On a seemingly daily basis, society’s ideals and standards of what “beauty” is gets shoved in our faces. When we turn on the TV to catch the news and see anchors dolled up in makeup and their hair styled to be camera-ready. When we scroll through social media and see ads for makeup, workout programs or weight-loss shakes and meal, the “Dermatologists HATE him* clickbait, so on and so forth.
Especially this year when a majority of us have been working from home, were furloughed like myself, or have lost their employment altogether and might have more time to browse through our feeds when we’re not commuting to our jobs or online shopping, “perfection” bombards us.
“Perfection” is in quotation marks here because everyone has their own idea of what this is, and my definition will surely be different than yours.
Even though there are plenty of body-positive movements and self-love messages out there, it’s still hard for me to feel that way about myself sometimes.
All of those “No Filter” or “Woke Up Like This” posts mean well, but I still end up comparing myself to what I see and falling short despite my best efforts.
I try not to dwell on it, but there are plenty of things I am self-conscious about.
My weight being too high despite my best efforts. My height being too tall. My skin being as damaged as it is from the throes of acne.
The fact is, so much of this is new. My skin was honestly fantastic in middle school and for most of high school, a time where so many of my peers were struggling with acne.
Somehow in college, around sophomore year, my face just blew up, and though it’s gotten better, it’s never really gone away. I’m still finding new zits on a regular basis and there is some scarring from years of squeezing and picking. I’ve tried so many treatments and exhausted so many resources over the years, all with limited effects and sometimes even worsening the situation.
But the thing I tend to be the most self-conscious about is my facial hair.
I’m not talking about a little peach fuzz as it’s so cutely known.
When I say facial hair, I mean dark hairs surrounding my lips, cropping up on my chin, and even a random patch sprouting from my neck.
It wasn’t ever something I thought much about until high school. It didn’t matter as much to me as things like my weight or the pimples popping up now and then before the big breakout in college.
The first time I ever had my brows waxed was senior year of high school, but I still kept them on the thicker side.
Even when a classmate lovingly(?) told me to, “Shave my ‘stache,” as a freshman, it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal compared to everything else.
But now it’s become such an irritant.
The hairs have become thicker, darker, and stiffer. Some bend easily but are so much darker than the hair tied into a ponytail as I’m writing this post (specifically, the brunette roots amid red dye), others are stiff and sharp as wire and almost translucent.
On one occasion I went to have my lip and chin waxed, the poor gal doing it actually stopped for a second as she tried to figure out the most tactful way of asking me if I wanted the patch on my neck waxed, too.
Which I did. And thankfully she didn’t charge me extra for that additional service.
The fact that I’ve been able to use the growth of my own facial hair as a timeline of sorts when I mention characters having shaved or their stubble—masculine characters, mind you—says a lot.
It’s had its benefits in other bizarre ways, providing something of a guide on Halloween nights past when I dressed up as Daryl Dixon of The Walking Dead or the titular character of Poldark and essentially being able to run mascara over what is already there to create a 3D effect amid the stippling of liquid eyeliner.
But it’s also a nuisance. Even more so than other areas like my legs or underarms. The hair there is softer and tamer, so to speak. It doesn’t reappear the next morning and isn’t as stubborn when being tackled.
As far as getting rid of my facial hair it goes, I’ve tried so many options. Shaving, plucking, waxing, depilatories with odors ranging from “at least I can kind of smell the almond oil in this one” to “foul bordering on eggs laid by a fowl and forgotten about.”
It always finds a way back to the surface, usually so much sooner than the packaging indicates.
The regrowth is sometimes accompanied by itching or bumps that only exacerbates the zit sitch.
Lately, I’ve gotten more curious about why this hairy situation affects me and what might be causing it, and I figured it would be worth sharing my findings.
I’m not out to self-diagnose myself with any particular condition here. Let’s not forget that time WebMD diagnosed a cold as postpartum depression when I have never been pregnant.
