Facial Hair

My daughter is a 17 year old healthy teenager. Her problem is excessive facial and body hair. But at the same time she is losing her hair on her head at an alarming rate. Her facial hair has gotten much worse within the last several months. We are doing electrolysis but it is not helping her. Can you please advise us?

When a woman has excessive facial or body hair it is a condition called hirsutism. Hirsutism either runs in the family, showing itself in growth spurts at menopause and puberty, or it is an indicator of a larger underlying problem. If it is hereditary it is largely a cosmetic rather than health concern. When it is not hereditary it is most probably the result of excessive male hormone production (adrenal virilism), or an increased sensitivity of the hair follicle to normal male hormone levels. It is important to both a woman's health and her self-confidence to have this condition diagnosed by a doctor. Hirsutism, and any hormone imbalance that may underlie this condition can be treated.

Every woman's body produces both "male" and "female" hormones, which act in balance. If it is indeed a hormone imbalance that is the root cause of a woman's hirsutism, a doctor will determine the source of the overproduction of male hormones and suggest a course of treatment that targets that source. An underlying hormonal problem might have larger consequences than just hair growth and any treatment of the hair growth alone will only act as a response to the symptom, not the cause itself.

Some of the symptoms that indicate if a woman's hair growth is tied to a hormonal imbalance are the following: 1) irregular menstruation 2) obesity 3) deepening of the voice 4) decreased breast size, and 5) baldness. If a woman experiences a sudden worsening of her hirsutism, or first experiences hair growth after 25 years of age, it may be an androgen-producing tumor which is the source of hormonal imbalance. Androgen-producing tumors usually show symptoms over months rather than years, and are only found in women on the ovaries or adrenal gland. Typically women with hirsutism begin to have symptoms in their teens and early twenties, and their symptoms get worse gradually with age. Hormonal imbalances can be brought on by the use of oral contraceptives, the onset of menopause, or problems in the adrenal or pituitary glands.

Most cases of hirsutism that are related to hormone imbalance can be treated through hormone therapy, or in the case of a tumor, through surgery. The condition itself, excessive facial and/or body hair, can be managed. Electrolysis is a popular means to managing excess facial hair, but there are also laser procedures that are said to be less painful. A woman might consider bleaching her facial hair, which makes it less visible. All of these methods should be used as means to treating the symptom, but any woman with progressing hirsutism should consult a doctor for a diagnosis in order not to compromise her health, or her self-confidence.

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