The Doctor Is In: I’m a Hairy Beast

Talking with your doctor isn’t always easy. Whether you are afraid she will judge you, you just don’t feel comfortable sharing the intimate details of your life between the sheets, or you can’t think straight with a speculum between your legs, many people get tight lipped in the doctor’s office. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have questions.

We thought we’d help and every Thursday our friend Dr. Lissa Rankin will be answering your questions. The ones you couldn’t ask your doctor in person. Just leave your questions in the comments, or send em over to us. (We’ll keep it all anonymous for you.) Dr. Lissa will answer anything – really, anything – about sex and other lady things. Don’t be shy; she’s waiting for ya!

Q: A few months ago I was sitting with my BF and he thought I had something on my cheek. He went to pull it off and…it was a long, dark hair….growing out of my face. I was mortified, but figured it was a one-time deal. But now I’m finding these hairs popping up more often. They are dark and big and show up on my cheek and neck. Do I have too much testosterone or something? Is this fixable??

Help – it’s really embarrassing.

A: I know how you feel. In fact, I have a few sprouters myself.  Nothing like a big black facial hair to spoil the mood. I wish I knew more about what else is going on with your hair growth. Are the hairs growing out of moles? How many are there? Do you have hair on your chest, under your belly button, or around your nipples? Are your arms hairier than normal? Do you tend to get acne?  These would all give me some idea of how much testosterone you may have in your body.

Finding the occasional facial hair is not uncommon for a woman.  An individual’s hair distribution is influenced by androgens like testosterone, the hormones we typically think of as being exclusively male.  Androgens also exist in females, though in lower concentrations.  Androgens can be produced by the adrenal glands, as well as by the ovaries, and higher levels of androgens lead to more hair growth. Each woman’s hair distribution may change over time, since hormones fluctuate widely from puberty, through the reproductive years, to menopause, and beyond.

If you tend to be on the hairier side, you may also have hair on your upper lip, chin, around your nipples, and below your belly button.  Check out Mom. If she looks like you, chances are everything is fine. But if you’ve been relatively hairless and suddenly you feel like a monkey, see your doctor. You may have a condition we call hirsutism. Your doctor will examine you, check hormone levels, and evaluate whether you’re taking medication that can cause hair growth as a side effect. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can cause excessive hair growth, as can hormone-producing tumors and rare conditions such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia and Cushing’s syndrome.

If your hair growth is the result of a medical condition, the condition may be treatable. For example, facial hair resulting from PCOS sometimes responds to the medication spironolactone. Otherwise, there’s always plucking, waxing, or electrolysis.  Keep in mind that a few facial hairs shouldn’t get in the way of your confidence and is nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re beautiful just the way you are.

–Dr. Lissa Rankin’s book, What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in Fall 2010. She invites you to join her Pink online community (www.owningpink.com/forum) or read more of her writing at Owning Pink (www.owningpink.com).

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