September 24, 2008

Skin Care Share

I've noticed in some blogs, girls (even some with difficulties far different than hirsutism) are sharing what products they're currently using.

I've tried various regimens over the years, but it used to be that simple warm water would work for me. In the fifth or sixth grade I was diagnosed with perioral dermatitis, which had people calling me "crocodile face." I laughed along with them, because hey, it really wasn't pretty. Nor was the medication, though it did help. I haven't had it since, but was advised to stay off all facial soaps except for Cetaphil. Back then, Cetaphil was far too expensive for a single mother to add to her grocery list regularly--still is, I think. And so, it's only been in the last few years while battling adult acne that I've been brave enough to try other products.

A really aggressive regimen (oil and acne fighting facial soap, astringent toner, face cream with salicylic acid in it) helped for a few months, then ended up only making me look like I had chicken pox. I remember going out on my twenty-second birthday and feeling so terrible about how I looked that I started weeping uncontrollably in a restaurant. The words "I feel ugly and I want to go home and hide" never escaped my lips, though. I hate to admit how much it bothers me.

So I switched, gathering up all the things I remember using when I had tolerable skin in the past. I'm still willing to experiment, but for now, my skin is the best its been in ages thanks to the following:

I start the day with a store-brand sensitive skin cleanser with exactly the same ingedients in exactly the same order as Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, for about half the price. I was using Cetaphil for a while, but recently their price went up as their logo changed, and I got a spurt of courage prodded by a thinning wallet to try the no-name version. Works just as well, and my bank account is a little happier.

A couple of times a week, I give my blemish control regimen a bit of a boost by replacing the gentle cleanser with St. Ives Blemish Control Apricot Scrub, because it has a bit of salycilic acid in it, and the exfoliation cuts down a bit on ingrown hairs. This is also great for my chest and back. It doesn't restore my skin to perfection, but it's been the one thing my skin does seem to miss if I don't pick it up regularly at the drug store.

When it comes to shaving, I haven't found a shaving cream that works for me. I can't get out of the head space that "shaving cream for the face is for men", whereas look at the little pink
 canister of leg shaving cream! It must be gentle, because it looks so girly! I did a semester's worth of color theory in college; I know how
 irrational this thinking is. I'd be very curious to see if a man's shaving cream would make a difference--besides smelling very manly. For now, though, it's women's shaving cream, and disposable razors which are--let's face it--much more affordable than refills for a permanent blade. Right now, Schick's Xtreme3 Comfort Plus for women (it has aloe and vitamin E! Really, do those little strips actually make a difference? Really?) is my favorite. I find that as about two weeks rolls around, it's far too dull to work cleanly and closely to my face, but will do just fine for my legs. So I don't go through them too fast. Can't afford to.

Moisturizing is a part of the process I haven't pinned down yet. I have skin that is usually shiny by midday, but constant shaving has dried out my jaw and chin. Lotions for oily or combination skin don't seem to have the power to rescue the flaky areas the razor has ravaged, but oily lotions make the shine on my skin even worse. To make matters more pressing, if I don't keep the flakiness down along my jawline, it becomes impossible to cover with makeup, and camouflage any blemishes, ingrown hairs, nicks, and the omnipresent ghostly shadow of stubble below the skin. Right now, I'm using Lubriderm for sensitive skin, and fragrance free. It works all right. I also recall the more intensive lotion with sea kelp was nice--calming 
scent, a little heavier cream, but didn't contribute too much to shine for some reason. But I'm still on the hunt for that perfect moisturizer.

At night I use my gentle skin cleanser again, and follow with Clean & Clear Persa Gel 5. It has 5% benzoyl peroxide in it, which I've found works better for me than any spot treatments containing salicylic acid. An employee in a drug store recommended it a while ago when a hunt for such a salicylic acid treatment prove
d fruitless, and though I've gone back out of curiosity, nothing has worked so well yet. It does have a drying effect, so I try to keep it away from my jawline and just use it on spots. Over the years it has performed a few miraculous reversals on those zits you can feel coming for days before you can even see them, but most of the time it's just a preventative measure, not a cure-all.

