Are Bikini Waxes Safe? 5 Health Risks Of Going Bare Down There — And How To Protect Yourself

We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. This week’s topic: the health risks of getting a bikini wax — plus, how to make sure a salon is safe.

Q: I'm going on vacation soon, and I've been thinking about getting a bikini wax. I've actually never waxed before — I usually just shave the parts of my pubes that poke out of my bikini — but this year, I think I wanna go wild and get a Brazilian. But before I do I want to know … are there any health risks to getting a bikini wax I should know about? Is it really safe?

A: If you’re considering getting rid of any or all of your pubic hair, you’re by no means alone. In fact, one recent study finds that almost 60 percent of American pussies aged 18 to 24 were nude (these numbers are slightly lower for those aged 25 and 29, at just under 50 percent). But you’re right to ask … just how safe is getting a bikini wax?

Should you decide to get rid of your hair down there, there are some important risks to consider — and ways to mitigate them. Let's get to it.

Risk #1: Infection

It's useful to know why we have pubic hair in the first place: Vaginas are made of mucus membrane, which is a type of skin that is more delicate than your regular skin. Pubic hair is like a moat that works actively to protect your, ehm, special castle. This hair acts as a cushion, making sure your many folds don’t stick together, which can cause rash and infection, and also protecting your parts during sex. The hair also traps bacteria trying to get in, which could otherwise cause infections like bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections. Removing that barrier is simply going to put you at additional risk for infections.

Additionally, there are tiny tears left behind in the hair follicles when you rip out the hair with wax, and waxing can also remove the top layer of your pussy skin. (Shaving can result in tiny nicks or cuts in your skin, as well as the angry red bumps that you can get through razor burn.) These tears and bumps can become homes for bacteria you don’t want in your skin — such as the bacterial infection cellulitis and staph infection, as well as folliculitis, which is where your hair follicles get infected.

Something else that’s important to know: you can spread some of these infections to your sexual partners. (Researchers have found this to be the case with both cellulitis and staph infections.) So if you have one of these infections, see your doctor to get it cleared up — it won’t just be you you’re helping!

Risk #2: Sexually Transmitted Infections

Certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are spread through skin-to-skin contact. Skin damage only helps these in getting into your body — and you don’t have to be able to see the damage for it to be there. Microscopic tears such as those left behind when you rip out hair by the roots (or get razor burn, for those shavers out there) unfortunately count.

What STIs are helped out by skin trauma? The list includes genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), HIV (which isn’t transmitted skin-to-skin but can be transmitted through microscopic tears), and Molluscum Contagiosum, a skin infection spread by skin-to-skin contact that's actually thought to be on the rise because of the increase in bikini waxing.

Risk #3: Burns

Depilatory creams like Nair can give your vagina a chemical burn, but what about hot wax? If you’re getting your wax on with a professional, s/he should know how hot to keep the wax so it still works but doesn’t actually burn your skin. However, the right temperature is a delicate balance, and hot wax can totally burn you if they're not careful. Different waxes need to be at different temperatures, but the general best practice is to have it move with the consistency of honey and not hurt like hell when it touches your skin.

Risk #4: Ingrown Hairs

Every time you cut off a hair or pull it out by its roots, you put yourself at risk for an ingrown hair. De-rooting a hair means a brand new baby hair will start growing. Baby hairs are thin and weak and can have trouble finding their way to the surface (awww that’s kinda cute). If they get caught under the skin, you will get an irritated bump, which can get infected.

The way to deal with an ingrown hair is to release it (aka tweeze it out if you can, or get a doctor to do it) and if it gets infected, your doctor may give you some medicine to deal with the irritation.

Risk #5: Scarring

While scarring from a bikini wax is rare, it can happen. If your skin is getting irritated chronically after you wax (meaning red and itchy for a while after), you can end up with scarring. Additionally, if you pick at an ingrown hair, it can scar. Not all that cute.

So ... How Can You Protect Yourself?

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to mitigate these risks.

Tip #1: Get Waxed At A Clean Facility

When it comes to your special parts, it’s worth it to go to a place that’s clean and otherwise professional — even if you have to shell out a few more bucks for it. It’s also a good idea to make sure the person who’s about to get all up in your business is licensed. Check out ratings on Yelp, or ask your friends for a recommendation.

Tip #2: Pay Attention To Your Waxer’s Hygiene

Waxing is a procedure (think doctor’s office) and so there are some hygiene precautions that should be happening before the wax ends up on your vag. For instance, the person applying the wax should have clean hands or use latex gloves. S/he shouldn’t double dip into the wax pot or use the same strip twice, because that can bring bacteria from your body into the wax, which will spread the bacteria around your body.

Ask beforehand if they double dip or don't use a different spatula each time, and if they do, leave and find another salon to get waxed at — you don't owe anyone anything, even if you're already undressed.

Tip #3: Ask If A Salon Uses Hard Wax

There are a bunch of different types of wax, some of which are more likely than others to tear your skin when it’s removing your hair. For instance, hard wax is gentler on you than speed wax and is really what you want to use on your most delicate of areas. Strip or speed wax is really for larger, less tender bits, and is not suggested for the genital region.

Tip #4: Keep An Eye Out For Infection

Since we know that infection is a possibility, pay attention to your nether regions in the days after you get your wax. If you see any redness or swelling or start feeling itching or burning, you can put some over-the-counter antibiotic cream on it. If it gets really bad, please go see a doctor. You can also work to actively stave off infection by putting an antibiotic cream on the area the first couple days after.

If you're struggling with an infection like this, you may want to hold off on having sex until it's cleared up — remember that it's possible to transmit some of these infections to your partners!

The Bottom Line

This information is here to help you, not to scare you. You can do whatever you want, it’s your body! As my mother says, the good thing about changing your hair is that it grows back (although to credit her accurately, she was talking about the hair on my head). And wanting to go bare certainly doesn’t make you any less of a feminist.

So play around! Feel sexy! Just make sure you’re doing it to please yourself, not just to please someone else.

Images: Fotolia; Giphy