A doctor has launched an appeal to reverse one of the fashion trends of the last decade, seen in the explosion of beauty salons offering bikini waxing, laser hair removal and “vajazzling”– jewelled decoration of the genitals.
Emily Gibson, a family physician and head of a student health centre, called for an end to the “war on pubic hair” claiming it is increasing the risk of infection and of sexually transmitted diseases amongst young people.
“The amount of time, energy, money and emotion both genders spend on abolishing hair from their genitals is astronomical,” she says.
The hair removal market was estimated to be worth $2.1 billion in the US in 2011 and is on a similar scale in the UK. The trend was spawned, she suggests, by the popularity of bikinis and thongs, “certain hairless actors and actresses, a misguided attempt at hygiene or being more attractive to a partner.”
As director of the health centre at Western University in Washington State, US, she has seen the consequences. “Pubic hair removal naturally irritates and inflames the hair follicles, leaving microscopic open wounds. Frequent hair removal is necessary to stay smooth, causing regular irritation of the shaved or waxed area. When that is combined with the warm, moist environment of the genitals, it becomes a happy culture media for some of the nastiest bacterial pathogens,” she writes on the respected US medical website Kevin MD.com.
Surgeons used to insist on shaving the area of the body where an operation was to be performed in the misguided belief that it reduced surgical site infections. Now official advice is to leave hair alone, unless it interferes with the operation, and where removal is necessary to use electric clippers.
Dr Gibson says that whatever method is used on pubic hair – razor blades, electric shavers, tweezers, waxing, depilatories, electrolysis - “hair, like crab grass, always grows back and eventually wins.”
In her practice it is not unusual to find patients with boils and abscesses on their genitals from shaving as well as cellulitis, an infection of the scrotum, labia or penis from shaving or from having sex with someone infected.
Herpes is also an increased risk “due to the microscopic wounds being exposed to virus carried by mouth or genitals.”
“It follows that there may be vulnerability to spread of other sexually transmitted diseases as well,” she says.
“Pubic hair does have a purpose, providing a cushion against friction that can cause skin abrasion and injury, and protection from bacteria. It is the visible result of adolescent hormones and certainly nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.”
“It is time to declare a truce in the war on pubic hair and allow it to stay right where it belongs.”
Dr Bav Shergill, Consultant Dermatologist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust, said: “I agree that some of the methods of pubic hair removal can lead to damage to the skin itself as well as increasing the risk of infections. Laser hair reduction of pubic hair is safe, provided it is undertaken by a qualified practitioner. ”Bare down there“ is a fashion amongst some groups right now and may pass once people get fed up with the high level of maintenance.”
Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “Different forms of hair removal carry varying levels of risk. In the wrong hands, laser hair removal can cause post-inflammatory pigmentation – this is when the skin becomes inflamed and as a result will be permanently discoloured. The skin could even be burned if lasers are not used properly. For that reason, we would strongly recommend visiting a qualified dermatologist for such treatments.
Any break in the skin, be it through shaving or waxing, could increase the risk of bacterial or viral infections, although the risk is generally fairly minimal. More common are problems such as ingrown hairs, which can become infected.”