Let’s talk facial hair. We know you don’t want to – the sudden outcropping of chin foliage at menopause is one of the most taboo of subjects in an area that’s pretty overrun with shame and stigma already. Menopausal peach fuzz is not high on the list of "favorite things about menopause."

Menopause and hair growth on legs is bad enough for many women, so let’s start with the science and ease our way in to the hairy stuff: there are two kinds of facial hair. Vellus hair is that short, soft, nearly not-there hair children and women have. Terminal hair is longer, darker, thicker, and generally worn on a man’s face.

Except at menopause.

Who gets what re: facial hair is determined mostly by our hormones. More estrogen gets you the finer, softer, lighter stuff. More testosterone, the heavier kind. In perimenopause and menopause, estrogen diminishes, but the small amount of testosterone women’s bodies produce may not.

Testosterone converts to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which results in the coarser, darker hairs many menopausal women see suddenly sprouting on their upper lip, chin, and jaw line.

Menopausal hair growth (hypertrichosis) vs hirsutism

Some use the term “hirsutism” to describe any unwanted hair growth, but the few chin hairs of menopause don’t meet the definition.

Hirsutism is a medical condition characterized by terminal hair growth in lots of places common on men but not on women: face, chest, stomach, and back. Caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Cushing’s syndrome, tumors in the adrenal glands or ovaries, or certain medications that change the level of hormones in the body, actual hirsutism affects about 5-10 percent of women.

What to do about facial hair growth during menopause

“Nothing” is a totally legitimate choice here. There’s nothing dangerous about a few extra chin hairs, after all. But if it bothers you, there are things you can do to get rid of menopausal facial hair, or minimize its appearance. So, what is the best way to remove facial hair during and after menopause

Plucking, waxing, or threading. These are all basically the same thing – pulling the hair out at the root. Waxing is just plucking in bulk, but done improperly can lead to ingrown hairs, so be sure you’re doing it (or having it done to you) right. Plucking is easy and cheap but slow. And be sure to clean your tweezers periodically with soap to reduce the chance of infection. Threading is the practice of using thin, doubled thread pulled tight and rolled over the face. Quicker than tweezing, it might require help from an expert.

Contrary to any tales you may have heard, plucking via any method will not cause hair to grow back darker or coarser.

Shaving. Many women balk a little at the idea of shaving their faces, but it’s a cheap and effective – if temporary – way to deal with facial hair. Plan on shaving in or just after a shower when hair is softer, and use a sharp razor to prevent rashes or ingrown hairs. PS: hair doesn’t grow back coarser after shaving, either.

Creams and prescriptions. If you once answered the question, “Who wears short shortsd” you might remember depilatory creams. And their smell. While depilatory creams have come a long way and are kinder and less fragrant, some women are sensitive to the chemicals that break down the hair. Always do a small patch test somewhere else on your body to check for any reaction.

A dermatologist can prescribe a topical treatment like VANIQA, but these can be expensive and have to be used continuously or the hair grows back.

Laser. Beams of light shoot over the skin. The dark hair picks up the light and turns it to heat, which overheats the follicle and damages it so it can’t grow more hair. Pros: pretty much permanent. Cons: expensive, doesn’t work on fine or light-colored hair, and may require multiple sessions to destroy the hair follicle. Still, permanent is nice.

Electrolysis. Like using tweezers, electrolysis zaps hairs one at a time. A thin probe goes directly into the hair follicle, and a wee electrical current heats the follicle to the point of destruction. Because it’s a one-at-a-time deal, it can take up to 18 months’ worth of treatments to get where you’re going. So, pros: permanent and can work on any color hair. Cons: expensive, slow, can hurt or even scar a little.

When facial hair growth might signal something more serious*

Facial hair growth in itself isn’t a danger, except perhaps to our self-confidence, but in some cases, it can signal a more serious problem.

PCOS. If the hair is growing on other places of the body where it normally only grows on men, and it’s accompanied by fatigue, pelvic pain, acne, difficulty managing weight, and sleep disruption, you may be dealing with polycystic ovary syndrome, where small cysts form on the ovaries.

Adrenal gland issues. Your adrenal glands perform hormone production. Dysfunction here can be the result of adrenal tumors or cancer; congenital adrenal hyperplasia or Cushing’s disease, any of which can result in excess hair growth. Talk with a doctor if you also have high blood pressure, weakness, upper body weight gain, difficulty managing blood sugar, or headaches. HRT helps curb facial hair growth by addressing these issues, but this approach should be taken on an extremely sensitive case-by-case basis.

Growing facial hair can feel like a final blow to our femininity at a time when we’re losing our waistlines, glowing skin, and fertility. But it can be managed, fairly easily, if you feel you need to to recover your sense of self. If you’re dealing with this issue, we’d love to hear how you’re managing, both emotionally and physically. Please share with the community: leave us a comment below, or talk to us on our Facebook page or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group.

*This blog is not intended to replace care by a health care professional. If you are experiencing any condition that gives you cause for concern, give yourself peace of mind by seeing a doctor. Right away, please. Now would be good.