First things first: Facial hair growth in women is not usually anything to worry about, so if you’ve got a bit of fuzz above your lip or on your chin, don’t fret — this is totally normal for many people. But what if you have facial hair that’s appeared suddenly where you didn’t have any before, or it’s growing in thicker or faster than usual? There are some health-related reasons you might be sprouting new facial hair, and these are good to know.
While most women have at least some amount of facial hair, it tends to be very fine and light in color. Sometimes, it can come in darker and coarser, but this isn’t necessarily any indication of health problems. The Mayo Clinic notes that the amount of facial and body hair you have tends to pivot on genetic factors and there’s a wide range of normal hair growth, color and bodily distribution based on a woman’s family traits. According to Healthline, excessive hair growth on women’s bodies and faces, however, is called hirsutism.
Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, Harvard and Yale-trained ER doctor and author of Mom Hacks, tells SheKnows that when women have hirsutism, their hair growth resembles what you’d usually see in men, and it can happen when a high amount of male hormones — such as androgens and testosterone — are present in a woman’s body. Gillespie further explains that hirsutism affects about 5 to 10 percent of adult premenopausal women.
Various hormonal factors can come into play when it comes to facial hair growth, Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder of Walk In GYN Care, tells SheKnows. Specifically, excessive facial hair can be caused by an imbalance in estrogen and testosterone — one of the most common being polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Gupta recommends that in addition to noting any new facial or bodily hair growth, also be on the lookout for other symptoms, such as sudden weight gain, acne, irregular periods or even male-pattern baldness, and discuss these issues with your doctor. Gillespie also explains that while hirsutism may be an isolated condition requiring minimal therapy — if any — it’s usually a sign of unbalanced hormone levels.
It’s worth noting that while facial hair growth can be a cause for concern, it’s important not to panic if you notice any changes. Dr. Donnica Moore, a physician, president of Sapphire Women’s Health Group and host of the podcast In The Ladies’ Room With Dr. Donnica, tells SheKnows that causes of hirsutism include any health condition that causes an excess of androgens. “These are the so-called male hormones, but women make them too,” she adds.
According to Moore, other potential causes of newly grown facial hair in women can include Cushing syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, certain tumors and even some medications. And while it’s easy to hit the panic button if you spot some new chin hairs, Moore explains it’s best to stay calm and talk to your doctor about the possible underlying cause.
When you do see a physician, they will do a health intake tracking your menstrual cycle and look for possible triggers of the new hair growth, like PCOS, according to Medical News Today. If no underlying hormonal imbalances are present, your hirsutism is most likely genetic. But, if sudden menstrual irregularity is coupled with new hirsutism, your doctor may test for more serious conditions, such as tumors of the ovaries, pituitary or adrenal glands.
And while there’s a wide range of what’s considered "normal" when it comes to facial hair growth in women, if you notice changes in your menstrual cycle or other new symptoms, see your doctor so they can rule out any potential underlying medical conditions — just in case.