A groomed bikini area is not cleaner or healthier. (Photo: Getty Images)
If you think your Brazilian bikini wax has hygienic benefits, think again. According to a study conducted by the journal JAMA Dermatology, 62 percent of women polled were under the impression that going bare down there was the clean, healthy route (a full 84 percent preferred some form of grooming). On the contrary, removing most or all of your pubic hair — whether by waxing, shaving, or using depilatory creams — is actually inviting dirt and bacteria into your genital area.
Gynecologists — who once believed that the Brazilian-waxing trend stemmed from seeking sexual pleasure — were disturbed to learn that so many women are under the impression that hairlessness equals cleanliness, according to the New York Times. The study was conducted on a multiracial group of women aged 18 to 65, proving that the myth transcends both race and age (though young white women were most likely to go bare).
More than ever, doctors want women to know that hair is there for a very important reason: to prevent infection. Especially since they see girls as young as 13 waxing because of peer pressure, social media influence, and the proliferation of porn. Among adult women, partner preference and self-esteem also seem to play significant roles.
“Pubic hair offers a natural barrier to keep things clean, to decrease contact with viruses and bacteria, and to protect the tender skin of the area,” says Dr. Vanessa Mackay, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). “Pubic hair also helps to control the moisture of the area, which decreases the chances of yeast infections.”
According to the Times article, doctors have seen patients with serious health consequences — ranging from infected hair follicles and allergic reactions to abscesses and vulva/vaginal infections. In fact, for 3 percent of vaginal trauma-related emergency-room visits, grooming is the culprit. “If you shave your pubic hair, you are also putting yourself at a higher risk of contracting genital warts,” adds Dr. Mackay. Yikes.
One health benefit of pubic hair removal? According to a paper published by the National Institutes of Health, the rise of Brazilian bikini waxes seems to have led to the decline of pubic lice, aka crabs.
If you absolutely must have no hair down there, laser hair removal — though arduous for such a large surface area — is probably the best route. According to WebMD, “Lasers can selectively target dark, coarse hairs while leaving the surrounding skin undamaged.” Professionals urge would-be clients to do their research first and inquire about practitioners’ experience and the safety of the types of lasers they use.
Ultimately, Dr. Jennifer Gunter of Kaiser Permanente Northern California, who was interviewed by the Times, understands she can’t stop women from getting on the Brazilian bandwagon — but she doesn’t want them to be under any false impressions. “If it is something you do for you and makes you feel better, awesome,” Dr. Gunter said. “But don’t tell yourself it’s healthy or better from a medical standpoint.”