You’re up close and personal with a magnifying mirror doing your weekly eyebrow cleanup when you start surveying the rest of your face. You spot some surprise little visitors on your chin. Sure, you can pluck ’em. But now you’re thinking, Should I be worried? Does this happen to other people? Will it come back?
Unlike Kanye, I’m not going to let you finish but rather just go right ahead and interrupt what could turn into a very unnecessary worry spiral (you’re welcome). Growing the occasional chin hair or two is fairly common in women and shouldn’t warrant concern.
First off, all women have some amount of chin hair in the form of thin, faint strands that you probably ID as “peach fuzz.” But you may also notice random dark, coarse chin hairs from time to time, and these are also totally normal. Certain hormones—specifically androgen or other “male hormones” like testosterone—can cause you to grow some thicker and darker hairs here and there if they ever get out of balance.
Women also make these hormones, albeit at lower levels than men. Your hormones may get out of whack due to factors such as pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, among many other reasons. (And yes, you can pluck/wax/leave it be/do whatever it is you like to do with facial hair—totally a personal choice!)
But if you start to notice excessive facial hair growth that’s dark and coarse, it might mean you have abnormally high levels of androgen hormones, or an increased sensitivity in your hair follicles even to normal levels of androgen hormones, explains Minisha Sood, MD, endocrinologist in New York City. This is a condition known as hirsutism, per U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Sometimes, you just don’t know the cause behind hirsutism. In other cases, hirsutism is related to an underlying health issue. The conditions here are some pretty well-known culprits that often cause facial hair to go rogue.
1. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Affecting about 10 percent of women of childbearing age, PCOS is characterized by cysts that grow on the ovaries, which can prevent eggs from maturing and often cause fertility issues, according to the Office of Women’s Health (OWH).
PCOS can also impact your hormone levels, leading to weight gain, irregular periods, acne, and, yup, increased hair growth. People with PCOS often notice excessive hair growth specifically in what Dr. Sood refers to as “androgen-dependent areas,” like the chin. If you have PCOS, you might also experience coarse and dark hair on the abdomen, upper thighs, low back, and butt.
Sound familiar? Your best bet is to see an endocrinologist to determine what’s up.
2. Ovarian or adrenal tumors
While we don’t know their exact cause, growths or masses on your ovaries can actually amp up your body’s production of those facial hair-causing androgen hormones. These tumors can also lead you to experience pelvic pain or pressure or irregular vaginal bleeding.
If you have all or some of these symptoms, it’s time to visit your doc, who can issue the appropriate medical scans to determine if there’s an ovarian growth in your body that’s to blame for overproduction of testosterone. Don’t worry: Most of these growths are benign, although they can be malignant (meaning cancerous) in rare cases.
Growths can also take up camp on your adrenal glands, which are small glands located on top of each kidney, according to Dr. Sood. Many of these tumors are asymptomatic, but if they are in fact producing excess hormones, you may experience other symptoms such as unexplained weight gain, easy bruising, acne, high blood pressure, high blood glucose (sugar) levels, changes in body odor, among other signs, Dr. Sood says.
See your doc if you’re having any of these symptoms, so she can do a proper evaluation to determine what’s going on. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove an ovarian or adrenal tumor (even if it’s benign). But on the bright side, the growth likely won’t return once it’s removed, according to NLM.
3. Cushing’s syndrome
This hormonal disorder, a.k.a hypercortisolism, can be the result of long-term exposure to high levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by your adrenal gland, according to NLM. Cushing’s syndrome can also be caused by taking corticosteroids (a type of inflammation-reducing steroid) for a prolonged period, or by an adrenal tumor.
Dr. Sood recommends talking to your endocrinologist for an adrenal evaluation, which would include imaging and blood and urine testing to check for abnormal levels of the specific hormones made by the adrenal glands.
4. Insulin resistance or diabetes
When you’re insulin resistant, your body doesn’t respond properly to insulin—a hormone that helps turn sugar into energy, according to NLM. So instead, your blood sugar stays elevated, which can lead to prediabetes and diabetes. Insulin resistance can also raise the body’s levels of testosterone, and thus the amount of facial and body hair you grow as well, Dr. Sood explains.
How the heck do you get a sense of whether this is you? Being increasingly thirsty, urinating more frequently, and feeling weak and fatigued are all ways your body tries to tell you it’s experiencing issues related to insulin resistance. Your doc can order blood tests to determine if you have, say, diabetes. Once your body’s insulin resistance is in control, there’s a good chance your hair growth will return to normal.
As you probably know, your hormones go a little haywire when you’re pregnant. One shift that occurs is a rise in testosterone levels. But wait—estrogen levels also go up during pregnancy, right? Yup. So most women don’t experience symptoms such as unwanted hair growth despite the turned-up male hormones, Dr. Sood says.
But (there’s always a “but,” isn’t there?) this isn’t the case for *all* women. It’s pretty hard to predict exactly what pregnancy-related hormonal changes will bring on, so never shy away from calling your ob-gyn because, per Dr. Sood, a simple blood test can help determine if your chin or facial hair issue is just another bodily change from pregnancy hormones, or something else that needs to be addressed.