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If, When and How to Address Tween Facial Hair

If, When and How to Address Tween Facial Hair

By Mir Kamin

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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N writes:

I have an eleven-year-old tween. She has experienced a lot of bodily changes in the past year: growth, underarm hair, body odor, acne etc. Ahh, puberty. One of the most notable has been the hair on her upper lip has thickened and it seems darker to me. I am sometimes distracted by it when she talks. I haven’t mentioned it to her about it because I don’t want to make her self-conscious if she hasn’t noticed it.

Do I need to (a) be proactive about it or (b) let her come to me if it bothers her? And if I need to be proactive about it, what is appropriate hair grooming of this nature for an eleven-year-old girl?

What a magical time in a child’s life, when everything changes and they are awkward, smelly, and weird, yet also completely oblivious about it! You both have all of my empathy.

Okay, so, there are three questions here, I think. The first question is how much intervention in personal grooming should be provided at this age? My personal philosophy has always been to provide a good baseline and then back off a bit. To me, that starts with having an honest conversation (or two or twelve) about how your body is changing and old hygiene habits may not be sufficient. It also means providing deodorant (with a no-shame explanation about how as you get older, you start to smell more, and sometimes it’s very hard to smell yourself and realize it’s happening), acne treatments (my kids like Stridex pads or similar—quick and easy), dandruff shampoo, etc. For girls I absolutely love (and I’m sure I’ve recommended it here before!) The Care & Keeping of You as a book that gently covers just about any issue they may be wondering about as their bodies change.

You could also have a very general discussion about body hair—with my own daughter, she started asking to shave her legs very young, so I had an early open door for that conversation, but even without that, it’s easy enough to start talking about it in theory. “Some women opt to remove hair, especially from their legs and armpits, and some don’t, although here in America that tends to be the norm and in other places it’s not. You’ve probably noticed that I [shave, wax, pluck; whatever you do, or note that you don’t], but that’s a very personal choice.” A conversation like that will help you suss out whether she’s noticing/thinking about these issues.

Now, once all of that is done… back up and see what choices she makes. My intervention point at that age was usually body odor. If I can smell you, I’m going to say something; furthermore, I am going to insist you rectify it. On the other hand, I tried to just handle my own discomfort if I saw greasy hair, assuming that the wolf-pack of middle schoolers would be self-correcting. (If my kid was seeming particularly oblivious, and given that that’s still a matter of basic cleanliness, I might gently suggest upping the frequency of hair-washing.) The thing about body hair, though, is that it’s not about being clean. Which brings us to the second question….

The second question is how do you determine when a non-health, growing-up issue like this should be addressed or let go until your child brings it up? For your specific issue, start with two basic assessments: 1) What is your level of discomfort with body hair, and 2) How self-aware/self-conscious does your daughter tend to be? In the first case, if you are honestly someone who dislikes any “extra” body hair and you have some hang-ups there, it’s possible you are seeing/worrying about something others aren’t. Just kind of check to see if that’s a possibility. If you determine that’s true, there’s no need to do anything at this point. If not, and you determine on the second assessment that your daughter tends to be kind of oblivious about other areas of hygiene, to the point where she is teased or you spend a lot of time correcting basic needs there, you may want to step in before she is taunted. (If you are still unclear after asking both of these questions, get a second opinion: ask a trusted mom-friend if the upper lip hair is really obvious. Also bear in mind that if your daughter is dark-skinned, it’s going to be less jarring than if she has very light skin.)

Finally, should you determine that you’d like to proceed with addressing the hair, you asked what is appropriate hair grooming of this nature for an eleven-year-old-girl? If your daughter has a history of skin sensitivity—or even if she doesn’t, and you just want to be cautious—check in with her pediatrician to see if he/she has a preference for kids of this age, first. I think whatever method you select, at this age it’s a good idea to either take care of it for her or assist. And what you choose to do is really a matter of preference; the only method I would actively discourage is shaving, as that can end up looking weird for regrowth (and some will argue that it thickens the hair, though I’m not sure that’s true). I also wouldn’t recommend a home epilator at this point (they are expensive and painful) or any sort of permanent removal (such as laser) because of her age. So, your best options:

