Hairy body or face

Hirsutism is when a woman has excessive hair growth. The hair is usually thick and dark, rather than fine and fair.

Excess hair may appear on the:

  • face – such as the upper lip or chin
  • neck
  • chest
  • tummy – in a line from your belly button down to your pubic hair
  • anal and genital area
  • the front of your thighs

Hirsutism is often associated with other symptoms, including:

  • oily skin
  • acne – a skin condition that causes spots to develop on your face, back and chest
  • hair loss (alopecia)
  • a receding hair line around the front of your hair
  • an enlarged clitoris (the small soft bump in front of the entrance to the vagina)
  • voice changes – such as a deeper voice

When to see your GP

It's important to see your GP if you have hirsutism – especially if you have severe or unusual symptoms – as it can cause psychological harm, including depression, embarrassment and lack of self-confidence.

Your GP will assess the severity of your hirsutism and ask you about any other symptoms before suggesting the best treatment.

Read more about how hirsutism is diagnosed.

What causes hirsutism?

Hirsutism is caused by an excess of male sex hormones called androgens, or an increased sensitivity to androgens.

In most cases, this is caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). However, in around 10% of cases there are no obvious causes.

Read more about the causes of hirsutism.

Treating hirsutism

There is no cure for hirsutism, but there are treatments to manage the condition.

There are a number of hair-removal methods that may help, such as:

  • shaving
  • plucking
  • waxing
  • bleaching

In some cases, these can lead to irritated skin or inflamed hair follicles (folliculitis). Folliculitis usually takes a few weeks to resolve itself and may mean you can't continue removing hair until it clears up.

In some cases (in women who have not yet started the menopause), taking a contraceptive pill may control hirsutism.

There are also a number of unlicensed medications (medicines that have not been specifically tested for this purpose) that are known to be effective.

As the life cycle of hair is around six months, treatment can take this long to work, so it's important to start treatment as soon as possible.

Read more about treating hirsutism.

Who is affected?

Hirsutism may affect between one and three women in every 20 who have not yet started the menopause (when a woman’s periods stop).

After the menopause, the change in the balance of hormones can make excess hair more common. Up to three-quarters of older women may have slightly increased facial hair. Hirsutism in post-menopausal women is also known as ovarian hyperthecosis.

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