The history of the Brazilian wax
While a regular bikini wax is the removal of pubic hair that has crept outside the bikini line boundaries, a Brazilian wax is the removal of hair from the entire genital area, including any fluff between the buttocks.
It sometimes involves leaving a small strip, often called a “landing strip,” just above the pubic bone.
Made popular in Brazil in the 1980s after the introduction of the string bikini, it found a following in North America in the ’90s. Some attribute the Brazilian’s arrival to the “J sisters.” The J sisters are sisters from Brazil (whose names all start with J) that set up a salon in New York and brought the technique to Manhattan women.
Is it safe to get a Brazilian wax?
While being bare down there doesn’t increase chances of genital health problems, “the procedure itself can be risky,” confirms Dr. Suzanne Gagnon, a dermatologist in Montreal. Irritation, inflammation and infection can occur, and if you have a lowered immune system, Brazilian waxing could actually be dangerous (more on that later).
Gagnon says the problems can start if the aesthetician doesn’t pull the skin taut enough during waxing. Issues also occur if you wear too-tight clothing right after the procedure. “Because genital-area skin is more delicate than other areas of the body, it’s more prone to edema [swelling] and infection,” she explains. “Irritation from the procedure can lead to itching, which can lead to scratching and inflammation, which can lead to infection.”
And bare or not, the natural humidity of that region already makes it susceptible to bacterial and fungal growth; scratching compromises the skin’s ability to act as a barrier, says Gagnon, and increases the likelihood of infection.
Research your salon
Lisette Meuse-Manuel, owner of Dermak Studio in Moncton, N.B., advises that women carefully consider both the salon and the aesthetician.
“In the wrong or inexperienced hands,” she warns, “getting a Brazilian can result in burns, ripped skin, infection and, more rarely, if the salon’s hygiene practices are poor, transmission of STDs [sexually transmitted diseases].”
She says she has seen cases of skin infections even on legs as a result of waxing done in a non-hygienic salon.
Ask around, she recommends, to find “impeccably clean” salons. Plus, make sure you’re working with experienced aestheticians who use disposable sheets on the waxing table. Aestheticians should use disposable gloves, and either sterilized metal spatulas or single-use wooden or plastic versions.
Wax with care
If you do get a Brazilian wax and are happy with the results, don’t get another wax right away. If the regrowth is too short, Meuse-Manuel explains, wax can adhere to the skin rather than to the stubble, and bruise or rip the skin. “A quarter-inch of growth is best.”
Who shouldn’t get a Brazilian wax
Brazilian waxing is not recommended for people with skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema, which can be aggravated by waxing. And for women with diabetes, severe or even life-threatening problems can arise because their immune systems are already compromised.
“They’re less able to fight infection in an area in which infection can happen fairly easily,” says Baxter. Pregnant women also have slightly less resistance than usual to infection, and should also avoid Brazilians, she adds.
But the Brazilian wax is popular for a reason. Just beware: “there is no zero risk,” says Gagnon.