In this article I will discuss a rare condition called hypertrichosis, which causes excessive hair growth on a person’s body. Also referred to as the werewolf syndrome, it is different from hirsutism which is a condition that affects women, causing coarse men-like hair growth on their bodies. It is caused by hormones or genetic causes.
Hypertrichosis, on the other hand, is growth of hair on the body that is not hormone related but caused by a mutation of the genes. It resembles the hair growth in early humans. That is why it is known as the “werewolf syndrome.” It is caused by the activation of our dormant ancestral genes, which caused hair growth on the body to protect early humans from the cold. As man evolved, this gene became dormant. Congenital hypertrichosis occurs if the dormant genes get activated in the unborn baby in the womb. Acquired hypertrichosis develops later in life when these genes get activated in the body.
As explained in the previous section, congenital hypertrichosis is caused by activation of dormant genes in the body. Acquired hypertrichosis is believed to be caused by many underlying possible causes, such as:
- Malnutrition: Sometimes lack of adequate nutrition causes hypertrichosis to be triggered.
- Medicines: The body may react to certain medicines, such as medicines for hair growth or steroids.
- Cancer: The condition may also be caused by cell mutation and development of cancer cells in the body.
- Body’s immune system: The body’s immunity system may trigger antibodies to be formed and trigger certain genes.
People who suffer from the condition have difficulty in facing other people. It causes immense embarrassment and mental stress. However, it is a very rare condition.
Sometimes the condition may be evident by hair growth on a few places on the body. This is caused by localised skin conditions and factors. Body hypertrichosis is evident in excessive hair growth but the types of hair can be different. Hypertrichosis can result in different types of hair growth such as:
Lanugo hair: Thin and very soft colourless hair, like the growth of hair on a newborn baby is called lanugo hair. It disappears after a few weeks of birth, but in hypertrichosis, it stays until treated.
Vellus: Soft and excessive hair that appears all over the body except the hands and soles of the feet is called vellus hair. This type of hair growth, which is slightly pigmented, is also very embarrassing.
Terminal: Dark, thick, and long hair that appears on face and other parts of the body is called terminal hair. This type of hair growth may be caused by hormonal disturbances.
Hypertrichosis may be accompanied by other symptoms such as enlarged gums, missing teeth, epilepsy, and other types of abnormalities.
Congenital hypertrichosis cannot be treated as the causes of genetic triggers are not known. In such cases, treatment can consist only of hair removal or camouflage. Acquired hypertrichosis can be treated by changes in diet, medicines and lifestyle changes.
Hair removal methods
In many cases of hypertrichosis, hair removal is the only treatment option. Patients can be advised of various methods used for hair removal. These are waxing, shaving, or plucking. Camouflaging consists of bleaching the hair. These are temporary methods and cannot be used all over the body. They may also cause irritation on the skin.
Longer lasting hair removal methods consist of electrolysis and laser treatments. Electrolysis destroys the hair shaft by using electric current. Lasers use high energy light for destroying the hair follicles.
Hypertrichosis is a rare condition but a debilitating one. As it is usually accompanied by other conditions, it is important to get medical advice and help. If it is congenital, hair removal or camouflaging methods are used. But if it occurs later in life, the condition can be corrected. Till genetic medicine can figure out how to suppress the activated genes, the only treatment option is to manage the symptoms. Experienced experts and well-equipped clinics can help patients to the best possible course or hair removal and treatment.