All You Ever
Wanted to Know About Unwanted Hair
Much of this information was gathered from Dr. Sara Rosenthal's recent book
and Unwanted Hair, Dr. Geoffrey Redmond's Book
The Hormonally Vulnerable Woman, as well as Sheila Godfrey's Principles and Practice of
Electrical Epilation. Click on the book covers for a link to
Amazon to purchase your own copies of these EXCELLENT resources.
While this information is no substitute for
consulting a physician, we are dedicated to helping everyone learn about
unwanted hair. This page discusses different aspects of unwanted hair and
targets females. Many men also deal with unwanted hair, we are by no means
ignoring their issues. For more information, please contact your
physician or medical provider.
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That Is "Not Supposed to Be There"
hair growth can be identified by many different terms. You have probably
run across the term Hirsutism, perhaps Hypertrichosis, and even superfluous
hair. In many resources these terms are used interchangeably but there are
Excessive hair (key word here is excessive) on the face,
especially around the chin, upper lip, breasts or chests, or basically hair on a
woman that matches a male hair pattern on a female body is known as hirsutism.
Men can have hirsutism when their hair is truly excessive in hormonally
dependent areas. A diabetic woman with a full male pattern beard would be
said to have hirsutism.
basically excessive hair on men or women that tends to be in places that are
outside the pattern areas described above. Someone who has a cast on
their leg who grows unusually large patches of hair under the cast could be said
to have Hypertrichosis (hyper=excessive/accelerated trich=hair).
Superfluous hair or
garden variety “unwanted hair” is considered such whenever it appears
on areas of the body that are considered to be either culturally unacceptable,
or unattractive. It isn't an abnormal amount or location when considering
the makeup of the whole population, it is just undesirable for a woman to have a
noticeable light mustache. The color of the unwanted hair is also key; the
darker it is, the more visible—which makes it more of a problem for dark
haired women than for fair haired women. If you are dark haired, for
example, the fine hair on the upper lip or around the hairline may feel abnormal
but it’s not; it’s merely visible. And even though excessive hair growth on
the face or male-patterned hair growth on the body is considered “abnormal”
in women, it’s actually very, very common.
Common Causes of
Abnormally Excessive Hair Growth
much androgen secretion: Many women secrete too much
androgen as a result of conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
(PCOS) or Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD), which affects 6-10 percent of
the general female population and accounts for half of all hormonal
disorders affecting female fertility. Because androgen levels are out
of whack, PCOS sufferers can develop abnormally excessive facial or body
hair. For more information on PCOS, visit www.PCOSupport.org
Some clinicians will cite “racial” or “familial” genes as a cause of
hirsutism, but this isn’t an authentic cause per se. Having said
that, if you’re of Mediterranean descent, you are more likely to
experience noticeable or “unwanted” hair growth that a blonde
Scandinavian woman may not.
- Stress: In
response to stress, your adrenal glands pump out “stress hormones” or
catecholamines that speed up your body. But since your adrenal glands
also make androgen, increased stress can also increase circulating androgens
in your bloodstream, which can cause hirsutism.
Certain body types (wherein more of the weight is carried in the upper body)
are more susceptible to hirsutism because they are associated with insulin
resistance. Also, fat cells can make androgen just as they can make
- Overactive adrenal glands:
This is a side effect of tumors resulting from certain pituitary diseases,
such as Cushing’s Disease (for more information, visit the National
Adrenal Disease Foundation at www.medhelp.org/nadf).
Cushing’s Disease and PCOS are often accompanied by irregular
- Oversensitive hair follicles:
Some of us are genetically wired with hair follicles that are simply more
sensitive to androgens.
- Side effects of certain drugs:
Many drugs can cause either androgen secretion and hirsutism, or the
opposite—hair loss or alopecia. As a general rule, when taking
either a prescription or an over-the-counter drug, be sure to ask about
common side effects. Drugs that commonly cause hair growth in women
include: Dilantin (used to control seizures), Danazol (used in extreme
cases of endometriosis), Cyclosporine, Steroids (used in a variety of drugs,
particularly asthma medications)
- Oral contraceptives:
Certain OCs can increase circulating androgen levels, while others decrease
them. For a list, please click
here to view the PDF article on drug induced hirsutism by International Hair
Route Magazine or read the appropriate section in Dr. Rosenthal's book Women
and Unwanted Hair.
- Insulin resistance &
Diabetes: This is when your cells stop responding to the insulin
your pancreas makes. Too much insulin can actually cause
hirsutism. For more information, see
Hormone Help Page located on Dr. Redmond's web page.
- Thyroid disorders:
Certain thyroid disorders could cause hirsutism. Once your thyroid
problem is treated, however, it’s likely no new hairs will be stimulated
- Rare endocrine disorders:
An increase in androgen levels can result from a number of very rare
endocrine diseases, such as Hyperandrogenic-Insulin Resistant-Acanthosis
Nigricans (Hairan) Syndrome.
for Unwanted Hair
Much unwanted hair growth occurs as a result of hormonal imbalances, which are
correctable. Ironically, many women actually uncover a potential underlying
hormonal problem during a visit with an electrologist (a person who performs
electrolysis). And while hormone therapy will not make the hairs you already
have disappear, it can stop the growth of new hairs. Be sure to ask your doctor
about common side effects of each of the following therapies before you say
“yes” to hormone therapy.
- Oral contraceptives (OCs): The most common form of
hormone therapy used to treat hirsutism, OCs tend to improve what are called
“androgen-related side effects,” such as acne and unwanted facial hair.
