Dear Alice,

I have a problem. I am a 21 year old male with the face of a 15 year old. What I mean is that I am unable to grow facial hair. I was late starting puberty and it has left me underdeveloped. My baby face is affecting people's trust in me, especially at my job. I am constantly referred to as the kid and I feel that I am never really taken seriously. I am wondering if there are any types of drugs that can possibly aid in my facial hair growth problem and, if there are, what are the side effects? Please help me. I am sick of being a man trapped behind a child's face. Thank you in advance.

— Smooth

Dear Smooth,

Don't trash your shaving cream just yet — remember that everyone develops at their own rate. For some, sprouting facial hair and other puberty-related changes simply come later in life or are delayed due to an underlying medical condition. If you’re wondering about medical solutions, there are currently no FDA-approved medications for beard growth, but a hair transplant may be an option (more on this later). But before you consider any physical changes, it’s wise to remember people’s perception of you doesn’t need to depend on your facial hair; there are a few other options you may want to try that don’t require changing the way you look to help lessen your understandable frustration.

First, a little about typical development: puberty (when facial hair may begin to sprout) usually begins between the ages of 7 and 13 in those assigned female at birth and 9 to 16 in those assigned male at birth. However, some people may begin earlier or later. Folks on the later end of the spectrum could eventually catch up. Most delayed puberty is attributed to genetics and it's often just a case of each body having its own sense of timing. This is called constitutional delay and doesn’t warrant any special treatment. It may be helpful to talk with other male members of your family (e.g., your father, grandfather, or first cousins) to see when they experienced puberty. You may find you’re right on schedule. However, there are also medical issues that can delay puberty, including:

  • Chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and asthma
  • Malnourishment, under-nutrition, or eating disorders
  • Thyroid or pituitary gland disorders
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Chromosomal disorders, such as Klinefelter syndrome or Turner Syndrome

It’s unlikely that an underlying medical condition is the culprit of your lack of facial fuzz if you've experienced other physical changes during puberty (e.g., a growth spurt, development of body and pubic hair, genital enlargement, deepening voice, etc.). However, consider explaining your concerns to a health care provider as they can help you rule out any health problems that could be responsible.

As far as facial hair goes, the development and amount of facial hair can be determined by a mix of genetics, endocrinology, and ethnicity — some folks have heavy beards, others have sparse facial hair; there are those who start shaving in middle school, while others are razor-free into their thirties. Time may thicken the fuzz Mother Nature put on your peach, but there's little to be done to speed the process.

Unfortunately, there are no FDA-approved medications for beard growth yet. Medications for hair regrowth and hair loss prevention treatments intended for the scalp are not recommended for use on the face, as there’s no evidence to suggest that they work for facial hair. To quickly sprout a beard, one option would be a hair transplant, which involves surgery. During this procedure, individual or strips of hair follicles are taken from one area of your body (such as the back of your head, where the hair is dense) and transplanted to a bald area. Some risks include bleeding, scarring, and infection. But, if enough hairs are harvested and transplanted, this procedure is usually successful and permanent.

If you’d rather stick with non-invasive solutions, consider if there’s anything you could change to make yourself appear older and more mature. What about wearing glasses (ones that won't alter your vision if you don't need them)? Would you consider dressing differently? Sometimes more formal clothes (suits, jackets, ties, etc.) could make you look a little older. Too often, people are judged by how they look, rather than by their character. Perhaps the fastest way to getting taken more seriously is to focus on building positive relationships. In your case, Smooth, you could try building professional relationships with your co-workers. If you do your job well, people may be more likely to respect and trust you. Maybe consider some attributes of people in your workplace that garner respect from others and who appear to be mature. Are there ways that you can learn from these examples and be perceived as more mature, while still being yourself? Even if you do make some changes, unfortunately, some people are unwilling to give proper credit and respect to someone who is younger (or older or of a different race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, weight, physical ability, social class, etc.). Judging someone based on external factors rather than ability is discrimination, and when it happens in the workplace or affects hiring and promotion, it might be downright illegal. If this is a concern for you, it may be helpful to talk to the human resources office at your workplace.

While there are typical physical indicators of age, everyone ages and experiences physical growth at their own pace. Additionally, how each person develops is different. A person is more than their physical appearance, and looking mature and being perceived as mature aren’t always the same thing. However, if you find that this situation is hindering your daily life, you may want to consider consulting a mental health professional.

Take care,

Alice!

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