Thanks to the porn industry, razor blade commercials and just about every lingerie advertisement we’ve ever seen, we’re often left confused about what to do about the hair down there. What is normal? What is weird? Do we wax, shave, both or neither!? We talked to an OB-GYN and a waxing professional to get the real scoop about pubic hair.
First of all, why do we even have it?
Surprise! Pubic hair actually has a medical purpose beyond giving women yet another aspect of their appearance to worry about. There is debate among scientists over whether or not pubic hair was biologically designed help attract potential mates (you know, back in the days before Instagram filters and Tinder profiles). However, according to gynecologist Dr. Jessica Shepherd, pubic hair’s known function is to be a protective barrier for our body.
“Pubic hair helps to fend off bacteria and unwanted pathogens from entering the vaginal area, which helps to keep us from getting yeast infections and UTIs,” Shepherd told SheKnows. “In other words, pubic hair is supposed to be there.”
So, there’s a case for keeping the bush
Given these built-in protective benefits, embracing your womanly nature might be worthwhile. However, do take note: “Bacteria grows in moisture, and sometimes hair can contribute to having more of a moist area,” Shepherd said. “Some women work out a lot or like to go swimming, and this trapped sweat and moisture may increase the chances of getting a yeast infection.”
Basically, if you’re planning to go the zero-maintenance route, pay extra attention to keeping clean after physical activity.
Shaving vs. waxing: The showdown
Still wanna groom? That’s fine too — just make sure you’re getting it done properly.
Shaving may seem like the easier, more private option for women who aren’t comfortable baring it in a waxing setting. Though it gives you full aesthetic control, it can get a bit risky.
“Shaving requires lots of maintenance,” Shepherd said. “During maintenance, you could increase your chances of having infections or being exposed to sexually transmitted infections if you’re not careful.”
STIs typically spread through skin-to-skin contact, so any small cuts you get from shaving ultimately leave you vulnerable to infection. Using a dull razor can lead to these cuts and also to ingrown hairs, leaving you itchy and covered in those damn bikini-line pimples.
When it comes to shaving versus waxing, Chicago-based cosmetologist and waxing expert Jessica Rivera has a few thoughts.
“Waxing is more long-term, and it avoids razor bumps,” Rivera told SheKnows, adding that clients only need to get waxed every four weeks.
After deciding whether or not you can withstand the pain of having a 4-inch strip of hot wax torn from your vulva, the real key is to make sure you find a clean salon with highly trained professionals.
“A wax professional should be sure to have a client fill out a pre-wax form asking questions about medications and health conditions,” Rivera said, as certain skin care prescriptions like Accutane can make your skin surface dangerously prone to burns.
“They should also ensure that all utensils are new and disposable — double dipping is an absolute no,” she added.
Like shaving, waxing also causes microscopic tears of the skin, increasing your chances of contracting an infection or STI. It is for this reason that both of our experts suggest waiting 24 to 48 hours before having sex after hair removal, which — depending on the situation at hand, if you know what we mean — may be a reason to forego both methods entirely.
Hair care is not one-size-fits all
When it comes to caring for pubes, it is essential to listen to your body.
“Waxing experiences are different for each woman depending on the texture and growth patterns of their own pubic hair,” Rivera said. “If you are prone to vaginal or yeast infections, I would consult with your doctor before getting a Brazilian wax.”
It may also be time to explore other hair-removal options if you notice itching or irritation around hair follicles in your pubic area after shaving or if you’re finding that the hair removal process is painful. In this case, Shepherd often advocates for trimming.
“If someone has consistent ingrown hairs, instead of shaving I recommend using scissors to trim pubic hair to a length so it’s not completely all the way off,” she said.
Other options include laser hair removal or depilatory creams formulated specifically for your bikini line.
The newest grooming trend? Self confidence
The truth is, there is no single “best” or “worst” pubic hair aesthetic; it is entirely a matter of your taste and assessment of the benefits and risks of each. Whatever choice you make about any of your body hair, make it for yourself. Being comfortable with yourself and your body is most important.
A version of this story was published March 2018.