Female hirsutism

Some women ( and some men) prefer to remove excessive body hair. The degree and extent of hair removal is highly variable and to some extent influenced by lifestyle trends.


Skin condition: Female Hirsutism

What is this skin condition?

Hair growth is divided into scalp hair and hair as a secondary sexual characteristic. Hirsutism is the development of excessive hair in a male pattern. The term is normally used in women although men can also develop hirsutism.   For most people, what they perceive as excess hair is normal but unwanted. There is a wide variation in normal hair distribution and very few people will have a medical reason or a disease to explain their quantity of hair.

Some women ( and some men) prefer to remove excessive body hair.  The degree and extent of hair removal is highly variable and to some extent influenced by lifestyle trends.

Why have I got it?

By far the most common cause of hirsutism is genetic. Dark hair is more noticeable and patients with black hair are more likely to complain of hirsutism. In some circumstances excess hirsutism can be due to an increase in male sex hormones. This can occur with the polycystic ovarian syndrome  and very rarely with tumours that secrete male sex hormones (androgens). Androgen secreting tumours can also cause changes to periods and to voice quality. If you feel that you have developed hirsutism that is abnormal a visit to your GP is needed to exclude rare causes.

Comparing the treatment options

Hair removal is also known as epilation or depilation. There is a wide and fascinating array of different techniques available. Products are generally marketed for men or women even though they are generally the same products.


Hair removal creams

These creams work by breaking down the protein structure of the hairs. This loosens their attachment within the hair follicle and they fall out. Two of the most common ingredients are calcium thioglycolate and sodium hydroxide. The reaction between these two chemicals produces the characteristic smell of most  hair removal creams. The main problem is irritancy especially at sensitive areas.


Due to the discomfort involved many people opt to attend a salon for anything other than lower  leg waxing. Numerous home based products are available. Find products.

Home IPL (intense pulsed light)

These machines have been developed following the rise in popularity of IPL hair removal. Proper IPL machines deliver powerful bursts of light energy at specific wavelengths to destroy pigmented hairs. When used by well  trained operators they can have excellent results. The problem with home IPL devices is that the power is significantly less than the real machines to avoid damage occurring to surrounding skin. This leads to lower success rates.  Patients with pale skin and dark hairs will get the best results.


These are electrical devices that work by mechanically grasping hairs and pulling them out. A degree of discomfort is therefore involved.

Help from your GP

If you feel you definitely have an abnormal degree of hirsutism you should visit your GP to see if rare causes need to be excluded.

Eflornithine cream

Your GP may be able to prescribe this cream. (In some parts of the NHS it may be regarded as an item for private prescription). Eflornithine was developed as a drug to treat organisms called protozoans but people noticed an effect on hair growth. It inhibits an enzyme called ornithine decarboxylase which is present in hair follicles. It is safe to use on the face and approximately one third of people will have a good response, one third some response and one third not much benefit. In some cases it can irritate the skin . A 3-4 month trial is needed to see if it works.


Help from a Dermatologist

Laser or IPL( intense pulsed light)  hair removal. Lasers and IPL work along similar principles.  Light energy is produced at a wavelength that is taken up by the pigment in the hair. Treatment is most effective on patients with dark hair and pale skin. IPL is not safe to use on dark skin types. Some lasers can be used for dark skin. In paler skin where both IPL and lasers can be used for hair removal it is not clear whether one treatment is better than the other. The outcomes will depend on various factors including the type of hair and the skill of the operator.

It is very important to visit a clinic where the staff are well trained.  Problems can arise from both over and under treatment. If the energy levels used are too low the response will be poor. If they are too high the skin may be damaged. SkinCompare does not recommend any clinics but does suggest that patients only visit clinics where the staff are trained correctly with supervision by medically qualified staff. In the UK both SK:N clinics and Laserase clinics are supervised by Dermatologists and Plastic Surgeons and are a sensible place to make preliminary enquiries. There will be other clinics with Consultant level treatment and supervision. Make sure you ask about the qualifications and training of the laser or IPL operator.

Help from a beauty clinic or therapist

Beauty clinics offer a variety of techniques for hair removal including

  1. Waxing
  2. Electrolysis
  3. Threading

All of these may be helpful for some individuals.

Search for your nearest clinic