Merck Manual

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Quick Facts


(Hirsutism; Hypertrichosis)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jan 2021| Content last modified Jan 2021
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What is hairiness?

Hairiness is having more hair on your body than usual. The amount of body hair people have varies a lot, but in women hairiness can be a sign of a hormone problem.

  • Having extra hair on your body isn't usually a medical problem

  • Sometimes, hairiness in women can be a sign of a hormone problem

  • You can remove or bleach the extra hair if it bothers you

What causes hairiness?

Sometimes hairiness runs in families and isn't caused by any kind of problem.

Hair growth is controlled by hormones. Extra male hormones in women cause thick, dark hair to grow in a male pattern, such as the face and chest. Common causes of extra male hormones include:

Women who have extra male hormones can get other male characteristics (this is called virilization). Such male characteristics include a deeper voice, bigger muscles, going bald over the forehead, and a bigger clitoris. You may also develop acne and stop having periods.

Sometimes hairiness isn't caused by extra male hormones. This can happen in both men or women. It can happen in one spot or all over the body and is caused by:

  • Some types of cancer

  • Certain medicines

  • A serious body-wide disorder, such as AIDS, brain disorders, or nutrition problems

When should I see a doctor about hairiness?

See your doctor soon if you’re a woman with hairiness and have any of these warning signs:

  • Male characteristics, such as a lower voice, larger muscles, or going bald

  • Changes to your genitals

  • Fewer or no menstrual periods

  • Sudden and fast growth of extra hair over weeks or months

Hairiness can run in families. If you don't have any warning signs, feel well, have regular periods, and have family members with a lot of hair, you don't need to see a doctor.

What will happen at my doctor visit?

How do doctors treat hairiness?

Doctors treat hairiness by treating any disorders causing your hairiness. For example, if a medicine you take is causing hairiness, doctors will stop the medicine if possible. Hairiness is treated with:

  • Shaving, waxing, or laser treatments to get rid of unwanted hair

  • Bleaching to make hair less noticeable

  • Medicine to block the effects of male hormones

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