Should you go bare down there? The pros and cons of getting a Brazilian wax

By Janine Falcon

Is it safe to get a Brazilian wax?

Okay, we hope you have a high tolerance for pain—because just reading this article about Bra­zilian waxing, let alone actually getting it done, may well make you wince.

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,” seven sisters from Brazil (all of whose names starts with J) who set up a salon in New York and brought the technique to Manhattan women.

The risks of going bare down there

Whatever its origins, and whether you’ve ever had one or not, chances are you’ve wondered whether there are health risks. 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, and if you wear too-tight, friction-causing 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 individual offering the procedure. “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 with licensed, experienced aestheticians who use disposable sheets on the waxing table, 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, be careful to go back for subsequent ones only when the hair has grown back enough. 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.”

Another potential complication from both waxing and shaving, according to Dr. Mary Lou Baxter, a dermatologist at Halifax’s Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, is pseudofolliculitis. It’s a fancy term for chronic ingrown hair (often affecting men with very curly beards), when hair that grows back after it has been removed curves back into the skin and creates acne-like cysts.

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, so should avoid Brazilians, too, she adds.

But the Brazilian wax is popular for a reason. Just beware;“there is no zero risk,” says Gagnon.

This article was originally titled "The (Dreaded) Brazilian wax," in the January/February 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience—and never miss an issue!—and make sure to check out what's new in the latest issue of Best Health.

Best Health Magazine, January/February 2010

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