Other spot treatments I use are Polysporin or some similar antibiotic on any small open sores or nicks to prevent little persisting infections. And straight-up vitamin E oil is great for hurrying healing and reducing scarring once they've healed over. I've found it to be pretty expensive in Canada, but we raided a CVS when we were down in the States, and I still have a bottle of that I'm using two years later. A little bit goes a long way with that stuff, and because both these ointments are oily, they can add to breakouts, so I use them carefully.

The last thing I do, which amuses my family to no end, is smear honey on my face twice a week. While in a particularly frantic skin phase, I was trolling the internet for something that might calm and relax as well as help. I came upon recipes for home made facial masks. Let me tell you, this is something that may not only help, but also makes you feel incredibly self-indulgent and feminine--or in the case of my household, sticky and laughable. The honey mask, it seemed, was perfect for me to try. Not only is honey a natural disinfectant, but we'd been given a big jar of unprocessed honey as a gift and no one was eating it--favoring the easy
 squeeze bottles, you know the kind. Anyway, I warm up about a tablespoon of honey in the microwave, and after washing my face with warm water and making sure all my pores and nice and open, I smear on the honey and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes. In summer, it's so warm that I find it will drip--into mouths, teacups, onto laptops... The skin feels softer afterward, and I do notice blemishes get more populous if I fall out of the routine. My cycle could be partly to blame for that, but the mask certainly isn't hurting at all. And if you believe something you're doing works, it just makes you feel a whole lot better to do it. Stressing about blemishes is one thing nobody needs.

Some honey mask recipes:
Homemade Facial Masks on - Honey is the fourth heading down
Honey Face Mask on - Adding different ingedients to the honey
Reviews of the Honey Mask on - Find out how it has worked
 for others

As far as make-up goes, I'm reluctant to experiment beyond what already works for me. I have very pale skin and it's difficult to find things that match, and that will work with the bizarre dry-oily balance of my oh-so-special skin. I find a lot of concealers are just too thick, so a water-based liquid foundation works best because of the dryness where I shave. But it's often iridescent, and won't totally hide the five o'clock shadow. So I also really, really like the very fine compressed powder in Cover Girl's Fresh Complexion Pocket Powder Foundation. It not only mattifies and controls shine, but its "extra-fine powder" doesn't catch in dry, flaky skin nearly as much as other powders will. I do have trouble finding drug stores that will carry it, but WalMart usually has it in stock.

Now, please remember that these are recommendations based on my own experiences. Every woman is different and may get different results. You know that aggressive regimen I referred to in the beginning of this post? That was recommended to me by a teenage relative to has gorgeous, flawless, porcelain skin. I ended up breaking down in tears in public, and it took ages for my skin to recover. I even went on one of those skin-friendly diets to try to regulate it, which only made me hungry and desperate for caffeine. (College students can't cut caffeine out of their diet, it's completely counterproductive.)

But the important thing is to keep trying to find the products that will work for you. Let yourself get excited by a new discovery, revel in a pleasant smell or pretty package, but if it doesn't work, just set your jaw in determination and move on to the next.

Never give up.

September 17, 2008

Bound by blood or law

Everyone needs a rest sometimes. To just lie around and do nothing, and recoup. The same goes for the biggest organ we all have--our skin. Especially my skin, which has to endure the ravages of a razor's edge every day. That takes off more than hair; it takes off skin cells. Some days, it needs a break.

That day is today. I've got the day off work, so I'm doing nothing but moisturizing (and working from home at my second job). It's quite amazing what one day without shaving can do to restore my poor skin. As a bonus, when next I shave, it gives me that extra-clean sensation. Like showering after days of lying in bed with a fever. And until then, I just endure feeling... dirty. And try not to rest my chin on my fist. (Ouch!) On top of which, I have to time my movements around the house so they don't coincide with others, at least until dark. Only one other person in my household knows about this particular thorn in my side: my mother.

