Believe it or not, every woman has facial hair – it’s just that most women have facial hair that isn’t very noticeable. This type of facial hair is called vellus hair, also known as downy hair or “peach fuzz.” Vellus hair can be found all over the body on both adults and babies, men and women. The reason it isn’t noticeable is because it doesn’t have any color and is very fine.
But there is a second type of facial hair called terminal hair. This is the course, pigmented hair that many women fear seeing on their face. If you’re a woman who has this type of facial hair, you aren’t alone. As reported on CNN.com, research by health-product manufacturer Bristol-Myers indicates about 20 million American women get their facial hair removed at least once a week. Below is a list of possible causes of facial hair on women.
Hormone Issues That Can Lead To Facial Hair In Women
One of the main causes of facial hair on women is hormones, particularly male hormones. Since these male hormones surge during puberty and menopause, these are the times when terminal hair growth can take on a life of its own. During puberty, for instance, the amount of vellus hair can increase and in some cases, it can turn into terminal hair. And during menopause, when the level of the male hormone androgen falls out of balance with the female hormone estrogen, the amount of terminal hair can once again increase.
[Related: Changes In Girls During Puberty]
If hormones aren’t to blame for your facial hair, your parents may be. If the women in your family tend to have terminal facial hair, or even if the men in your family have thick facial hair, there is a chance that you might have the same facial hair, as well. But genetics isn’t the only environmental factor that can cause facial hair; here are some others:
- Ethnicity – Certain ethnic groups are more prone to developing facial hair than others.
- Aging – As you age, your facial hair may become thicker or increase in quantity. This is just a normal part of aging, unrelated to menopause and hormones.
Sometimes facial hair can be caused by something more serious, such as a health disorder. The most common one is hirsutism, which is when thick, coarse hair grows not only on the face, but on the chest, back and abdomen as well. Hirsutism can be caused by hormones or it can be caused by heredity. Hirsutism itself isn’t serious, but it can be indicative of more serious problems such as:
- Virilization – This is a process in which a female will develop the secondary sexual characteristics of a male. Other symptoms include balding, deepening of the voice, a decrease in breast size and enlargement of the clitoris, increased muscle mass and acne.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS is caused by an imbalance of hormones and is a common cause of hirsutism. Other symptoms include obesity, infertility and ovarian cysts.
With any condition, there are always rare causes that could indeed be the reason for your facial hair. Those causes include:
- Cushing’s syndrome – This occurs when the body is exposed to too much cortisol, a hormone that plays a part in the body’s response to stress. In most cases, the overexposure comes from medication used to treat asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. Cushing syndrome can cause hirsutism as well as a moon-shaped face, acne and an irregular menstrual cycle.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia – People with this condition have problems producing the hormones cortisol and androgen. This can also be a cause of hirsutism.
- Tumors – In some cases, tumors or cancer may trigger hirsutism.
- Medications – Also in rare cases, medications can trigger hirsutism. The medication danazol, which is used to treat endometriosis, is one of these medications, along with anabolic steroids, glucocorticoids, testosterone, cyclosporine, minoxidil and phenytoin.
- Hyperthecosis – This disorder is caused by the oversecretion of androgens in the ovaries. Women who are postmenopausal and have gone through virilization are mostly affected by hyperthecosis. Insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism are the defining characteristics of this disorder.
It is also possible to have normal levels of androgens and hirsutism at the same time. This condition is called idiopathic hirsutism and it is not caused by any underlying condition. In fact, in these rare cases, the cause of facial hair has no identifiable cause.
In most cases, facial hair in women isn’t serious. It may be embarrassing or annoying to deal with, but it isn’t always a sign of something bad. Luckily, hair is easy to remove and there are laser treatments that can rid your face of terminal hair permanently (see: 6 Of The Best Ways To Remove Unwanted Hair). However, if other, abnormal signs have started to appear, the cause of your facial hair may in fact be hirsutism. Check with your doctor to find out what the underlying cause may be and how it should be treated.