Hairy situation

Ottawa Citizen

By Sanaz Majid, The Ottawa Citizen March 3, 2011

Hair on men is a sign of their virility; hair on women, not so much. Many of my patients often look a tad embarrassed when asking me about finding hair in places they don’t think it belongs.

So that’s why I want to examine hirsutism, which is the fancy medical term used to describe excess hair on the body or hair found in various parts of the body that women often feel ashamed to have. For instance, many of my patients complain that they find hair growth on the breasts, above the upper lip, on the chin, on the fingers, stomach or feet. Could this be normal? After all, these are locations where men are supposed to grow hair, “not women,” right? Wrong! And ladies, if you’re wondering if you’re normal for having hair in these places, I’m here to tell you you’re not alone.

First of all, remember that television and magazines wax, shave, pluck, and airbrush every millimetre of exposed skin. Not many real women look like the hairless and perfectly-smooth-appearing women who seem to so effortlessly float on the beach on shows like the old classic, Baywatch. Television just makes it appear as though they are naturally hair-free. The truth is most women have some hair in places where they don’t want it. It’s so common that I see it almost every day in the office. Being hairy is genetic and it can be more common in certain cultures and backgrounds — and you can thank your wonderful parent’s for passing on their super hairy genes to you.

It’s normal to be hairy to some extent. Though most of us don’t naturally look like a Baywatch babe, it’s not normal to look like ‘Cousin It’s from The Addams Family, either. Even though there is not a well-defined set of rules on what is considered medically ‘normal,’ a good rule of thumb is if the hair growth is bothersome and interferes with your quality of life, then it’s time to get it checked out. In general, a little bit of peach fuzz here and there is common and normal in most women. A few stray hairs on the chin, upper lip, or breasts may be normal. But if you are finding yourself having to actually shave or wax because there are just too many to simply pluck, it may be time to get it checked out.

What Causes My Hairiness?

Certain medical conditions can cause excess hair growth, so it’s important to make sure you don’t suffer from one of them. The most common health condition associated with hirsutism in women is a disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS affects up to 10 per cent of women and typically causes irregular periods, acne and excess weight gain in the mid-section. Women with PCOS have elevated testosterone levels — the typical ‘male’ hormone that causes hair growth and acne. They are also at greater risk of getting diabetes. So it’s important to get tested for this condition if you’re feeling hairy.


Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.