I live at home while I repay my student loans, but a few years ago, my mother remarried. Thing is, when you're used to living alone, or nearly alone, suddenly being around people again does not automatically make them all "family." Even if you get along--which I definitely cannot say we always do--trust is hard to build. Maybe some of us feel immediately comfortable enough in new situations to walk around with our shirts off, flaunting whatever flaws we may have, but I'm of a more reserved sort. Maybe one or two of them have guessed, but I have never spoken of it. And considering one of them was the one who had that response to the Tweezie commercial in the previous post, and others suggest family holidays without running water like it's no issue, I doubt they've put the puzzle together.

I went through my laser treatment while living with them, so there's a big puzzle piece right there. I'm sure they'd seen me applying the topical anesthetic cream to my face half an hour before going to the clinic. And one summer, we ended up in a hotel room that had the sink and mirror outside the bathroom proper, and I had to sit around in plain sight in the morning with bleach working its magic all along my jaw. I remember saying it was cream, in case they were wondering. And technically, it was. But if they'd ever gone into my drawers in the bathroom at home and read the box, they would have known what the "cream" was really for.

So why don't I just lay it on the table? After all, they're family, right? And boy do they like to make digs at how long I spend in the bathroom! The answer is simple. Some of these new relatives are related to extremely nasty, unhappy people. The sort of people who look for ways to be malicious. This is where trust comes into play--our new family may know their other relations are the sort of people you'd be rooting to get shot in a blockbuster film, but it doesn't stop them from communicating intimately and thoroughly with these people, even if by accident. So even if your family is charged by the laws of the universe to unconditionally love you, those laws do not extend to others outside that mystical circle.

I have a hard enough time making my mother understand the trial it is to live with this, sometimes. My embarrassment fluctuates from resolutely coping to totally humiliated, but that doesn't mean she should feel free to share my "issues" with her workmates. And she has trouble remembering that it'll take me more than fifteen minutes to get from bed to out-the-door if she needs me to go out.

So who does know about this aspect of my life? Who do I talk to? Who have I told? I'll save that for another day.

September 10, 2008

Get a little.

I wasn't sure what I was going to talk about first, but it turns out, I feel like talking about perspective.

As in realizing, "It could be worse."

Of course, some days I wake up, catch a brand new razor blade on ingrown hairs along my chin--faces bleed like ankles if you know what I mean, ladies--and while trying to staunch the flow so I can put on makeup, my liquid foundation clogs in the ravaged, dried out skin along my jawline. And the time ticks by and I have to go to work, and I think, "How can it be worse?"

My mother was driving me home from my laser hair removal session, the afternoon my technician finally conceded it wasn't making a difference. I stared out the window, contemplating all the money I'd spent and all the wasted effort trying not to hope for too much all these months. And my mother, who has always been slightly overweight and always unhappy about it, asked me: "Would you rather be fat, or would you rather have this?"

Without hesitation, I said, "I'd rather be fat."

Now, overweight people have just as much social stigma to deal with, and their qualifying characteristics are far more widespread, and yet still not accepted. How many reality TV shows are there now about people losing weight? And still, as a group they're probably one of the most mocked. But "overweight" does not have to equal unpretty in society, and certainly not unfeminine. No doubt someone who has to live day in and day out with extra body fat will argue, but my point is not that "being fat is better than being hairy." My point is that everyone can think of something slightly less crappy they'd rather be dealing with. Staying strictly in a cosmetic vein, what about being born with a facial deformity? Having to lose one or both breasts in a battle against cancer?

Besides, I've yet to meet an overweight person who would take on enough body hair to make a teenage boy turn green in exchange for an "ideal" body mass. One very overweight person I know said of a hirsute woman he saw, "I felt guilty for looking without buying a ticket!" Another one, as a commercial for Tweezie came on the TV, cried out, "Eww! That's so gross!" (It might be worth noting here that these are two people who are not--so far as I know--aware of my condition.)

I mean, sure, from afar you have shapely legs and a slim waist, but what happens when you attract someone to come within an arm's length of you? That's another entry for another time.