That said, too much progestin, which is synthetic progesterone, can also
cause these kinds of side effects. If your acne and/or unwanted facial hair
predates your use of OCs, you may notice a marked improvement; however, if
these “symptoms” occur after you’ve started an oral contraceptive
program, you may be on the wrong pill, and should consult with your doctor
- Spironolactone: This is a diuretic that appears to
counteract the effects of androgen hormones in the skin. Frequently called
an antiandrogen drug, spironolactone is not recommended if you’re at risk
- Cortocisteroids: These will prevent your adrenal gland
from making androgens, but they’re not recommended as a first-line hormone
therapy for hirsutism.
- GnRH analogs: GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone)
analogs are normally used in fertility treatment and—because they come
with many menopausal-type side effects—should be reserved for more severe
cases of hirsutism where OCs are not appropriate.
- Natural progesterone therapy: If birth control is not
an issue, this may be an appropriate means of correcting an underlying
hormonal imbalance. For more information, see
Natural Progesterone: The
Natural Way to Alleviate Symptoms of Menopause, PMS, and Other
Hormone-Related Problems by Anna Rushton, Shirley A. Bond and John Lee.
The following are methods most people consider once an underlying hormonal
problem causing excessive, unwanted hair growth has been ruled out, or dealt
- Tweezing: Tweezing
is the cheapest method of removal, and is generally considered appropriate
for eyebrows, since you may want to alter their shape from time to time and
allow the hairs to grow back. "However, tweezing can cause scar tissue
to form and can also stimulate the hairs to grow back stronger and
coarser. Avoid using tweezers on sparse facial hair or as a way of
removing large areas of unwanted hair on the legs and underarms."--Dr.
Sara Rosenthal, Women and Unwanted Hair
- “Tweezer-like” Products:
Although these devices are relatively cheap and convenient, the hair removal
is temporary and, like regular tweezing, stimulates the hair follicle to
grow stronger hair.
- Shaving: The
problem with shaving for women is where they are shaving and where, on their
bodies, stubble is socially and culturally acceptable. Shaving facial
hair, for example, is stigmatizing; shaving underarm hair is not. In light
of this, experts understand if women refrain from shaving the face if it
doesn’t feel right, but they do not discourage shaving if the goal is to
remove the hair without stimulating the roots. And if the goal is to
permanently remove the hair, shaving is a better option than waxing,
tweezing or sugaring if you’re having electrolysis treatment because of
the potential skin damage associated with these alternate methods.
- Waxing: Waxing is
basically large scale tweezing. It removes the hair for long periods
of time without producing stubble. With the exception of hair that has
been hormonally stimulated, hair that is waxed on areas such as the lower
leg or underarm, may grow back fine or sometimes finer. However, like
tweezing, waxing can negatively stimulate the roots and hair follicles on
areas like the chin, breast, abdomen, and upper lip.
- Sugaring: Sugaring
produces the same results as waxing, but doesn’t require as much heating.
It can be messy and, as a result, is not exactly convenient. It is
also a large-scale tweezing method.
- Threading: This is
an ancient technique popular in places like India and the Middle East. It
involves the use of a regular thread to remove hair from the surface of the
skin. It is a variation on tweezing.
Removal Creams: These creams (also called depilatories) remove
surface hair but they tend to have less of an effect on the follicle than
methods like tweezing. Think of them as a chemical shave. And
while they don’t provide a permanent solution, the hair may take longer to
grow back than it would if you were shaving, and hair doesn’t grow back as
Bleaching kits do not remove hair at all, but can lighten the dark, fine
hairs of the upper lip or arm to conceal hirsutism. Use with caution
as on some hair colors, it make it catch the light and ends up making it
more noticeable, almost shiny.
- Home Electrolysis Kits:
These tend not to live up to their claims, nor do any “patch” devices
you may have come across on the home shopping network; both end up actually
“tweezing” out the hairs instead of removing them via electrolysis. The
good news is the DC battery that powers home electrolysis kits is not strong
enough to do any real damage to your skin. We've tried them all and
none of them work. Hair is just not a conductor of electricity,
- Laser: Laser
treatment for hair removal is gaining popularity, but its success is really
dependent on the hair and skin pigment. If you’re a person of color,
the pigment in your skin will likely interfere with the laser beam’s
reach. Similarly, if you’re fair-haired, the laser will likely be
unable to grasp the pigment in your hair. This is an adequate method
if you’re fair skinned, but dark haired. However, it is extremely costly,
and its permanence is not guaranteed and can not be legally represented as
permanent. It might work well in conjunction
with a permanent method like electrolysis on large areas like a man's back
or full beard removal. Make sure you are having laser treatments done
by a trained medical doctor, not just a "certified" technician,
certification can be as simple as a 4 hour course on how to operate the
(Radiation Emitting Devices) Facts
page for more information.
Electrolysis is the only permanent way of removing hair, but it does require
a time commitment. The electrologist uses a very fine filament or
needle, placing it alongside the hair shaft and into the hair
follicle. A mild electric current then destroys the hair-growth cells
within the follicle. The process is charged by units of time and,
unfortunately, doesn’t come dirt cheap like shaving does. We
frequently have clients say they thought it would be much more expensive and
that is why they hadn't come in sooner, it is definitely an investment you
are making in yourself. If you are dealing with unwanted hair
frequently then it is very worthwhile to investigate it to see what your
actual costs will be. Compared with laser, it is an absolute bargain
as far as price goes. An hour of body waxing in our area costs a
little more than electrolysis for an hour. Remember when you are done
with electrolysis, you are done with the hair. As with any
method, your results will be largely determined by the skill of your practitioner.
Shop around and don't hesitate to set up consultations at several places and
decide which works best for you. See the FAQ
section of our site for tips on choosing an electrologist.
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