My hairless face is holding me back — I look too young!

Originally Published: February 15, 2002 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 5, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I have a problem. I am a twenty-one-year-old male with the face of a fifteen-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.


Dear Smooth,

Don't trash the shaving cream just yet — it's possible that you'll be able to sign off "Scruffy" in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, maybe there are some things you can do to lessen your understandable frustration.

First, a little physiology: some adolescents experience delayed puberty; that is, they reach the end of the age range in which puberty typically begins (about ages 7 to 13 for girls and 9 to 15 for boys) without having any of the physical changes that typically come at this time. In most cases, these teens take a little longer to mature (what people often call "late bloomers") and will catch up later. Most of delayed puberty is just a case of each body having its own sense of timing. However, medical issues can delay puberty, including:

  • chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, asthma
  • malnourishment or eating disorders
  • thyroid or pituitary gland or disorders
  • hormone imbalances
  • chromosomal disorders, such as Klinefelter's Syndrome or Turner Syndrome
The development and amount of facial hair is partly determined by genetics, endocrinology, and ethnicity — some folks have heavy beards, others have sparse facial hair; there are guys 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 you can do to speed the process.

If you experienced some physical changes during puberty (e.g., a growth spurt, development of body and pubic hair, genital enlargement, deepening voice, etc.), it's unlikely that your lack of facial hair is caused by an underlying medical condition. If you explain your concerns to your health care provider, s/he will be able to rule out health problems that could be responsible.

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 or economic class, etc., etc.). Judging someone based on external factors rather than ability is discrimination, and when it happens in the workplace and/or affects hiring and promotion, it might be downright illegal. In your case (when people are judged on their actual or perceived age), it's ageism — either younger or older.

But let's face it, we have to be realistic — people are going to be ageist. So, is there anything you can do to make yourself look older — if you want to go this route? What about wearing glasses (ones that won't alter your vision if you don't need them)? Can you dress differently? Sometimes more formal clothes (suits, jackets, ties, etc.) automatically bring greater respect, and may make you look a little older at the same time.

Too often, people are judged by how they look, rather than by who they are. Perhaps the fastest way to getting taken more seriously would be focusing on building positive, professional relationships with your co-workers who are willing to do the same. If you do your job well, instead of demanding to be taken seriously, people will more likely come to respect and trust you. It's possible that your youthful countenance may even give you an edge, if it causes competitors to underestimate you, or surprises your supervisors with your level of skill and dedication.

February 1, 2005

Dear Alice,

I found this article late... but my husband has the same issue and he is now 28. It is extremely frustrating and there are even times when people don't want to serve him alcohol. He...

Dear Alice,

I found this article late... but my husband has the same issue and he is now 28. It is extremely frustrating and there are even times when people don't want to serve him alcohol. He has very little body hair, and says he always felt like he didn't complete puberty.

He just recently went to a very good doctor to seek a diagnosis for Adult ADD. What has transpired is life changing. She did blood work and tested his testosterone level. It turns out that he has a very low level of testosterone. Hopefully now he will become more muscular and grow out of his baby face.

We are not sure of the cause... but my husband is asthmatic and when he was young, he had a doctor that often over medicated. I don't know if either of these is a factor... but they could be.

Anyway, just before my husband went to the doctor, we talked about trying to conceive. Since he has low testosterone levels, this treatment will actually improve our chances. Before this, we most likely would not have been able to make a baby.

It's really life changing.

February 22, 2002

Alice, Great website — read it every week and always learn something new! I can relate to what this guy is talking about. Though I shave, I have a real young face, too. I'm now in a pretty good...
Alice, Great website — read it every week and always learn something new! I can relate to what this guy is talking about. Though I shave, I have a real young face, too. I'm now in a pretty good job (often held by older people), and the comments passed about my "youthfulness" are too numerous to count. It's annoying and aggravating at best, and at worst it has undermined my authority, people's perception of the quality of my work. Wearing more formal shirts (with tie) and glasses (I actually need them to read) may or may not help out — sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn't. I am very aware of how I deal with people when it comes to this. For those individuals who could care less how young I am and/or look, I tend to be more relaxed and casual in my dealings (which is my preferred way of working with & for people). For those who I know or suspect have age issues, I tend to be more reserved and cautious in our interactions. People like this can tend to misconstrue ANY of your normal behaviors to reinforce their own negative stereotypes about young people. If people are being ageist, there's often not much one can do, except call them on the behavior. In business, this can be hard to do, but it is possible to accomplish with a little finesse. An indirect, non-accusatory comment about ageism can often get the message across without confrontation. When approached with care, a general comment about the stereotype/problem might also induce a little guilt. Doing this has enabled me to let someone else know I recognize the prejudiced behavior, find it insulting and unacceptable. Do not confront the person in a workplace situation — people like this may deny or not recognize the problem with their own behavior. And the person you confront might just claim you're being difficult. I often feel my being young & having even younger looks only truly becomes a non-issue after people see the quality of my work. As you mentioned, Alice, building professional connections based on a good professional reputation are the best way to cope with this problem. Often colleagues (especially if a little older) are quite willing to advocate for you when they believe in your work — I've found this to be critical at certain points in my career. Unfortunately, when something like this takes place during the interview process, it seems to me near impossible to counter even if the bias may impact the decision being made. Good luck!