Women have been removing hair from their bodies since ancient times when the first razor was invented, but the removal of pubic hair has only become fashion-forward in the past few decades.
In 1987, the first U.S. beauty salon offered a Brazilian wax that involved removing any and all pubic hair, according to the Women’s Museum of California, and since then the trend has remained ingrained in feminine hygiene and beauty culture.
Today, women can choose from a variety of grooming options for their nether regions including waxing, shaving, laser hair removal, and a simple trim. Although many these methods can be found at your pick of local salons and spas, gynecologists warn against practices that rip hair from the skin’s follicles due to their potential to cause genital-area skin infections and to remove hair that exists to protect the genitals.
“Your pubic hair is there to protect the skin around your lady parts because that skin is very sensitive,” Dr. Donnica Moore, a Chester, New Jersey-based gynecologist, told Health. In other words, the best grooming method may be no grooming at all.
Most pubic hair removal techniques could cause skin inflammation or infection
In her new and New York Times best-selling book “The Vagina Bible,” gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter explains why the majority of pubic hair removal methods aren’t great for your body, even though it may seem like a bald vulva is cleaner than one with hair.
It’s not that completely removing your pubic hair can increase your risk of STIs like HIV and chlamydia, according to a recent study that didn’t find a connection between extreme grooming and STI risk.
Rather, it’s that “pubic hair removal is a cause of injury — over 50% of women who have removed pubic hair report at least one complication such as lacerations, burns, rashes, and infections,” Gunter wrote.
Methods that remove pubic hair from the follicle it grows out of, like shaving, waxing, and sugaring, can lead to ingrown hairs too because these options can result in part of the hair breaking below the follicle’s surface. Then, inflammation from the removal method blocks the hair follicle so the remaining hair bends and grows inside the follicle, leading to what is known as an ingrown hair.
Ingrown hairs can also become infected if bacteria gets stuck in the hair follicle.
The better news is that while some previous research has suggested completely removing your pubic hair can increase your risk of STIs like HIV and chlamydia, a more recent study didn’t find a connection between extreme grooming and STI risk.
Although taking precautions like shaving after your follicles are opened in the shower or prepping your skin with soap or shaving cream may prevent ingrown hairs, there’s no way to completely eliminate that risk, Gunter wrote.
Trimming and abstaining from grooming your pubic hair are the only ways to completely prevent inflammation and potential infection, since these two methods don’t affect the hair follicle.
Moore told Health that the best way to trim your pubic hair is to use blunt nail-clipping scissors and to hold the hairs in place with a fine-tooth comb while you trim.
Gunter waxes anyway, but she takes precautions to make it as safe as possible
Although waxing isn’t gynecologist-approved, Gunter said it’s the hair removal method she personally prefers.
“This doesn’t mean that you should do it, as my technique has never been studied,” Gunter wrote. “I accept that pubic hair removal has risks, but I prefer that it doesn’t stick out of my underwear.”
Gunter does follow a few self-imposed rules when she goes for a wax. First, she doesn’t get waxed on her labia majora (the lips of the outer genitals) or near her anus, since removing hair from those areas could lead to irritation and inflammation as they are made of very delicate skin. Instead, Gunter trims the hair over her labia majora.
A few hours before she goes to get a wax, Gunter said she cleans the areas around her bikini line with an antibacterial wipe designed for the skin. She also takes a clean pair of underwear to her appointment and asks the person who is waxing to use a fresh wax stick each time they dip into the hot wax. Lastly, she asks the waxer test the temperature of the wax on her inner thigh before placing in on her genitals to prevent any burns.
According to Gunter, aftercare is also important to her waxing process. She avoids cleaning her pubic hair area for the remainder of the day, then uses a cleanser and coconut oil on her vulva to disinfect and moisturize the area. A week later, she uses salicylic acid pads every few days to prevent ingrown hairs and bacteria from forming.