Female Facial Hair (FFH) also known as ‘Hirsuitism’ (unwanted or excessive facial hair) is a more common problem amongst women from South Asian and Southern European origin. However many other women from other part of the wor

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What causes female facial hair?

Excessive or unwanted facial hair in women is the result of a condition called hirsutism. Hirsutism arises from an increased level of male hormones called androgens, or by the body being overly sensitive to these hormones. This results in male-pattern hair growth in areas such as the face, neck, chest, stomach, lower back, buttocks, or thighs. 

What counts as female facial hair?

All women have some hair on their face, but it is usually very fine, light in colour and, in many cases, is hardly visible. Facial hair caused by hirsutism is usually coarser and darker. Because hirsutism is associated with an imbalance in sex hormones, the growth pattern of unwanted hair resembles that in men.

What is hirsutism?

Hirsutism is a problem that mainly affects women and is characterised by excessive hair growth in certain areas of the body. It is caused by increased levels of male hormones called androgens, which often presents male characteristics such as an increase in hair growth on the face, neck, chest, stomach, lower back, and legs.

Symptoms

Which medications can cause female facial hair?

Some medications may cause hirsutism, including the following:

  • Anabolic steroids
  • Testosterone
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Cyclosporine
  • Minoxidil
  • Danazol
  • Phenytoin

Pregnancy and female facial hair

Some women experience an excessive growth of facial hair during pregnancy. Although the exact reason behind this is unknown, it is thought to be due to the hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy, specifically an increase in secretion of male androgens from the ovaries and placenta. Increased hair growth during pregnancy is usually temporary, and tends to go away within 6 months of giving birth.

Menopause and female facial hair

An increase in facial hair is common during menopause, due to the changes in hormonal balance in the body. The level of oestrogen produced by the ovaries decreases during menopause, but testosterone levels may not, which can result in increased hair growth. 

PCOS and female facial hair

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the causes of increased androgen secretion, which can lead to excessive hair growth in women. However, growth of facial hair alone is not an indicator of (PCOS). In order to diagnose PCOS, a doctor will need to review your medical history and confirm the presence of other symptoms, including irregular or absent periods, trouble with weight control with possible diabetes, and other signs of hyperandrogenism such as hair loss and acne.

Treatment

How is hirsuitism treated?

Hirsutism treatments are usually aimed at removing or reducing the appearance of female facial hair. Hair removal methods range from shaving, plucking and waxing, to specialist treatments such as laser hair removal and electrolysis. Eflornithine cream, also known as Vaniqa cream, is a prescription treatment which is applied topically to the face and under the chin and helps to slow down the growth of unwanted hair. A doctor may also recommend trying an oral contraceptive to prevent excess hair growth.

How to get rid of female facial hair?

Treatment for hirsutism involve methods to remove excess hair, prevent it from coming back, or slowing its growth. Hair removal methods include shaving, plucking or waxing, while more specialist treatments like laser hair removal and electrolysis are also available. Eflornithine cream, sold under the brand name Vaniqa cream is a prescription topical treatment that can slow down the growth of facial hair. Finally, doctors sometimes prescribe oral contraceptives as a means to preventing excess hair growth.

Electrolysis for female facial hair

Electrolysis is a process which involves passing an electrical current through a hair follicle in order to damage the follicle and prevent new hair growth. For permanent hair removal, treatment will last for several sessions, carried out by a licensed dermatologist. Electrolysis is thought of as an effective and safe treatment, but can be an expensive option.

Q&A

Why do some women have facial hair?

The major cause of facial hair in women is hormonal imbalance. Even slightly elevated levels of testosterone can lead to excess hair growth. This can be an indication of conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), so it is advised to see a doctor if you experience increased facial hair growth. Many women experience and increase in hair growth during menopause when the body’s hormonal balance is altered. Similarly, some women have a heightened sensitivity to testosterone, rather than higher levels of the hormone itself, which can also lead to excess hair growth.

How much facial hair is excessive in women?

Facial hair in women can range from a few dark hairs here and there, to a thicker covering that resembles a beard. There is no reason to do anything about facial hair if it does not bother you. What distinguishes hair growth caused by hirsutism is that the hair is darker and coarser than the thin, fine, short hair that covers most women’s faces.

How are the adrenal glands related to female facial hair?

The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and are responsible for hormone production. Disorders relating to the adrenal glands can be responsible for excessive hair growth, including adrenal cancer, adrenal tumors, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and Cushing’s disease. In the case that there is a problem with your adrenal glands, you are likely to experience other symptoms, including high blood pressure, bone and muscle weakness, excess weight in the upper body, headaches, and high or low blood sugar levels.

Will the hair get thicker or darker?

Hair caused by hirsutism can be distinguished by normal female facial hair by its dark, coarse texture. This type of hair is referred to as terminal or androgenic hair. It is the type of hair that is normally worn on a mans face, and that develops during puberty.

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