Relax, You Won't Get An STD From Bikini Waxing

But 'genital injuries' from hair removal are on the rise.
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The Question: Summer is officially here, and for many people, beach trips and sexy, sunny getaways mean either regular trips to the waxing salon or a steady date with a razor. But is it safe to go bare down there?

Yes. Mostly.

Whether you get a bikini wax at a salon or just shave in the shower, we’re not here to dissuade you from your depilatory mission.

While the scientific literature is sprinkled with super-scary case studies about things that can go wrong, like the immunocompromised woman who developed herpes and sepsis after getting a Brazilian at a salon or the college football players whose antibiotic-resistant staph infections were linked to cosmetic body shaving, the truth is that hair removal is relatively safe.

Even reports that suggest pubic grooming may be linked to the rise of molluscum contagiosum, a viral skin infection that results in painless pearlescent skin growths, are still speculative in nature. Interestingly, there’s some evidence that rates of one STI -- pubic lice -- have gone down around the world because trimming, waxing and shaving is destroying their “natural habitat" in body hair.

“There’s no data that says grooming is associated with STIs that’s large scale and solid,” says Dr. Benjamin Breyer, chief of urology at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. "Nothing out there exists."

That being said, there is evidence that the number of people with genital injuries related to hair removal is increasing as the grooming practice becomes even more mainstream. Breyer conducted a study that found that visits to the emergency department for genital injuries linked to pubic hair grooming -- most of them cuts and tears to the skin -- increased fivefold from 2002 to 2010. In total, they made up three percent of all genital injuries seen in the emergency department.

But the truth is that most people who decide to do a little trimming (according to a recent study, this includes 84 percent of American women) will likely just have to deal with minor problems: itchy, irritated skin, razor burn, ingrown hairs and whiteheads.

Going bare? Try these tips

If you’re going to go bare down there, Breyer and dermatologists Dr. Lauren Ploch, who has a private practice in Augusta, Georgia and Dr. Jessica Krant, who practices in New York, says there are a few ways to keep yourself as safe and comfortable as possible when deforesting your nether regions.

1. Shave in the direction of the hair growth, not against it

This helps protect your skin from irritation, as it lessens the likelihood of nicks and ingrown hairs. Breyer also says you should always use a clean razor, and plan ahead so that you don’t feel rushed while grooming such a sensitive area.

Krant, a dermatologist at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York, also says that the timing of the shave could also make a big difference in your skin's recovery period. Shave right when you step into the shower to have fewer razor bumps afterward.

"Hot water and steam swell and soften the hairs, making for a great day one result because the hairs will shrink a lot after the shower, pulling beneath the surface and keeping things smooth," Krant said. "But this also leads to a much bigger problem with razor bumps on day two or three, since the hair tips have a hard time finding the follicle openings in the skin and can irritate while trying to grow back out."

2. Treat irritated skin gently

If you develop red, pimple-like bumps or pustules from ingrown hairs after shaving or waxing, consider washing the area gently with a benzoyl peroxide cleanser. This is essentially a soap made for acne-prone skin, and it has anti-bacterial and drying properties, Ploch explained.

If you develop a red, painful rash, treat it with an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

“However, make sure to use this sparingly as steroid creams can thin the skin when used often or for long periods of time,” Ploch said.

3. Consider long-term methods of hair removal

If pubic hair grooming is something you’ve done for years and something you plan to continue doing, consider permanent hair reduction.

"While it may be expensive and time-consuming, [laser hair removal] is very safe when done under the care of a board-certified physician,” says Ploch. "Even if you can't commit to multiple sessions of laser therapy, a few sessions may reduce hair so that further grooming can be done infrequently.”

Electrolysis is also another option, says Breyer.

4. And finally, the most important thing to remember about pubic grooming is...

Among women who do groom down there, 59 percent of them say they do it for hygienic reasons, but there's absolutely no medical reason to remove your pubic hair, or any body hair, at all. Our obsession with smooth, hairless skin is a social construct that doesn't contribute to hygiene, so if you're good with what you've got, #freethebush.

"As long as the pubic area is kept clean, pubic hair is fine,” Ploch said. "The only reason to remove the pubic hair is because some cultures (including ours) find visible pubic hair aesthetically unpleasing."

Now go forth and shave or wax responsibly. Or, you know, don't.

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“Ask Healthy Living” is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical advice.

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