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Puberty Body Hair Concerns: An Expert Shares Her Wisdom

Among the many changes that happen to our adolescents during puberty is an increase in body hair. In this series of four videos, Dr. Ellen Rome, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, addresses some common concerns on puberty body hair.

Video #1: My Hairy Teen Doesn’t Seem to Mind

Transcript: When a parent is more worried about extra hair than the kid is, you want to figure out why. If the kid is really worried and doesn’t want the parent to know, you can illicit a little more privately with them. Or you can get the third party, prep your pediatrician to talk about it privately with them. IF it really isn’t bothering them and its bothering the parent, what’s the harm with leaving it there? If you as a parent are truly bothered where that hair is, ask yourself “Is that something you would tell a colleague or friend?”

So if your inner barometer says better keep your mouth shut, then you don’t tell them. If you really feel it’s going to impact their life and well-being, then you figure out to create that moment where you can safely say, “Hey, here’s what we do about it,” just like you have the conversation about shaving underarms if that’s culturally appropriate in your family. Same with the first time you get them deodorant. You say, “Hey, this is something we usually do. And when hair grows too much in between your eyebrows and on your upper lip, here’s how I managed this when I was your age.” So, it’s an educational moment.

Video #2: What Should My Teen Do?

Transcript: We get questions from kids “Why do I have hair there”? There are lots of different ways to answer that and to deal with that. First, you want to figure out where the hair is. If it is extra hair on your arms because everyone on your family has that and you’re all Mediterranean and its nice and dark, then things you can do include bleaching. And you have to dilute the bleach enough that you’re not scalding your arm. So you want to try it on a little bit of arm first. You can try waxing but that hurts and you have to keep doing it, or you can ignore it.

We don’t really encourage people to shave arms. If it’s that goofy line hair and you’re a girl, hair from your bellybutton to your pubic hair, then often we will have people wax, shave, or potentially laser that. Lasering has to be done numerous times and is expensive and isn’t covered by insurance. Often girls will use removal products or wax once a month or shave as frequently as they can get away with.

Video #3: Does Your Teen Have Hirsutism?

Transcript: We have girls that worry that they have lots of body hair, maybe too much. That has a medical term; it’s called hirsutism. We define it as chin, chest for girls, heavy on the lower back, not just hair underarms or underwear area, but really sensitive if it’s here. We don’t worry about the mustache; every girl can get that and it is not part of the label.

What do you do when you have too much hair as a girl and it’s on your chin/chest? You can get to your doctor and figure out what is going on that’s causing that hair. And there are also medical solutions for that as well. If your doctor is unfamiliar with that, then an endocrinologist can help put that into context and help fix the underlying hormonal challenge that is creating it in the first place. You can also do other things like waxing, electrolysis, laser, bleaching if it’s fine hair here and you don’t necessarily shave or wax or do the other methodologies.

Video #4: Brazilian Waxing Can Lead to Labia Dissatisfaction

Transcript: Just like guys worry about size, so can girls in funny places. One of those places is labia. We’re getting lots of questions about lips of vaginas being too this and too that because with all the Brazilian waxing and shaving, you can see them. Those lips are there protectively for a purpose. When you remove the hair, they look more prominent.

That Brazilian look has consequences. One can be folliculitis, which means little pimply bums where the hair follicles were. It can be treated with acne medicine. You can treat it there. We also have a problem with porn where they’re airbrushed out. So normal dangly labia where it is supposed to be is no longer there.

We have girls in Australia and Europe asking for labiaplasty so they look like the models they see. The solution here is don’t have your kids watch porn, and if they’re wondering what’s normal, go over that with a pediatrician. If you need to show them yourself, you can show them The Great Wall of Vagina. It has every picture you ever wanted to see, and it shows what normal really looks like in lots of different shapes and forms.

Dr. Ellen Rome is the head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

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