If, When and How to Address Tween Facial Hair
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!