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Your Guide to Grooming Pubic Hair and Vaginal Health in 2023

From having hair to going bare down there, we break down the existing research around how pubic hair (and its grooming methods) affect the vaginal microbiome.
Read Time — 6 minutes
Words by Meagan Hamblin; Edited by Dr. Krystal Thomas-White, PhD; Medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Vo, M.D.

Highlights

  • Removing or not removing pubic hair itself isn’t associated with a particular state of the vaginal microbiome, but changing your habits could lead to a shift.
  • Depending on the method, health risks associated with pubic hair removal include skin abrasions, ingrown hairs, burns on the skin, and folliculitis.
  • Pubic hair removal is correlated with a higher risk for STI acquisition but it is also associated with a higher rate of sexual activity, meaning that pubic hair removal by itself isn’t the only cause of increased susceptibility to STIs
  • The decision to keep or remove your pubic hair is yours! If you're concerned about what's best for you, you can always bring it up with your dermatologist and/or gynecologist

Shaving, waxing, sugaring, creams, electrolysis, laser - it feels like every year there’s some new way to remove pubic hair that we get ads for on social media.

But does altering our pubic hair influence our vaginal health? Considering that over 80% of U.S. women have tried some form of pubic hair removal in their lifetime, it seems like an obvious question to ask!

Unfortunately, the research is scant on this topic (thanks, gender health gap) but we’re highlighting what science does know below!

Does removing pubic hair make my vagina or vulva more “clean”?

Briefly, no. If you want to keep yourself clean, all that’s needed is warm water and maybe a bit of soap to the external area outside of the vagina, A.K.A. your vulva. (No razors, waxes, or lasers necessary!) 

Your vagina is a naturally self-cleaning organ and removing your pubic hair is pretty much a cosmetic decision

Why do people with vaginas remove their pubic hair? 

Societal expectations and increased confidence 

In fact, a 2019 study on the psychology underlying pubic hair removal found that the main reason women choose to remove their pubic hair is because of social expectations

Many women report feeling more comfortable and confident in their sexuality as reasons for removing their pubic hair. If you do decide to ‘go bare’ down there, you may even have fun and make a friend along the way!  

One recent study showed that women who go to a salon for pubic hair removal form meaningful connections with their esthetician and have a generally safe and positive experience

Public lice 

The only medical reason you might want to consider removing pubic hair is if you believe you have pubic lice (sometimes called “crabs”). These are parasitic insects that are similar to the head lice you probably encountered in elementary school. Pubic lice live in pubic hair specifically and are transmitted from a sexual partner. 

Symptoms and signs of infestation include:

Getting rid of your pubic hair can be one of the multiple treatment strategies to remove pubic lice

Are there any health risks associated with pubic hair removal?

Shaving 

Of the different methods available to remove pubic hair, a 2010 study found that shaving was both the most popular method used and the method most likely to cause a health issue

Common medical issues that arise from shaving include skin abrasions and ingrown hairs. Though these can be frustrating and painful, the good news is that they can usually be treated at home!  If ingrown hairs persist and are a chronic problem, you should consider discussing treatment options with your doctor. 

Waxing, Depilatory Creams, and Laser Hair Removal  

The most common injury associated with waxing, depilatory creams, and laser hair removal are burns on the skin, which may require medical attention depending on the severity. 

Hair removal can also cause folliculitis. This happens when individual hair follicles become inflamed and infected by microbes that live on the skin

If you feel concerned or nervous about these potential outcomes, or are currently dealing with a hair-related medical problem, don’t hesitate to bring it up with your OB-GYN or dermatologist at your next appointment. They are the best people to give you expert and personalized advice on which hair removal options are best for your body and lifestyle. 

Does pubic hair removal influence my vaginal microbiome?

Right now there are no publicly available clinical studies on whether or not pubic hair removal correlates with yeast infections or BV

There is, however, one study published in 2021 which looked at vaginal microbiomes and how they relate to changes in pubic hair in 43 participants. 

The good news is that it doesn't make a difference for your vaginal health whether you like to have hair or go bare! The study found that there were no significant differences at baseline between the participants that had pubic hair, and the participants with no pubic hair. 

But once participants switched to either growing out their pubic hair, or removing pubic hair, researchers did find that the vaginal microbiomes changed relative to control participants who did not alter their habits

This means that either removing or not removing pubic hair itself isn’t associated with a particular state of the vaginal microbiome, but changing your habits could lead to a shift. 

Like many other things related to vaginal health, we need way more studies, with more participants, looking specifically at yeast infections, BV, and community state types to be able to share specific, science-backed information about pubic hair and the vaginal microbiome. 

If you're thinking about altering your pubic hair grooming routine, it might be helpful ordering an Evvy test before and after to help you personally track any changes to your vaginal microbiome and stay informed on what’s going on down there. 

Recurrent symptoms? Meet Evvy's at-home vaginal microbiome test, approved by leading OB-GYNs.
Learn more

Does pubic hair removal increase my risk of acquiring an STI? 

The answer: it’s complicated. 

In a 2017 study of over 7,000 people, researchers found that pubic hair grooming is associated with a greater risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and that this correlation became stronger for people who more frequently performed pubic hair removal. 

Another study published in 2020 found that people who completely removed their pubic hair more than 6 times a year had a higher chance of acquiring an STI than people who never removed their pubic hair. 

But, before you start panicking about your bi-monthly brazilians, remember that a big caveat to these studies is that pubic hair grooming is also associated with a higher rate of sexual activity.

Although researchers adjusted their findings to account for the number of sexual partners, there still could be underlying factors contributing, such as a higher chance of having unprotected sex, or a higher rate of oral sex

What this means is that while the two are correlated, pubic hair removal by itself isn’t the only cause of increased susceptibility to STIs. It might just mean you are likely having more sexual encounters, which itself means you’re more likely to be exposed to an STI! 

Pubic hair removal and infections on the vulva 

There is one possible scenario though when pubic hair removal could directly make you susceptible to infections. This is the case for infections that happen to the skin on the vulva, such as a Staphylococcus aureus skin infection, HPV,  or a benign viral skin condition called Molluscum contagiosum

If you go to a salon that uses tools on multiple people to remove pubic hair, you want to be sure that the salon uses sterile and clean tools, workers wear clean gloves, and do everything they can to minimize your risk of being exposed to an infection.

If you remove your own pubic hair at home, and are dealing with pain in the genital area, bumps on your skin, and inflammation, it’s possible that hair removal is contributing to irritation, and further damaging your skin.

In general, if you are experiencing any pain or discomfort in your genital area, consider talking to a gynecologist ASAP to get personalized guidance on how to care for yourself, including whether or not to change your hair removal practices. 

Ultimately, the decision is yours.

Published on Wednesday, January 11th, 2023.

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