indian Journal of Dermatology , hirsutism affects 5 to 10 percent of women. It tends to run in the family, so if you have a mother, sister, or other female relative, you could end up with unwanted hair growth. Women of Mediterranean, South Asian, and Middle Eastern heritage are also more likely to develop the condition.

An excess of body hair can lead to feelings of self-awareness, but it’s not dangerous. However, the hormonal imbalance that can lead to this can endanger a woman’s health.

Why do women grow excessive or unwanted hair?

Women develop excessive body or facial hair due to higher-than-normal levels of androgens, including testosterone. All females produce androgens, but levels typically remain low. Certain medical conditions can cause a woman to produce too much androgens. This can cause male pattern hair growth and other male characteristics such as a deep voice.

polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common cause of hirsutism. It accounts for three out of every four cases of hirsutism, according to American Family Physicians. Benign cysts that form in the ovaries can affect hormone production, causing irregular menstrual cycles and decreased fertility. The Office of Women’s Health states that women with PCOS often have moderate to severe acne and tend to be overweight. Additional symptoms may include:

  • tiredness
  • mood changes
  • infertility
  • pain in the pelvis
  • headache
  • sleep problems

adrenal gland disorders

Other types of hormonal imbalances that cause hair to grow excessively include these adrenal gland disorders:

  • adrenal cancer
  • adrenal tumors
  • congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • Cushing’s disease

The adrenal glands, located just above your kidneys, are responsible for hormone production. People with congenital adrenal hyperplasia are born without an enzyme necessary for hormone production. Those with Cushing’s disease have higher-than-normal cortisol levels. Cortisol is sometimes called the “stress hormone”. All of these conditions can affect the way your body produces androgens.

Symptoms of adrenal gland disorders include:

  • hypertension
  • bone and muscle weakness
  • excess weight in the upper body
  • headache
  • high or low blood sugar levels


Excessive body or facial hair growth can also be caused by taking any of the following medications:

  • Minoxidil used to stimulate hair growth
  • anabolic steroids, which are synthetic variations of testosterone
  • testosterone, which can be taken in case of testosterone deficiency
  • cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant drug that is frequently used before organ transplantation

In some cases, women may experience idiopathic hirsutism, which means that there is no detectable reason why hirsutism develops. It is often chronic and can be difficult to treat.

Diagnosing hirsutism

When hirsutism is diagnosed, your doctor will follow a detailed medical history. Discuss your medication use with your doctor to help them determine the cause of your condition. Your doctor will order blood tests to measure your hormone levels. In some cases, your doctor may order blood work to make sure you don’t have diabetes.

An ultrasound or MRI scan of your ovaries and adrenal glands may be needed to check for the presence of tumors or cysts.

Treatment of excess or unwanted hair

Hormone management

If you are overweight, your doctor will likely suggest you lose weight to reduce hair growth. Obesity can change the way your body produces and processes hormones. Maintaining a healthy weight can improve your androgen levels without the need for medication.

If excessive hair growth is a symptom of PCOS or adrenal disorders, you may need medical treatment. Medication in the form of birth control pills and antiandrogen drugs can help balance your hormone levels.

Antiandrogen drugs : Steroid androgens and nonsteroidal (or pure) antiandrogens can block androgen receptors and reduce androgen production from the adrenal glands, ovaries, and pituitary glands.

Combination birth control pills : These pills, which contain both estrogen and progesterone, can help shrink cysts from PCOS. Estrogen can also help reduce excess hair. These drugs are often a long-term solution for hirsutism. You will most likely see improvement after three to six months of medication.


Your doctor may prescribe cream eflornithine to reduce facial hair growth. The growth of facial hair slows down after a month or two. Side effects of eflornithine include skin rash and irritation.


Hair removal techniques are a non-medical way to remove excess or unwanted hair. These are the epilation methods that many women use to remove hair from their legs, bikini line and underarms.

Waxing, shaving and depilatory agents: If you have hirsutism, you may need to be more proactive about waxing, shaving, and using depilatory medications (chemical foams). These are all fairly affordable and take effect immediately, but they require constant treatment. Shop for depilatory.

laser hair removal : Laser hair removal involves using concentrated light beams to damage your hair follicles. Damaged follicles cannot produce hair and existing hairs fall out. With adequate treatment, laser hair removal can cause permanent or permanent results.

Electrolysis : Electrolysis is the removal of hair using an electric current. It treats each hair follicle separately, so sessions can take longer.

Both laser hair removal and electrolysis can be expensive and require multiple sessions to achieve desired results. Some patients find these treatments uncomfortable or somewhat painful.

Appearance for excess or unwanted hair

Excess or unwanted body and facial hair is a long-term challenge. Most women diagnosed with a hormone imbalance respond well to treatment, but hair may grow back when your hormone levels drop again. If the situation makes you conscious, counseling and support from friends and family can help you cope.

Depending on the underlying cause and the treatment you choose, treating hirutism may or may not be a lifelong commitment. Laser hair removal or electrolysis can produce more permanent results than shaving, waxing or hair removal. Conditions that cause hirsutism, such as PCOS or adrenal gland disorders, may require lifelong treatment.


What is the Ferriman-Gallwey score?


The Ferriman-Gallwey index is a method used to measure male pattern body hair growth in women. It consists of pictures of hair distribution on the upper lip, chin, chest, back, abdomen, arm, forearm, thigh and lower leg. Each area scores from 0 to 4, 4 of which are heavy hair growth. After each area is scored, the numbers are added together for the total score. Most experts agree that a total of 8 people indicate hirsutism.


American Academy of Dermatology. (2012, March 16). Treating excess body hair can correct a hairy condition [Basın açıklaması]

Bode, D., Seehusen, DA, and Baird, D. (2012, Feb. 15). Hirsutism in women. American Family Practice, 85 (4), 373-380

Ferriman, DM and Gallwey, JD1961). Clinical evaluation of body hair growth in women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, 21, 1440–1447

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Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, April 10). Laser hair removal: Why it is done

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) fact sheet. (2016, 8 June)

Sachdeva, S. (2010, January). Hirsutism: Evaluation and treatment. Indian Journal of Dermatology, (55) 1, 3-7

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