Why Do I Have Hair on My Stomach?

Before the onset of puberty, the stomach is covered with vellus hair. Vellus hair is light in color, thin, and soft. It is hair that is commonly referred to as peach fuzz. For the most part, vellus hair is unnoticeable. However with the onset of puberty comes the growth of thick, dark hair that begins to grow on various parts of the body including the stomach, underarms and pubic area. This type of hair growth is known as terminal hair and unlike vellus hair, it is coarse and deeply pigmented. Following the onset of puberty it is normal for both men and women to have growth of some terminal hairs on these parts of the body. 

If terminal hair begins to grow at a faster rate and covers larger areas of the body, including the stomach, back or chest this may be hirsutism.

Finding the Cause of Excess Hair Growth on the Stomach

Excessive hair growth on the stomach may be due to number of factors. In women, the two most common causes of hirsutism are polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and idiopathic hirsutism. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is the inappropriate secretion of too much testosterone. Meanwhile, idiopathic hirsutism is a diagnosis of hirsutism that is given when despite testing, the primary cause can’t been found. Idiopathic hirsutism is thought to account for 15% of all cases of hirsutism. Other causes of hirsutism are:

  • Genetics & ethnicity – In both men and women, genetics and ethnicity may also play a role in determining how much hair growth you experience. Those with a Mediterranean or South East Asian background are more likely to have hirsutism.
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • Medications like some androgenic-steroids

When to Speak to a Doctor

It might be worth speaking to your doctor if excess hair growth starts to interfere with your life or begins to have a negative impact on your self-esteem. If excess hair growth on the stomach stops you from enjoying time outdoors with friends, has an impact on your relationship or effects your well-being then your doctor might be able to help. 

Diagnosis

The process of diagnosis begins with a medical history and physical examination. The help diagnose hirsutism, doctors may also use a scoring scale known as the Ferriman-Gallwey visual scale. It is the most commonly used grading system amongst doctors that aids in the diagnosis of hirsutism. From the start, is important to determine if it is a true case of hirsutism that a women has or just a few isolated areas of excessive hair.

The Ferriman-Gallway scale highlights different patterns of hair growth in nine areas of the body. It assigns a score from ‘0’ (absence of hair) to ‘4’ (extensive hair growth). In women without hirsutism or normal hair growth, the score is typically under 8. The scale can be viewed for free online. It may help shed some light on what the medical and visual definition of hirsutism entails.

Depending on the findings of the history and physical examination the doctor may decide to run a number of diagnostic tests. This can include a blood test, ultrasound scan, CT scan or MRI. Not all cases of excess hair growth are caused by a medical condition. As mentioned above, family history and genetics also play a role. In this case, doctors will use the tests to rule out anything more serious.

In cases where diagnostic test are run, in about 10% to 15% of women suffering from hirsutism, all the tests will come back with a normal result. If so, a diagnosis of “idiopathic hirsutism” is usually made. 

Treatment

Following diagnosis, treatment options will focus on dealing with the underlying cause of the hirsutism. 

The process of hair removal from large areas of the body such as the stomach are best targeted with hair removal techniques that are less time consuming or tedious like plucking or epilation. For example techniques such as waxing, depilatory creams, laser hair removal or electrolysis might be more suitable. Of these, only electrolysis is considered to be a permanent hair removal method. 

Waxing

This is a fairly popular and safe method of hair removal. Waxing involves applying a layer of heated wax to the area where unwanted hair is located. When the wax is pulled off, the trapped hairs are pulled out. Waxing tends to leave the skin smoother and is usually less painful than epilation. However, waxing is not a permanent hair removal technique.

Depilatories

Depilatories use a chemical (a depilatory agent) that essentially dissolves the hair a few minutes after it is applied to the skin. However, results do not typically last much longer than two weeks.

Electrolysis

This is considered the only permanent hair removal method. However, because it is dependent on the skill of the electrologist, results may vary. A fine needle is inserted near the base of the hair shaft where heat or an electrical current is applied. This allows the hair to be removed. The technique is repeated over the course of a few sessions before permanent hair removal will be seen.

Laser treatments/IPL

An extremely popular hair removal technique. Lasers are used to destroy the hair follicle at the source. Their ease of use, long term results and good side effect profile have given these techniques widespread acceptance. But total removal of hair should not be expected. A more realistic expectation for laser/IPL treatments is hair reduction.

In terms of effectiveness, IPL systems have been shown to be as effective as laser hair removal. However, a side effect of both techniques is the risk of burns or skin tone interference. This risk increases with dark skin pigmentation. Other side effects include pain, redness and blistering.

Hair on the stomach can make people feel extremely self-conscious. Use the  Ferriman-Gallwey Visual Scale to see where you fall on the spectrum of hair growth. And if hair growth still seems to be excessive then be sure to make an appointment to see your doctor to find out if there is an underlining cause.  

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