What I'm trying to say is, self pity is normal. Expected. Maybe even required. But when I need to pull myself out of it and you know, get on with life, it helps to realize that I'm really very fortunate. There are other cosmetic and medical conditions that I personally would have an even harder time living with.

September 4, 2008

It's the condition I'm in.

I remember the first time I realized the onset of hirsutism was a "problem." I was in my grade nine math class, probably getting my homework checked off at the beginning of class. I turned around to leave the teacher's desk and the boy behind me nearly collided with me. He flinched back and said, "What are you, growing a beard?"

Back then, I only had a soft vellus halo around my chin, and yeah, I knew it was there. But it hadn't bothered me until that boy said something. I started trimming it with a pair of curved scissors used for cutting nails. By grade eleven, I was plucking darker, terminal hairs from my chin and sideburns every day. Now, I love to travel and I love camping and all the things that go with it. I remember sitting in the jeep that summer while everyone else had breakfast, trying desperately to pluck in the side-view mirror before they finished. I remember driving all night to a friend's graduation in another province and agonizing over my reflection in a truck stop's Ukrainian restaurant bathroom. And I hated going to the beach because the thickness of the hair on my thighs was getting hard to handle. Imagine a good-looking guy trying to hoist you onto his shoulders to play "chicken" and you can think of nothing but: "Oh-crap-cactus-legs-cactus-legs-cactus-legs!"

In twelfth grade, I began bleaching my face from ear to ear. I had to do it every day because the hair growth was so rapid that you could see the dark roots emerging each morning. When I got my hair done for graduation, I had to ask my hair dresser to leave ample tendrils hanging down the sides of my face, just so I'd feel comfortable. I began to see this development might affect some of the most exciting years of my life A consultation with my family doctor got me referred to a dermatologist, who in turn referred me to a laser hair removal clinic. I was too afraid to even let her do a test zap on my inner arm. I could live with it. Yeah. I could. Maybe it would go away after puberty had run it's course.

That summer, staying in a trailer in a mountain valley with my best friend and her family, I found I could not sit in the closet of a bathroom every morning for half an hour while the bleach on my face and then my stomach below my navel did its job. They were making digs at the amount of time I lurked in there. And so, one morning, in a fit of rage, I mushed shaving gel into a froth on my face and dragged my leg razor over my chin and jaw. I couldn't remember the last time my face felt so smooth. It was faster, felt nicer afterward. I was hooked.

By age eighteen and a freshman in college, I was shaving my face and neck every morning. I couldn't wear shorter shirts for fear that if I reached for something high, the world would get a glimpse of my "treasure trail." A bra, at least, would hide what was sprouting on my breasts. But now my chest was getting in on the fun. I couldn't wear anything that showed more than my collar bones. And even the shaving was starting to get lame. Teenage acne was bad enough, but soon I discovered I was going to become victim to--dun dun dun!--adult acne. Couple that with razor burn and careless nicks and you've got total pizza face for most of the month.

Just before my second year I went back to the dermatologist and got a new referral to the laser clinic. I figured I'd start on my face, and if that worked out, I'd employ the method everywhere else. All the money I'd accumulated from babysitting went towards it, leaving only student loans to pay for college supplies. I'll leave the details of laser treatment for another post, but for now, let me just say that my beard gleefully cycled back each month, until my very lovely but puzzled laser technician ordered a blood test. ("Your doctor never got you to have one? Really?" Yeah. Really.) With pity, she gave me an extra freebie session, and then I spent months waiting for--and calling about--the results of the test. The laser treatment place told me I was calling the wrong place. The dermatologist's office told me my dermatologist was on vacation and I was calling the wrong place. And for unrelated reasons, I was no longer consulting my family doctor.

Meanwhile, the terminal hair cycled out, and nothing grew back. I went house boating and didn't shave my face once--which was good, because even shaving your legs can be a disaster in a tiny loo on a rocking boat. But, by the next year of college, I was having to pluck again. It was like my condition had been "reset" and was starting all over again. Resigned, I was back to bleaching within the year, and have been shaving ever since.