  • Bleach: Not a good option for dark skin, but possibly a good option for light skin, depending on the thickness of the hair. Buy a bleaching kit specifically formulated for facial hair and be very careful (don’t go over the suggested time, etc.), as bleach can be very irritating.
  • Depilatory: A depilatory specifically formulated for facial hair may be a good option if she doesn’t have particularly sensitive skin. I happen to think most depilatories are more caustic than bleach (think about it; you’re applying something that dissolves hair), so proceed with caution. This is a simple do-at-home removal method if it’s not too irritating, though.
  • Waxing at home: I’m descended from yetis, so I actually own a whole-shebang wax warmer, muslin strips, etc., but I realize that most people don’t. But something like a cold strip wax kit for the face (you warm the strips between your hands before application) is cheap and easy. Again, I’d do it for her, rather than sending your child to go rip out her own hair.
  • Professional removal via threading or waxing at a salon: Personally, I am cheap, so I’m not the sort of person who would take my tween somewhere for professional hair removal, but to each their own. Professional waxing will probably be less painful than waxing at home, and although I’ve personally never experienced threading, myself, I know many people swear by it.

I hope that helps, a little. These years are treacherous waters, and I think the main thing to remember is that communication is key—the more you normalize conversation about both the changes in her body and societal norms (and the options available to conform, or not), the easier it will be to figure out how to proceed. Good luck!

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Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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Comments

  • Jeanette

    So at what age would you recommend laser hair removal? It was the best thing I could have done for myself, and if my daughter turns out to be a “yeti” like me (and by looking at her eyebrows at age 5, it seems likely she will be 🙂 ), the topic will definitely come up at some point.

    • I’ve also had some laser and think it was amazing, but remember that changing bodies are, well, constantly changing. I’d wait until 17/18 at least, personally.

  • Dan

    I’d frankly say check yourself. This is not under your control, nor is it your place to point it out to her. And frankly it’s not an issue. Why does it bother you that your kid is not within the realms of “expected beauty standards”? If you had a son and he had a monobrow but wasn’t bothered by it would you bring it up as something he needs to fix? It seems to me that you’re trying to foist these standards on a kid who likely isn’t bothered yet to make yourself feel comfortable that your kid is pretty. Obviously if you’re worried she might be teased about it, she might, but you’re not going to make her feel any better about it by pointing it out as Something Wrong With Her.

    • Dan, I feel like this comment is unnecessarily harsh. I would absolutely point out if my kids smelled bad (and I wouldn’t say there was something wrong with them, nor would I shame them about it, merely let them know it needs to be rectified), and I would definitely take my daughter aside if, say, I felt something about her appearance was likely to make her the target of taunting. I, too, would love to live in a world where there are no arbitrary beauty standards and hair isn’t judged. But… we don’t live in that world. Neither of us has any idea whether the poster is referring to a few stray hairs or a straight-up bushy mustache, and if it’s the latter, a sanctimonious declaration that it’s “not an issue” is naive at best and detrimental at worst. Tween/teenage girls are mean. I’m not going to fault anyone for being proactive on a matter like this, and even if you disagree, this level of assumption and judgment is unhelpful.

      • Dan

        I apologise for the harshness of my original post, as I posted it and reread OP’s letter I realised it was meaner than it should have been, however there’s no delete/edit functionality.

        I was a fat non-conforming tween girl at an all-girls school so I know how mean they are. However, I still question whether making your daughter aware of a beauty defect is productive. If you’ve noticed it then so has everyone else and so if they’re not teasing her about it then why make her self-conscious? My mom pointed out I could stand to lose a little weight and all it did was make me more aware of it at a time when no-one else was. Open the door to a “if you have any questions about grooming or beauty just ask” conversation by all means but if she’s not aware of the problem then I can’t see how it’s going to help to point it out. She might have noticed it but be hoping no-one else does, or that it doesn’t matter. She might get through her whole school career without anyone pointing it out, or she might not care. If it was a a hygiene issue then totally, it needs calling out, but it’s not, so I don’t see the benefit.

  • Becky

    I would just like to mention that for me sprouting facial hair as a tween was the first sign of PCOS. Hopefully this is not the case for your daughter, but it’s something to keep in mind. Early intervention can prevent further hirsutism and protect fertility.

    • Thanks so much for bringing this up. Definitely something to warrant the mom bringing up with the pediatrician in private.

      BTW– I had a mustache (some stray but very visible overlapping hairs at the corner of my mouth) as a tween/teen/adult and was extremely self-conscious about it. One of the most empowering things I ever did was have it removed via electrolysis in my early 20s (this was before laser hair removal became popular) and boy-o-boy did it forever give my confidence a boost. I no longer felt as if everyone was looking at my mustache when I was speaking to them. However, I did not have PCOS; I am descended from very hairy people.

      • Carolyn

        I have both pcos and I’m descended from very hairy people!

        Electrolysis was the worst experience of my life. I hope laser treatments have completely put it out of existence. I was subjected to electrolysis as a child and I strongly recommend avoiding it! 

