17/02/2015 10:27 GMT | Updated 18/04/2015 06:59 BST

Facing Up To Female Facial Hair

Whilst designer stubble may be the epitome of style for a man, facial hair is usually a less welcome trait for females. It's certainly not uncommon though, as it affects four in ten women at some point in their life.

Relatively few celebrities have dared to speak openly about their own experiences with facial hair, but Hollywood actress Drew Barrymore admirably confessed that a reddish-coloured goatee grew while she was pregnant with her daughter Olive.

Pregnancy is one of the times when extra facial hair could well appear on your upper lip, chin or cheeks. In fact, hormonal changes are a common trigger of facial hair, so women who are pregnant or going through the menopause, are more likely to experience it.

Getting to the root of the problem

There are many reasons women experience facial hair problems. In some cases it's inherited and it can tend to be more prevalent in women from Mediterranean and Asian backgrounds. Athletic or overweight women can also be affected more, but it can actually affect women of all ages, races and body-builds, and usually increases with age.

Excess growth of facial hair is frequently linked to having excessive male hormones in the body (androgens), which stimulate hair growth. All women produce some of these male hormones, including testosterone. The problem is that these can sometimes be trapped in the ovaries and in fat tissue and muscle, which can bring about a reaction in the form of facial hair growth.

Facial hair can sometime be a symptom of other medical conditions too. One of the main culprits is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which causes the body to produce excess male sex hormones. If you are suffering from PCOS, you are by no means alone, as it affects millions in the UK and is relatively common in women of childbearing age.

It's worth being aware that facial hirsutism can be a side-effect of medications too, including some treatments for asthma, high blood pressure and epilepsy. You could be among the 10 per cent for whom there is no firm explanation though.

Whatever the cause, excess facial hair can impact self-esteem and confidence. However, many consider it to be a purely cosmetic problem and not something to seek medical advice about. It's a condition we frequently see at the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service though and patients often tell me they've been too embarrassed to discuss it with their own GP.

Tackling facial hair

Beauty procedures like waxing, plucking and bleaching can help to combat the problem, as can laser treatments and electrolysis. Despite not getting to the root cause of the issue, they can be an effective way to tackle unwanted hair. Shaving is best avoided though, as it tends to cause the hair to grow back thicker and more noticeable.

Many women find that addressing the hormone imbalance within their body is an effective longer-term solution. A prescription cream called Vaniqa (eflornithine) has also become a popular option, as it can be applied directly to the face and gets to the problem at its root by blocking an enzyme that the hair follicle uses to produce the hair shaft.

Of course for some, the problem may only be temporary and your body may just be reacting to a short-term hormone fluctuation. So, if like Ms Barrymore, you have noticed your facial hair growth increase while pregnant, it's likely to resolve itself when your hormone-levels return to normal. If you're worried about what's triggering it though or it is causing you distress, it's best to get checked out.