So, four years after that blood test, I still don't know what or if they found anything. Heck, I don't even have a family doctor right now. My biological parents are both of European ancestry with no history of hirsutism that we're aware of. I'm a healthy weight, fair skinned and haired everywhere but aforementioned places, and my cycles are like clockwork. I now hold a degree in the arts and two of the coolest-sounding jobs out there. I'm also single, 50% because I've been absorbed in work and school, and 50% because my standoffish nature is intimidating to others. (I will be discussing romance and relationships at some point.) And I live with my step-family, who I've never told about my unique situation. To this day, I wonder if they ever raised an eyebrow about those months when I'd disappear off to "the doctor" and come home holding an ice pack to my jaw.

So, don't I want to do anything about it? Yes, yes I do. There are days when I cannot make myself get out of bed just to shuffle to the bathroom to shave. And there are other days when I can do it, slap on some make-up, and forget about it for the rest of the day and feel really good about myself. Most days, though, I'm in between. I hit the snooze a few times, make faces at myself in the mirror, go to work, and worry about five o'clock shadow. It would be so amazing to roll out of bed and be able to get up and go. I don't even remember what that used to feel like.

One of these days, I'll audition some new GPs and see if they can't dig around in my records for this phantom blood test. But for now, I work two jobs and am easily distracted by hobbies. I can't decide if its because I'm beginning to accept this as something I'll have to live with, or just some kind of contentedly twisted denial. But that's partly what this is for.

September 3, 2008

Take a bow.

I'm 22 years old, and I've been living with undiagnosed hirsutism for about eight years.

I've had an online presence for all that time, but decided I needed a separate place to talk about the challenges of being a woman with a beard. And not so much because I needed to talk about it, as much as I'm sure it will help in the long run. But in all my wanderings, nothing has helped so much as hearing from other women struggling with the same things.

I'm also hoping that, now and then, someone who stumbles across this blog and automatically thinks, "Ew, gross," might pause and come to see that we're still perfectly normal human beings. (Okay, I have to pause and chuckle about using the word "normal." I've just never met a "normal" person in my life.)

For years I've contemplated opening a blog detailing my struggles, both to educate, and to show other women with hirsutism that, dudettes, you are not alone. In fact, I even thought about writing an essay/short story/article/book. But a blog just publishes thoughts faster. And besides, I've only been alive for two decades. That's not going to fill up a book.

What finally spurred me to begin was watching the season premiere of America's Next Top Model, Cycle 11. For those of you who don't follow the show, there's a contestant this year who was an extra in a photo shoot from last season. I think it's safe to say Isis is the underdog of the season, because she was born male. During her first photo shoot, some of the other girls whispered derogatory things at her, such as "You need a shave!" Now my dears, I am 100% female so I can't say I fathom that kind of inner conflict, but I do know what it's like to feel so painfully unfeminine without having other people hissing in your ear. That kind of cruelty is uncalled for and unacceptable. Even if some will be repulsed by this blog, I'm beginning to believe the honesty may help those who truly need it.

So, I encourage others to post comments, ask questions, share their own stories. Just please be aware that I will be monitoring all comments, and will not permit anything of a malicious nature. I may be able to handle it, but others reading this blog may not.

I'm hoping to update this blog once a week, but perhaps that's just a pipe dream. Once I finish talking about my life story as a bearded lady, treatments I've personally tried, and the particular hardships of trying to conceal the truth on my skin every day, I may run out of things to talk about until, and if, I finally find my solution. My affliction, for now, remains pretty consistent. The biggest challenge in living with hirsutism is living with hirsutism. Every day, one day at a time.

But we'll give this a try. In the next few days I'll be looking for other web logs by women who have the strength and courage to talk about similar issues. I know there are one or two out there. Maybe, with time, there'll be a few more.

It's just time to be up front.

I probably won't be discussing trans gender issues here much. I'm hardly qualified. But for a little extra information about Isis Tsunami on the show, try this link: [link]