Excessive Hair

Excessive growth of hair or hair growth in areas that would not normally have hair

  • Occurs only after puberty; more common with increasing age
  • More common in females
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Lifestyle is not a significant factor

There are two types of excessive hair growth: hirsutism and hypertrichosis. Hirsutism affects women only. In this condition, excessive hair develops particularly on the face, trunk, and limbs. This type of excessive growth is more common in women over the age of 60, especially in those of Mediterranean, Asian, Hispanic, or Arab descent.

The second type of excessive hair growth, hypertrichosis, can affect both males and females. In this condition, hair grows all over the body, even in areas that do not normally have hair.

What are the causes?

Mild hirsutism in women is often considered normal, especially following the menopause. In some cases, it may be a result of an increase in normally occurring male hormones in the female body (see Virilization), which may be caused by disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome.

Hypertrichosis can occur with anorexia nervosa or as a side effect of immunosuppressants or antihypertensive drugs.

What might be done?

If you are a young woman with hirsutism, your doctor may arrange for a blood test to measure your male hormone levels. If these are high, you may be given a drug to block the hormones’ effects and be treated for the underlying disorder. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome may be treated with hormones or surgery. If hypertrichosis is a side effect of a drug, stopping the treatment often reverses the condition.

You can deal with hirsutism yourself by bleaching, shaving, plucking, waxing, or using depilatory creams. The only way to remove hair permanently is by electrolysis, but it is a slow process. Laser treatment may also be helpful.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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