A War on Hair

I must have missed the declaration of war on pubic hair. It must have happened sometime in the last decade because the amount of time, energy, money and emotion both genders spend on abolishing hair from their genitals is astronomical.

But why pick on the lowly pubic hair? A few sociological theories suggest it has to do with cultural trends spawned by bikinis and thongs, certain hairless actors and actresses, a misguided attempt at hygiene or being more attractive to a partner. Surely human beings are not so naive as to be so susceptible to fashion trends and biases that they actually cause harm to themselves.

It is a sadly misconceived war. Long ago, surgeons figured out that shaving a body part prior to surgery actually increased, rather than decreased, surgical site infections. No matter what expensive and complex weapons are used — razor blades, electric shavers, tweezers, waxing, depilatories, electrolysis — hair, like crabgrass,  always grows back and eventually wins. In the meantime, the skin suffers the effects of the scorched battlefield.

Pubic hair removal naturally irritates and inflames the hair follicles left behind, leaving microscopic open wounds. Rather than suffering a recurring comparison to a bristle brush, frequent hair removal is necessary to stay smooth, causing regular irritation of the shaved or waxed area. When that irritation is combined with the warm, moist environment of the genitals, it becomes a happy culture media for some of the nastiest of bacterial pathogens, namely group A streptococcus, staphylococcus aureus and its recently mutated cousin methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA). There is an increase in staph boils and abscesses, necessitating incisions to drain the infection, resulting in scarring that can be significant. It is not at all unusual to find pustules and other hair follicle inflammatory papules on the shaved areas.

Additionally, it can cause cellulitis (a potentially serious soft tissue bacterial infection without abscess) that can spread, sometimes necessitating hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics.

Some clinicians theorize that freshly shaved pubic areas and genitals are also more vulnerable to herpes infections due to the microscopic wounds being exposed to viruses carried by mouth or genitals. It follows that there may be vulnerability to spread of other sexual transmitted infections as well.

Pubic hair does have a purpose, providing cushion against friction that can cause skin abrasion and injury, as well as protection from bacteria and other unwanted pathogens. It is time to declare a truce in the war on pubic hair and allow it to stay right where it belongs.

In the words of the hairy Fab Four of yesteryear:  “Let it be.”