What Causes Increased Hair
- With only the rarest of exceptions, facial and body hair are due to the action of androgens, the family of hormones that includes testosterone. Though androgens are loosely called “male hormones,” this is misleading. All adult males and females have biologically active levels of testosterone in their blood. The levels in men are about 10 times higher than the levels in women. In childhood, androgen levels are unmeasurably low in both boys and girls.
- At puberty testosterone levels begin to rise in both sexes, but of course much more sharply in boys. Some of the normal events produced by androgens at puberty are: the appearance of pubic and underarm hair, increased oiliness of the face and darkening of the genital skin. In males, androgens stimulate sexual feelings, but their role in this regard is far less clear in women.
- As androgen levels increase, more areas of the skin start to respond by showing hair growth. The genital area is most sensitive, followed by the underarms, chin, middle of the upper lip, around the edge of the nipples and the midline of the abdomen. Many women have some hair in these latter four locations and in small amounts it is certainly not abnormal. For a few the amounts are greater, and embarrassment and self-consciousness result.
How Much Hair is Normal
- Testosterone is thought of as the male hormone but this is not strictly accurate because it is present in active levels in women as well as men. Women’s levels however are only 5 to 10% of men’s levels.
- In both sexes, testosterone levels rise at puberty, causing increased oiliness of the skin and the appearance of pubic and underarm hair. While we think of these as the only places a woman has body hair, most have some on other areas as well: lower legs, upper thighs, between the navel and pubic region, around the nipples and on the chin and upper lip. Some women experience increases in hair on other regions as well: chest and abdomen, lower back, neck and cheeks.
- There is no sharp dividing line between normal and abnormal amounts of hair. Facial and body hair is a very personal matter and so a personal definition is appropriate: hair that is enough to make a woman afraid that it will show is too much. However this does not mean that a medical problem is present. A few hairs in the following locations are normal for a woman: outer corners of the upper lip, the chin, around the nipples, between the navel and pubic region and the tops of the thighs. If a woman has more than light growth of hair in these places or if there is wider coverage of face and body, then the condition of hirsutism can be said to be present. This degree of extra hair is reason for medical evaluation, especially if accompanied by irregular periods or weight problems
Treatments For Increased Hair