        I also wish that my pcos had been caught earlier. My whole family just assumed it was the normal hairiness of everyone else and it wasn’t until I tried to have children that I found out. 

  • Emily

    I want to say I think this is great advice.  My girls are still young and years away from tween-hood, but this is something that I have wondered how I will handle in the future.  Like everyone I am sure, puberty was pretty rough on me — physically and emotionally.  My parents were pretty distant, uninvolved, and weird about how to handle it and I had to find everything out the hard way.  I WISH my mom would have sat down with me and talked to me about options regarding my bushy eyebrows.  It would have made the coming years a little simpler.  I think it is important to bring these things up delicately rather than just ignore them.  Someone will tell your kid they smell/have a lot of facial hair/have dandruff and they won’t do it as nicely as their mom.  Now I just have to bookmark this for 10 years from now 🙂

  • Kay

    I think the most important thing here is to give her age-appropriate information about her changing body, and then create an open environment where she can come talk to you about concerns. Her concerns may be “My lip is hairy and I want to wax/bleach/etc.” and you can suggest tactics, or it might be “Kids tell me my lip is hairy but I don’t care” and you can affirm her. And either way, handling it should be her decision.

  • Jeanette

    Dan, when I said “it will come up at some point” I meant by HER, not necessarily by me. We will deal with each beauty- related issue on her timing (not to be confused with hygienic issues, which, as the article states, we may have to bring up ourselves). It was a simple question about timing for a certain procedure, that’s all.

    • Liz

      I think Dan was responding to the question in the original post, not to prior discussion in the comment thread. (“Do I need to (a) be proactive about it or (b) let her come to me if it bothers her?”)

  • H

    Tell her, tell her, tell her! Before the mean kids do! ESPECIALLY if she has self-confidence issues (which I can’t tell one way or the other from the OP). I understand the whole “she should love herself for who she is” blah blah blah, but there is something to be said for at least trying to fit in a little bit. It is a fine line because you don’t want her to turn into a super vain teenage girl, but she should at least know what is “normal” for other girls. If you tell her and she is perfectly comfortable with it, so be it, more power to her.

  • Zak

    Oh my goodness! I so wish my mom read this blog as I was growing up! She quite frankily said “Im only gonna say this once, i love you but you smell terrible( I, btw was completely oblivious to this) here’s some deodorant and get a razor or something because the facial hair is getting out of hand” and she went back to watching TV. Lol! Now that I’m a grown adult, I understand where she was coming from, but it seemed so harsh at the time.

  • MRH

    Like Dan, I don’t think it’s always a positive thing to bring up what we perceive as “flaws” with kids who may be blissfully unaware or sublimely self-confident enough to have deemed them unworthy of their time. I still remember my mom trying to address my mustache when I was in high school – awkwardly and with some pain for me even now. As I recall, she said something like, “you know, some guys don’t like it if a girl has hair on her face.” My response (of which I remain quite proud, as it was somewhat uncharacteristically body-positive) was, “if a guy doesn’t like me because I have more facial hair than him, then that’s his problem more than mine.” I did try bleach in college after becoming more self-conscious, and now do waxing at home, but it’s MY choice, not my husband’s or anyone else’s. I just felt pretty shocked and hurt that my mom brought up something I had already come to terms with and didn’t want to change about myself!

    All that to say, opening the door to a conversation is all well and good, but PLEASE do it in a spirit of kindness and without assuming your daughter will not have formed an opinion about it for herself. Have a little faith that you’ve given her the toolkit to handle decisions about her own body. 🙂

  • Carolyn

    Such a tricky issue! I have wondered for years how I might handle this if/when I have a daughter as I found the situation for myself difficult.

    I have light skin and very dark hair. I had a uni-brow, thick brows, and a mustache as a pre-teen. I developed a beard as well, which I later found out was a result of pcos.

    I was getting teased at school, which made me miserable, but I also felt hurt that my parents would tell me that inner beauty mattered most but then they would also force me to go through painful treatments.

    It started with electrolysis, which is still one of the most painful things I’ve ever been through. I would sob through it but my mom kept taking me back. For her it was permanent so she hoped to just make it go away, I guess. I later found out that my grandmother was pressuring them to make me prettier too.

    I’ve tried every hair removal product in existence but none have been permanent. My parents spent a lot on laser treatments when I was in my 20s but it always grew back. I just shave now. And pluck my brows because I like it. My husband prefers thick brows!

    It was a huge source of insecurity for me as a teenager but I’m not sure how my mom should have handled it or how I can or should handle it if I have a daughter who will certainly inherit my hairiness.