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Bare necessity? Public health implications of removing pubic hair

The negative health effects associated with hair removal processes are of some concern. Brian Wright

Shaving. Waxing. Sugaring. Creams. Laser. Threading. Electrolysis. When it comes to pubic hair, there’s certainly more than one way to skin the [cat]! But more important than the exact method are the health implications of pubic hair and the risks associated with its removal.

What’s “normal” in the pubic hair landscape has changed considerably over the last 20 years. Research suggests that pubic hair removal is increasingly the norm in Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom; but has been documented as early as Ancient Egypt.

Recent studies of hair removal in young Australian women show that almost 50% of female undergraduates remove most or all of their hair. This trend is also present in men: about two-thirds of both gay and heterosexual Australian men remove pubic hair, mostly to improve perceived attractiveness.

Other reasons cited for hair removal include: possible increased skin sensitivity, perceived cleanliness, experimentation, and to please a partner.

Pubic hair vs. going bare

Pubic hair is an important marker of puberty, and signifies a transition toward adulthood. There’s a lot of debate about the actual function of pubic hair (cushioning, warmth, dust or bacteria catcher, pheromone transmitter), but no real conclusion. Keeping pubic hair doesn’t have any negative effects, other than the occasional crab infestation, but many people choose to remove some or all of their pubic hair, lest their pubic hair becomes public hair!

Waxing pubic hair warrants caution. Pam Junsay

But what about going bare? Can a lack of pubic hair affect health? Well, yes. A lack of pubic hair prevents pubic lice transmission. In fact, as removing pubic hair became more common, rates of pubic lice decreased. So in the case of pubic lice, bare genitals win!

A lack of pubic hair doesn’t, in itself, affect health in any other way. But the method of hair removal can affect health. The infectious risks of these practises, particularly among those with a weakened immune system, is often under-appreciated.

Salon conditions and tools employed for removal can transmit bacterial infections. And shaving can cause small skin tears (even some that are not visible) that can provide additional sites for sexually transmitted infections (STI). A 20-year-old Australian woman with poorly controlled diabetes, for instance, had to go to hospital with life-threatening Streptococcus pyogenes and Herpes simplex infection of her genitalia following a routine Brazilian wax.

If you are going to wax, be informed! Careful hair removal, either on your own or at reputable salons, is the key to maintaining health when it comes to baring it all (or parts).

Should it stay or should it go?

Whatever you decide, here are five things everyone should know about pubic hair removal.

  1. It grows back: no matter what method you use to remove your hair (including more “permanent” methods such as laser), it will grow back. The texture of pubic hair may change when it grows back.
  2. Shaving needs prep: trim your pubic hair with a trimmer or scissors before you begin to shave it, use shaving cream, and always test an area first!
Shaving pubic hair needs preparation. Mace Ojala
  1. Use chemicals with care: buy a depilatory designed specifically for pubic hair removal. Only apply it to the genital area after testing it on a smaller area first. This may not be a good option for you if you have sensitive skin. If your skin develops severe irritation afterwards, go see a doctor!
  2. Waxing warrants caution: home waxing kits come in both cold and hot wax varieties – cold kits may not work as well but are certainly safer to use in the genital region. If you’re going to a salon, choose a professional location that makes safety a priority.
  3. Laser or electrolysis lasts longer, but not forever – if you really want it all gone and for a long time, explore laser hair removal treatments or electrolysis. These treatments are done over several months and may cause some pain and skin irritation.

And while we’re here, let’s also put an end to the three most common myths about pubic hair removal:

  1. The rate of hair regrowth will not change because of hair removal.
  2. Hair coverage will not change in density; your body has a set number of hair follicles.
  3. Ingrown hairs are common but not impossible to avoid; everyone has different susceptibility to ingrown hairs.

From a public health standpoint, pubic hair doesn’t have any advantages, but the negative health effects associated with hair removal processes are of some concern. And despite recent attacks against hair removal, keeping pubic hair isn’t right for everyone. As long as you’re careful with the removal process, you can be just as healthy (or even more healthy!) with little or no pubic hair.

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