By Dr Amy Jones, Ob/Gyn
Since Roman times, women have been removing hair from their bodies, 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 which involves removing any and all pubic hair. Since then, this trend in feminine hygiene has taken on a life of its own. Today, a variety of grooming options exist. These include waxing, shaving, laser hair removal, and a simple trim.
Why do women remove their pubic hair?
Some may like the look. Others have been told by their friends that it’s just what you do. Many women may feel pressure from peers or partners or from media (social and otherwise). In a survey of 3,316 women in the US, 59% said they did it for “hygiene reasons”. Overall, 84% said they had done some grooming and 62% said they had removed all their pubic hair at least once. Complete removal of pubic hair was most common between the ages of 18 to 24. More than 20% said they did it for their partners. Feeling sexier was also cited as a reason.
Before evaluating the safety pubic hair removal, let’s take a step back and consider the reason we have evolved to have pubic hair in the first place. Pubic hair acts as a mechanical barrier to trap dirt and debris and thereby protects the delicate tissues of the labia and the vaginal opening. It was put there to protect your genitalia from friction and infection.
So what happens when we remove some or all of this protective barrier?
A recent study suggests that removing pubic hair may increase risk of developing certain skin infections, including some sexually transmitted infections. Hair removal can cause microabrasions, and it is through such microabrasions that skin to skin STIs such as herpes, HPV, and syphilis are able to enter the body.
Some scientists postulate that hair removal may also remove the good bacteria on the skin surface and in so doing may translate into increased susceptibility to yeast and other infections. Others think it may affect sexual pleasure. Hair follicles have touch receptors and so without those follicles one mechanism for sensing touch is gone. Still others believe pubic hair traps aromas that make us more attractive to our partners and removing it may diminish sexual desire. Regardless of the validity of any of these hypotheses, pubic hair removal comes down to personal preference. There's no medical or hygienic reason for removing some or all of your pubic hair.
Can the actual act of removing hair be dangerous?
Over 50% of women who have removed pubic hair report at least one complication such as lacerations, burns, rashes, and infections. Methods that remove pubic hair from its follicle, like waxing and sugaring, can lead to ingrown hairs because the inflammation from the removal method blocks the hair follicle so the remaining hair bends and grows inside the follicle rather than out of the skin surface, leading to what is known as an ingrown hair. Ingrown hairs can also become infected leading to an abscess which requires surgical drainage and potentially lead to a more systemic infection. Shaving also has the potential to cause ingrown hairs, not to mention lacerations from the razor itself due to improper technique.
Taking precautions like shaving after your follicles are opened in the shower can be helpful in preventing ingrown hairs. Also, treating or prepping your skin with cleansers, prevention oils or shaving cream may also help although there's no way to completely eliminate that risk. Using a trimmer 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.
None of this is to say that you absolutely should not remove your pubic hair. It all comes down to personal preference and willingness to assume the risks associated with hair removal. If you do prefer to remove the hair down there, make sure you are practicing safe, clean technique or going to a trusted salon.