Just a quick disclaimer before we go any further: I am not a medical professional and have done my best to ensure the information in this post comes from reputable sources (which I will link throughout).
Facial hair is common, most often taking the form of peach fuzz. But when the hair is darker or coarser, it’s attributed to hirsutism.
As described in this article on Healthline.com, hirsutism is not the same as hypertrichosis. With hirsutism, the growth of excess hair depends on male hormones like androgen and results in hair appearing where it is mostly seen in men such as on the face or lower abdomen. Hypertrichosis, however, can increase the growth of hair just about anywhere.
The Indian Journal of Dermatology suggests hirsutism affects approximately 5-10% of women and can be hereditary, running in families.
Hyperandrogenism, or the over-production of these male hormones, can be caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
According to this American Family Physician post, PCOS is a factor in three out of every four hirsutism cases. PCOS symptoms might also include fatigue and trouble sleeping, irregular periods, fertility complications, moderate-to-severe acne, and weight issues.
Healthline also points out that PCOS may not be the only cause of hirsutism. Adrenal gland disorders can also lead to hormonal imbalances.
The growth of excessive body hair may also be a side-effect of medication.
As far as treating hirsutism goes, UCLAHealth describes the typical approach as a combination of different methods. This might include oral contraceptives with or without an antiandrogen to decrease the effect of androgens.
Depending on the situation, some people might opt for more extreme options of hair removal beyond waxing and tweezing and explore electrolysis or lasers.
Electrolysis refers to the insertion of an electrode to eradicate individual hair follicles, while laser hair removal destroys hair by targeting the melanin in the follicle. Laser therapy seems to be the more expensive of the two, but faster and less painful.
As far as I’ve been able to discern from my research, there is no clear-cut “cure” for hirsutism, but rather methods of managing it.
So why this post? Why put this out there?
Part of it is simply wanting to put this out there, to talk about feminine facial hair, especially feminine facial hair like mine. The kind that goes well beyond peach fuzz or a couple unsightly hairs. In a world where a simple Google search for information about what potentially causes it leads to an onslaught of advertisements for at-home waxing kits and creams or where your nearest Ulta location is to book an appointment at their Brow Bar, it doesn’t get talked about as much as it should be. It only encourages us to not talk about it and instead focus on getting rid of it because it doesn’t fit into the societal notion of “perfection” or what we generally consider “beautiful.”
I needed to give myself that space to talk about it.
Overall, I think writing this post is more about not being alone in it, hoping someone dealing with a similar issue stumbles across this post and is able to see they’re not the only one, and more importantly be able to read about feminine facial hair without condescension or “solutions” like where to buy this product or that one or a list of recipes “guaranteed” to fix it for good.
Just a side note here, I’ve tried a handful of those DIY and “you already have everything you need in your kitchen or bathroom” concoctions over the years. Spare yourself the trouble and mess. They don’t work.
Especially in my teen years, when I was admittedly relying on magazines and websites like Seventeen and Cosmopolitan to tell me what’s what, I would have loved for an outside source to tell me it’s normal to grow facial hair as a young woman—or that the amount or type of facial hair could potentially be linked to a condition I ought to speak to a doctor about—without feeling as though the situation is humorous to them or focusing on how to do away with it more than what causes it.
There were occasions where these articles felt confrontational in some way, as though I were somehow in the wrong because of my facial hair and that it made me less than an “ideal” woman.
The fact is, so much of this seems to be beyond my control, and all I can do is manage it as best I can. Without getting too into details, this post made my research go from casual curiosity and what other removal tactics are out there that I haven’t experimented with yet to maybe I need to schedule an appointment with my doctor, and I think that’s related to how much I’ve found once Seventeen and Cosmopolitan are out of the picture.
Again, I am not a medical professional. I’m just someone with access to the internet.
But I’m also someone dealing this with a compelling need to share my experiences, and if I can’t on my on blog, where else can I?