As a fetus develops in the womb, fine hair called lanugo grows on its body.
Vellus hairs also are fine and transparent, but are thick and finer than lanugo hairs and appear over most of the body during childhood. These hairs typically disappear when the baby is born or shortly thereafter when vellus hairs mature.
In this article, we will tell you whether lanugo has any role in adults, and why it might grow on them.
What is lanugo: Definition?
Lanugo’s role in the development of the fetus is not fully understood by scientists.
Despite this, scientists believe lanugo hairs support a waxy substance called vernix caseosa that covers a fetus as it grows.
The combination of lanugo hairs and vernix, along with other factors, can influence the production of hormones in the fetus, as suggested in a 2009 paper.
It seems that lanugo plays an essential role in the development of an unborn child. However, lanugo appears to manifest in adult patients undergoing various diseases.
It is thought that lanugo hairs are a result of an adult’s body trying to conserve heat since they often occur after eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa that lead to reduced temperature control.
When babies are prematurely born, lanugo is absolutely normal. However, it is unnatural and a sign of various health conditions when lanugo reappears in adults.
You can confuse lanugo and vellus hairs because they look similar. If you notice fine hairs growing in places your body did not grow previously, such as on the face or hands, you may be developing a health condition called adult lanugo.
Eating disorders or anorexia nervosa are almost always associated with the growth of lanugo hair in an adult.
Anorexia sufferers commonly suffer skin disorders that often include lanugo-like hairs. 2009 review lists lanugo-like hairs as one of the most common signs of severe anorexia.
Anorexics often develop lanugo-like hairs as a consequence of starvation, according to the same review.
Moreover, the authors note that the growth of the lanugo is typically more apparent on the back, upper chest, and forearms; young, fit individuals are especially likely to exhibit it.
Lanugo-like hair is rare because of a few types of cancer and tumors.
In a 2007 study, researchers found that lanugo-like hairs appeared in a person with prostate cancer, but the hairs disappeared after treatment.
There is a great deal of uncertainty in the study, as it only examined one individual’s case and was the first report of an association between prostate cancer and lanugo growth that was recorded in this study.
An older study, published in 1978, describes a man diagnosed with lung cancer who experienced lanugo-like hair growth on his face, chest, hands, and feet.
There are only a few reports in the literature on lanugo hair growth in adults. However, they suggest that sometimes it may occur along with various cancers. Overall, there are very few reports in the literature that suggest this linkage.
In a review published in 2006, the reviewers mentioned a case of lanugo-like hair growth in someone who had celiac disease. The reviewers acknowledged it as the only case of such an association that was reported.
As such, it does not require any treatment directly. Lanugo is a biological reaction to certain health conditions and stages of life that does not require medical treatment directly.
As an infant, lanugo is not concerning. Those hairs fall out naturally within a few days or weeks after birth.
The hairs on lanugos will eventually disappear for adults suffering from anorexia, as well as people suffering from other health problems. It is possible to treat anorexia easily, lanugos will disappear as the person recovers from their condition.
An abnormal growth pattern in a fetus, the lanugo appears as fine, downy hairs on areas normally hairless, such as the torso, arms, hands, and even face during early development.
Lanugo might play a crucial role in hormone regulation during the development of fetuses, but its role is not fully understood.
During the first year of life, a person’s lanugo will fall out and vellus hairs will replace it. These hairs are thin and will last throughout the entire lifetime of the individual.
It is almost always an eating disorder, especially anorexia, that causes Lanugo to resurface in adult life.
Researchers have discovered that lanugo has sometimes appeared in conjunction with other health conditions, including certain types of cancer and celiac disease. The study on these links is sparse and ambiguous, with very few cases being recorded, but it is worth considering.
Often confused with vellus hairs, lanugo hairs in adults present in greater amounts in unexpected areas of the body, including the hands and feet.
Researchers believe that the body’s response to conditions that adversely affect body temperature is the development of lanugo in adults.
It is not necessary to treat lanugo directly because it does not define a disease. Adult lanugo breaks down naturally once the condition that triggers it, such as anorexia, has been successfully resolved.