Hypertrichosis or werewolf syndrome

Hypertrichosis, also known as werewolf syndrome, is a condition characterized by excessive hair growth throughout a person’s body.

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It can affect both men and women, but is extremely rare. Abnormal hair growth can cover the face and body or occur in small patches. Hypertrichosis can appear at birth or develop over time.

Types of hypertrichosis

There are several types of hypertrichosis:

  • Congenital lanuginosa hypertrichosis: it appears as a normal lanugo, the fine hair found on a baby at birth. But instead of disappearing over the following weeks, the soft, fine hair/hair continues to grow in various places on the baby’s body.
  • Congenital Terminal Hypertrichosis: The growth of abnormal hair begins at birth and continues throughout life. The hair/hair, usually long and thick, covers the person’s face and body.
  • Novoid Hypertrichosis: Excessive growth of hair/hair of any type occurs in a defined area. In some cases, more than one strand of hair is present.
  • Hirsutism: this form of hypertrichosis is limited to women. The result is thick, black hair that grows in areas where women do not normally have hair, such as their face, chest and back.
  • Acquired hypertrichosis: Unlike congenital hypertrichosis, the acquired form of the disease tends to develop later in life. In addition, it results in two types of hair other than lanugo: vellus hair or terminal hair. Excess hair can grow in small patches or on all areas of the body of a hair growth



Symptoms of hypertrichosis

As mentioned earlier, hypertrichosis can occur at birth or develop later in life. Hypertrichosis usually produces one of three types of hair:

  • Vellus: the follicles of these hairs are usually short (less than 1/13 inch long, depending on the type of hair). They can be located anywhere except on the soles of the feet, on the backs of the ears, lips and palms, or on scar tissue. The vellus may be pigmented or unpigmented.
  • Lanugo: This type of hair is very soft and fine, like that of a newborn baby’s body. It usually has no pigment. Most babies shed lanugo a few days or weeks after birth. If hypertrichosis is present, the lanugo may remain unless it is treated and removed.
  • Terminal: the hair is long and thick and usually very dark.

Women with hirsutism develop hard, dark hair in areas such as the face, chest and back.

Another common symptom of hypertrichosis is a problem with the gums or teeth. Some teeth may be missing or your gums may be enlarged.

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Causes of this condition

The causes of the trouble are not well understood, although there is a form of the disease that tends to run in families.

Congenital hypertrichosis can be caused by the reactivation of genes responsible for hair growth. The genes responsible for extensive hair growth in primitive man « shut down » during evolution. By an error that still has no known cause, these hair growth genes « turn on » while the baby is still in the womb.

Acquired hypertrichosis can have several causes. When hair growth is everywhere or in places, the possible causes are as follows:

  • Late-stage skin porphyria, a condition in which your skin is particularly sensitive to light
  • malnutrition
  • diet or eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa
  • cancer
  • certain medicines, such as androgenic steroids, minoxidil, a hair growth drug, and cyclosporine (Sandimmune)


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This trouble occurring in specific areas of your body can develop from :

  • lichen simplex, a chronic skin condition causing repeated itching and scratching of a skin patch
  • temporary use of a plaster
  • increased vascularization, a weight-building strategy to develop prominent blood vessels near the surface of the skin


Prevalence of hypertrichosis

This is of any type is uncommon. Congenital lanuginosa hypertrichosis, for example, is extremely rare. According to about 50 people, this type of hypertrichosis has never been documented. Hirsutism is much more widespread and affects about 7% of the female population in the United States, for example. (JAMA Dermatology)

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Treating hypertrichosis

This is incurable and there is nothing you can do to prevent the congenital form of the disease. The risk of some forms of acquired hypertrichosis can be reduced by avoiding certain medications, such as minoxidil.

The treatment of hypertrichosis involves removing hair using a variety of short-term methods. These include :

  • shaving
  • chemical depilation
  • waxing
  • harvesting
  • hair bleaching 

All these methods are temporary solutions. They may also cause painful or uncomfortable skin irritation. And on some parts of your body, these treatments are not easy to do.

Long-term treatments include electrolysis and laser surgery. Electrolysis is the destruction of individual hair follicles with small electrical charges. Laser surgery involves applying a special laser light to several hairs at once. Hair loss can often be permanent with these treatments, although you will need a few sessions to complete the job. But should we remove all the hair?


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