By Radhika Sanghani
Cameron Diaz might be strictly pro-pubes, but most women just aren’t. Whether it’s just their bikini line (the sides), a Brazilian (everything except a strip in the middle) or a Hollywood (everything) - a whopping 87 per cent of American women remove their pubic hair.
The most common way to remove the hair is by shaving, according to a new study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. It’s nothing we couldn’t have guessed – waxing isn’t just painful, it’s expensive and time-consuming.
But what is surprising is that the research also found 60 per cent of women had at least one health complication incurred from pubic hair removal, typically epidermal abrasion (invisible cuts to the skin) and ingrown hairs. It was also shown to cause severe skin irritation, infections and – according to an older study – increase the spread and transmission of STIs.
It’s pretty shocking stuff to think that shaving your bikini line could leave you in hospital, or at a higher risk of catching genital warts. But just how likely is it? Is shaving your bikini line really that bad, or is it OK to carry on?
I spoke to Hugh Byrne, a consultant gynaecologist, to find out the real dangers of hair removal:
1) Hair removal can give you abscesses
Byrne tells me that since hair removal became really commonplace he’s seen “a definite increase in infected abscesses that need to be lanced [drained]”. Typically, they’re caused by bacteria entering the body through the hair follicle.
He explains that it’s easily corrected, either by antibiotics, or a patient having an operation, which always carries a danger risk.
2) Shaving isn’t worse than waxing
Waxing is often seen as the preferable option, but Byrne explains that because pubic hairs generally grow at a slant, even waxing will not be able to fully pull out a hair. It means it could still become an ingrown hair.
“There’s no difference between the two,” he says. “ All you’re doing is removing the hair.”
3) Ingrown hairs aren’t dangerous
Shaving and waxing will both cause ingrown hairs, where “you take off the top layer of the skin so the bit of hair left tries to grow again and grows in on itself,” explains Byrne. They can be unsightly, uncomfortable and very painful – but they won’t put your life in danger.
4) Hair removal creams might be best
While waxing and shaving have similar effects, hair removal creams work differently, using chemicals. Byrne says: “The only difference with creams is there’s no physical trauma to the skin.” It means that there’s less chance of receiving cuts and infections.
But, most manufacturers say you shouldn’t use the creams on your genital area. So, they won’t work for Brazilians.
5) Hair removal can increase STI risks
A 2012 study suggests that hair removal can increase your chance of contracting an STI because remove the hair affects the skin membrane, making it easier for bacteria to enter the body.
READ: Bikini waxes and Brazilians 'behind rise in STI warts'
Byrne says that in his experience, this is true. He explains that pubic hair is there to “absorb moisture and drain it away from areas that aren’t exposed”. If there’s no hair, the skin is more vulnerable to infections such as herpes and genital warts.
6) Trimming is less risky
For women who really just don’t want to go au natural, trimming is a safer option. Byrne explains that an ingrown hair follicle won’t happen with trimming – the only downside is that as the hairs grow longer, it can cause itching.
Oh, and if you’re using an electrical trimming device, be extra careful when it’s so close to your genitalia.
7) Hair removal is more dangerous for overweight women
The new American study found that complications were twice as likely for overweight or obese women, and three times more likely if they removed all their pubic hair. Byrne explains that it’s because for larger women, their skin will be closer together.
“The hairs that are short are more likely to be ingrown,” he says. “There’ll also be more moisture so they’re more likely to have bacteria.”
8) It’s up to you
Even with these risks laid out, Byrne explains: “It’s entirely personal preference – you just need to be aware of the risks. Some cultures have been doing it for centuries. If you’re worried about an infection, go and see your doctor, otherwise you don’t really need to discuss it with a GP.”