With winter finally behind us, it won't be long before we're anticipating longer days, dips in the pool, weekend trips to the beach -- and bikini waxes. In fact, one group of researchers found that nearly 60 percent of American women between the ages of 18 and 24 are " sometimes or always completely bare down there" (and almost 50 percent of women ages 25 to 29 are, too), the Atlantic reported.
But new research released last week may have prompted some waxing devotees to hit the pause button on making their next appointments. The small study out of Nice, France, found an association between pubic hair removal and an increased risk of sexually transmitted Molluscum contagiosum, a skin virus causing raised bumps or growths. MyHealthNews Daily reported:
Of the 30 patients (6 women and 24 men) who visited their clinic with sexually transmitted Molluscum contagiosum in 2011 and 2012, 93 percent had removed their pubic hair, either through shaving (70 percent), clipping (13 percent) or waxing (10 percent). Ten of the 30 patients had at least one other skin condition, such as warts or a bacterial infection.
While the study found only an association and not a definitive link, it stands to reason that waxing would increase the risk of a virus like Molluscum contagiosum, says Jessica Krant, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York and founder of Art of Dermatology. "I see patients all the time who come in with terrible (harmless, but very annoying) infections with these small viral bumps, and the more shaving the person has done in the bikini area, the more likely it is that the bumps have spread everywhere making them even harder to eradicate," she says. "Waxing allows the same situation: infected skin near the wounded follicles can allow infection to get into a new opening with skin contact with an infected person, or technically even by sharing a towel that has had direct contact."
This certainly isn't the first bad news we've heard about bikini waxes -- over the past few years, several serious infections and complications have been reported. In 2009, the state of New Jersey even entertained the idea of banning Brazilian waxes completely after two women were hospitalized with infections.
And the truth is, no matter the aesthetic trend, pubic hair is there for a reason. "That part of the body is meant by nature to have hair, and the hairs, though they may be currently out of fashion visually, are there for other reasons," says Krant, who adds that they keep skin from running together and act as a cushion during sexual contact. "They are also there to maintain a bit of air flow and keep folded skin areas from sticking together and causing rashes and infections known as intertrigo."
What's more, waxing can cause damage to the skin, even if you don't necessarily see it. "Waxing means truly ripping hairs out by their roots, and we all know or have heard that this is quite a painful process," Krant says. "It hurts for only one reason: the hairs really are attached very firmly to their roots and are a part of our body. Pulling them out means tearing them out by the root. It leaves a tiny wound just under the surface."
So we asked Krant and Sandra Johnson, M.D., a dermatologist in practice in Fort Smith, Ark., to break down a few other possible risks of waxing. Read through, then tell us -- do you have a waxing horror story?
STIs. While last week's study looked at the risk of contracting the virus Molluscum contagiosum, it's certainly not the only sexually transmitted infection that waxing can up the risk for. "Any infection that requires contact to spread will be more easily caught if there is any damage to the skin in the area," Krant told HuffPost in an email. "This can be anything from obvious cuts all the way to microscopic torn follicle roots that aren't visible on the surface. Herpes, HPV (genital warts and possibly cervical cancer), HIV, and other STIs also have increased risk with skin trauma."
Infections. "Removing the hair, especially in the Brazilian waxing fashion, where the hairs are removed from the gluteal cleft areas, increases the risk not only of STIs but of 'self-TI's,'" Krant says. "In other words, pulling the hairs out of those areas increases the risk that tiny skin tears will get bacteria in them that was never meant to be inside the skin. It can cause surface infections and even deeper cellulitis in some cases." The skin infection impetigo is a common issue, too, according to Johnson. "I have also seen ringworm worsened with waxing," she says.
One other gross-but-true fact? If your treatment involves using sticks in a communal pot of wax, beware of practitioners "double dipping" those sticks back into the pot. "If sticks are being used, and a stick with wax does get rubbed against an infected area of the skin and then put back into the pot for more wax," Krant says, "it's possible an infection could be transferred to another area of the skin, including the face or underarms."
Burns. While a qualified professional should know how to keep wax hot enough to work without hurting the skin, burns can happen. "In addition, not so much for bikini waxing, but eyebrow, lip, and chin hair waxers need to be very careful because if they are using any antiaging or acne creams that may contain a retinoid (vitamin A derivatives retinol, retinyl palmitate, tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene)," Krant says, "their skin will be extra susceptible to getting burned and peeled off by waxing since those creams loosen the attachment of skin cells and cause increased exfoliation."
Infected ingrown hairs. "Pulling a hair out by its roots means a new, thin and weak baby hair will start growing in its place, which naturally has less strength and thickness toward the tip to find its way out of the surface in a straight shot," Krant says. "It can often get caught and get stuck under the surface, leading to an irritated bump that can become infected and long-lasting." For tips on preventing ingrown hairs, check out WebMD's tips here.
Scarring. "Waxing irritates the skin, which when done repeatedly (especially not well), it can cause chronic skin irritation and scarring," Johnson says.