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Treating Excess Body Hair, or Hirsutism

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 5 Jul 2013 | comments*Discuss
Hair Body Face Hirsutism Vellous

Many women have a surplus of excess hair in unwanted places, such as the underarms and the legs. Some women also have a bit of extra body hair around the nipples or on the upper lip. But when unwanted hair becomes excessive, the condition is called hirsutism. The good news is that it can be treated.

Symptoms of Hirsutism

Hirsutism is a condition when a woman has too much terminal hair, or hair that normally is dark and coarse such as the hair on your head, on parts of her body and face where it is unwanted. Normally only vellous hair – hair that is fine and thin - grows on women's arms, legs and face. But when terminal hair grows in specific places instead of vellous hair, that is called hirsutism.

Hirsutism is a condition that normally begins in the teenage years, then develops and gets worse and worse. In some women the terminal hair grows thick and coarse on the arms, legs, the pubic area, chest, face and back. In other women the hair is located to only a few specific areas only.

It is estimated that about ten percent of all women are affected by hirsutism to some degree, and as you can imagine it's a condition that can affect one's confidence, self-esteem and overall relationships with others. Please note that some ethnic groups are a bit hairier, as a rule, than others, and that a bit of ­ excess hair does not constitute hirsutism.

Causes of Hirsutism

The causes are many, so if you suffer from this condition the first thing to do is visit your GP to ascertain the exact reason. In some cases there is no discernible cause, which is called "idiopathic hirsutism". Other reasons for this condition include:

  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Diabetes
  • Being very overweight, which can cause your body to produce too many androgens
  • Taking certain medications, including some contraceptive pills
  • Genetics, including congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • Cushing's disease

Treatment of Hirsutism

Once you have the correct diagnosis you can begin treatment. If your hirsutism is due to being overweight you're lucky, as you can lose weight and successfully lose some, if not all, of the hair. If it is due to other reasons there are myriad treatments you can try, including:

Anti-Androgen Medications

These work as they successfully can block the androgen hormone, but they may take quite a few months to have any effect and can also have nasty side-effects, such as headaches and bleeding between menstrual cycles. They can inhibit hair growth and work for a high percentage of women. Do not take if you are pregnant or intend to become so.

DIY Hair Removal Methods

Waxing, plucking, bleaching, depilatory creams, shaving, tweezing and threading are all methods of hair removal which can work to some degree, depending on how much hair there, its coarseness and its rate of regrowth.


This works as hairs are individually pulled out by a forceps-like device, and do not grow back. Is labour-intensive and time-consuming but works well in certain parts of the body, such as the upper lip and chin. However, a series of visits are necessary and how many you will need is a very individual decision. Results are generally very positive.

Laser Treatment

Works as a virtually permanent hair removal treatment although will require a course of sessions for best result. Intense pulsed light heats up the melanin, or pigment, in the hair follicle, destroying the follicle instantly and stopping all hair regrowth. Is not suitable for all skin types, however.

Hirsutism is a condition that only affects women (excess hair growth in both men and women is called hypertrichosis) and is a symptom of a problem, although many see it as a problem in and of itself. Excess body and facial hair can cause extreme stress, even if there is no medical cause for alarm whatsoever, and can upset a woman's entire life.

If you are someone you know is affected by hirsutism, see a medical professional to find out the root cause. If the onset occurs after puberty, the cause can be more severe – although this is extremely rare. But don't despair – there are ways to get rid of excess unwanted hair, although it can be a time-consuming process that requires lots of determination.

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