Waxing: just another semi-painful, semi-irritating thing we do semi-regularly to look our best, right? While many of us turn to waxing as a quick way to remove body hair with longer-lasting effects than shaving, it turns out your pre-vacation trip to get a bikini wax could be coming with some not-so-cute side effects—namely, increased risk of STIs.
A small study from Nice, France found that the low-level skin trauma caused by waxing made it more likely that a particular STI (a skin virus called Molluscum contagiosum) would be transmitted.
According to the study, "Of the 30 patients (6 women and 24 men) who visited their clinic with sexually transmitted Molluscum contagiosum in 2011 and 2012, 93 percent had removed their pubic hair, either through shaving (70 percent), clipping (13 percent) or waxing (10 percent). Ten of the 30 patients had at least one other skin condition, such as warts or a bacterial infection."
Though the study mentions shaving as a culprit as well, waxing could actually be worse for this type of infection. According to Jessica Krant, M.D., waxing can cause more wounds than shaving. "The hairs really are attached very firmly to their roots and are a part of our body," she said. "Pulling them out means tearing them out by the root. It leaves a tiny wound just under the surface."
While the study focused mainly on those who shaved down there, waxing could actually increase the issue. "Waxing allows the same situation: infected skin near the wounded follicles can allow infection to get into a new opening with skin contact with an infected person, or technically even by sharing a towel that has had direct contact," says Krant.
It's that last part that really worries us. If you've ever noticed your waxing technician using a communal pot of wax for their clients, you know that spread of bacteria from customer to customer could be occurring already.
"If sticks are being used, and a stick with wax does get rubbed against an infected area of the skin and then put back into the pot for more wax,” Krant says, “it’s possible an infection could be transferred to another area of the skin, including the face or underarms.” Eek.
Sadly, this transmission of bacteria and STIs isn't limited to Molluscum contagiosum. Krant indicates that many types of contact-transmitted STIs could be passed along from your trip to the salon.
"Herpes, HPV (genital warts and possibly cervical cancer), HIV, and other STIs also have increased risk with skin trauma,” she explains, so regular waxing can make you more susceptible even if your waxing technician is doing her job in a hygienic manner. "Any infection that requires contact to spread will be more easily caught if there is any damage to the skin in the area," she confirms.
So what's a wax-happy woman to do? It seems there's really no way to wax while preventing these micro-injuries to the skin; it's just inherent in the process. Switching to shaving could have a less pronounced effect, but the bottom line is that body hair removal is going to cause damage to the skin one way or another.
The best tactic would be to limit body hair removal. Try going for a wax only when you absolutely need it! And of course, always thoroughly investigate the methods being used by your salon.
A reputable, clean and sanitary salon worker should have no problem explaining to you exactly how they are protecting you (and other clients!) from cross-contamination.
Another option? Embrace shaving less! You never know, you might find it empowering.