All humans have body hair, with the amount, thickness and darkness generally being inherited traits. Unwanted facial hair in women, a condition known to doctors as hirsutism, occurs in as much as 10 percent of the US female population, according to the Mayo Clinic. Women with hirsutism frequently grow hair in places other than the face as well, such as the chest and back where men typically experience hair growth.
Fifty percent of women with hirsutism have a hormonal imbalance with high androgen levels, which cause excessive hair growth in unwanted areas along with other male characteristics such as balding and a deeper voice. Several conditions cause high androgen levels in women, most commonly polycystic ovary syndrome. Doctors diagnose idiopathic hirsutism when women with normal androgen levels experience unwanted hair growth without a medical cause. This appears to be a hereditary condition.
Diagnosis of hirsutism begins with your physician taking your history and performing a thorough physical examination, focusing on areas of unwanted hair growth and other possible physical signs of hormonal imbalance. Blood tests provide your doctor with detailed information regarding hormone levels. Doctors sometimes perform ultrasounds, x-rays and CT scans to examine internal organs and structures, such as glands and ovaries, when searching for the cause of hirsutism.
Birth control pills raise estrogen levels and discourage androgen production. Anti-androgen medications prevent androgen from attaching to receptors, thus lowering the androgen level available for use in the body. Doctors often prescribe topical creams to prevent or slow the growth of new facial hair, though these take as long as eight weeks to work.
Professional hair removal techniques include electrolysis and laser therapy. Electrolysis involves shocking the hair follicles with electricity through a small needle, resulting in permanent hair loss. Laser therapy works by damaging hair follicles with a laser passed over the affected skin area. Side effects of both treatments include temporary discomfort, changes in skin color and occasional scarring. Other valid concerns include the financial aspect, as treatments can be quite expensive, especially laser therapy.
Several home methods of hair removal exist for women with unwanted facial hair. These include shaving, plucking, waxing or topical chemicals applied to the skin. Some women choose to bleach hair to lessen its appearance without dealing with difficult, expensive or painful removal techniques. Both bleaching and topical ointments cause skin irritation in some people. Wax causes skin problems less frequently, works for larger areas and removes hair for a period of weeks. Plucking works best for smaller areas such as the face, if hair growth is not too excessive. Shaving provides temporary relief from the appearance of facial hair, but regrowth occurs quickly and appears thicker and darker than the original hair.