The normalization of women’s body hair has been a movement of acceptance and liberation for many women in recent years. Hair on your face, arms, legs, and even bikini lines have become more widely-accepted; in many cases, people are even indifferent to them. Still, body hair may be a strong indicator of the state of your health. While hair growth is completely normal for women, a development of new or worrisome hair on the face, jaw, chin, or chest can be indicative of something serious.
Dr. Gary Goldenberg, a clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, changes in body hair type may be signals of changes in your health.
Although the type of hair you have depends strongly on your inherited genes, and hair thickness is typically very normal, a sudden increase or decrease in hair growth in women may be a result of a hormonal imbalance. Usually this is an indicator of a fluctuation in androgen hormones, a naturally occurring hormone in both men and women.
Additionally, during menopause, estrogen production levels begin to decline, often resulting in a rise in testosterone which leads to a thinning hair and even baldness. Hair on your face and chin may grow coarser as a result of this, but researchers believe this is completely normal.
Whereas higher estrogen levels usually produce thicker hair, but low estrogen levels can lead to hair loss, according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Estrogen levels may also fluctuate as a result of pregnancy or a shift in birth control medication, which can lead to temporary hair shedding.
An iron deficiency is especially common amongst women and those who do not intake too much iron in their diet. While hair shedding during the winter season is usually quite normal, visible hair loss on your head and body may be an indicator of anemia or an iron deficiency. It is recommended to ask your doctor for a blood test if you believe you are iron deficient.
In some cases, body hair changes may be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, which is a condition caused by a fluctuation of reproductive hormones. Women who exhibit PCOS experience irregular periods, usually because of the high production of male hormones. Such a high production usually manifests itself through excessive facial hair, or even thinning hair because of the high production of testosterone.
When your thyroid does not produce a sufficient number of hormones, it can affect many bodily functions—including how your body grows hair. The thyroid gland is directly in front of your neck and it is responsible for secreting hormones to ensure your body uses energy correctly. An underactive thyroid can slow down hair growth, usually leading to sudden hair loss. Ridges in your nails and hair loss at the edge of your eyebrows may be symptoms of an underactive thyroid, however, this can be easily determined by a blood test if you consult your doctor.
Very sudden and drastic hair loss or growth may have more serious underlying issues, says Dr. Margaret Wierman, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado. When testosterone levels and DHEAS levels are extremely high as indicated on a blood test, it can be signs of a tumor that could be releasing high levels of male hormones, leading to dramatic hair growth. These are very rare cases, Dr. Wierman says, however, consulting your doctor if you experience rapid hair growth.