The words I was too frightened to type into a search engine from the time I was 14 years old, even though it was the question I wanted an answer for more than anything else. Until my early 20’s, as I was most of the way through college and had already spent what I would have considered a “fortune” on laser hair removal, I didn’t dare look for an explanation. Now I see them everywhere--Yahoo!Answers, tumblr, forums, in the comments section of beauty articles. My impression in communicating with some of my readers is that most of you have been living with excessive body hair for a while and already know why you have it.
But what about those girls out there who are in the stage where they cannot yet admit to themselves that they know something is “wrong” with their bodies, or who are just starting to concede to it and aren’t sure what to do next? (Note, I am about to start addressing girls who can be qualified as ‘hirsute,’ that is, have pronounced male pattern hair growth--not a surplus of soft blond hair, not a thin mustache or darker arm hair accountable to certain ethnicities, not a couple of stray buggers on the chin or nipples. Hirsute means you have dark and often coarse hair in some or all of the places a man tends to have it--chest, back, stomach, face, etc.)
To you, I would like to start by saying: Don’t panic.
I promise it’s not as bad as it might seem right now, regardless of the reason why you’re growing dark hair in surprising places.
Next, the thing I wish someone had told me before anything else: Abnormalities in hair growth are a symptom, not a sickness. They indicate a hormonal issue, not a skin issue.
What you need to do is go to your doctor.
I know it can be embarrassing talking about it to your parents, never mind someone else. You’re probably hoping if you ignore it, it will go away. If you’re a young person whose hormones are in the midst of a change already, perhaps it will. But most likely, your excessive body hair is a clue to something that doesn’t automatically fix itself.
Is it serious? Well, serious compared to what? If your body hair is robbing you of confidence and changing the way you live your life, is that not serious enough? You are in control of your own happiness. Start by taking charge of your health. If you don’t, you will always be wondering what is going on in your body that you can’t see. You deserve the peace of mind, and the knowledge that will allow you to make good decisions about how to manage your body hair from day to day.
Three things your doctor will want to know:
When was your last period?/How regular are your cycles?/What are your periods usually like? (Heavy flow? Cramps that last longer than the first few days of your period?) - Your answers to these is often a very good indicator that something funky is going on with your hormones. They can even hint at where the hormonal issue might lie in your endocrine system.
How quickly did the hair appear? - If severe body hair growth has cropped up in a short amount of time, this can direct the doctor’s attention towards certain causes.
What is your family history? - Often you will not find hirsutism in your family history. Doctors aren't quite sure how or even if hirsutism is passed on, with the exception of one or two disorders that have hirsutism as a symptom.
Any other symptoms? - Some things you may want to mention to the doctor include:
- changes in mood, energy, appetite, concentration, libido.
- difficulty losing weight.
- oily skin and hair, acne, thinning scalp hair.
- any body pain, changes in breasts, cramps, bloating, headaches.
- challenges with conceiving.
See all my personal blog entries on visits to doctors.
Your doctor may order some tests to try to pinpoint abnormalities before doing anything else. Or, they may refer you to a specialist who will order the tests for you. Either way, the specialist you will eventually want to be referred to is an endocrinologist. They are experts in hormones. Many women have received great care from their gynecologist, but keep in mind that the endocrine system involves so much more than the lady parts. Indeed, the cause of your hirsutism might have nothing at all to do with the reproductive systems. That’s not to say OBGYNs can’t be well versed in hirsutism. Some dermatologists might be familiar with those tests too. But frankly, they have a lot of other stuff they need to know as well. Wouldn’t it make sense that an expert in the entire endocrine system is more likely to catch all clues towards your diagnosis, having both the specialization and the experience?
Over the next few weeks I’ll go a little further into the kinds of tests you can expect, possible causes for your unwanted body hair, and what can be done about them.
Read the next post in this series here.