Brazilians and Man-scaping: a recipe for infection?

by Paige on March 5, 2013

For many, spring break vacations call for swimsuits and extreme body-grooming. Gone are the days of “au natural”. Instead, individuals are getting rid of everything (yep, everything). And, it’s not just women; men are now buying into these services too and coining the new terms “man-scaping” and “mankini”.

However, here is a caution to all the “bare-it-all” fans out there: removing all that hair may come with some risk, and it’s not just the 30-minutes of agony that you may experience in a room with a complete stranger.

In addition to repeatedly allowing someone to abruptly tear away synthetic strips of hot wax from your body (which you may have gathered from the film, 40-year old Virgin, is not a pleasant experience), you’re also making your skin a land-mine for infection. Unlike shaving, where you are just simply “trimming” the hair, waxing pulls the hair follicle from its root. In doing this, you’ve essentially created an area of tiny open sores that are ready for exposure to all kinds of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

The common skin infection known as Staph is a prime example. Many individuals have Staph bacteria that live on the skin’s surface without doing any harm. However, once a cut, or in this case a tiny open wound becomes accessible, the bacteria can enter the site and infect rather rapidly.

For the spring vacationers looking to spend some time in the hot tub, this situation could potentially become even more risky. A certain colony of bacteria (pseudomonas) are also found in hot tubs and pools that have inconsistent pH and chlorine levels.  Combine this with the hundreds of open sores on your newly waxed skin, and you’re looking at a serious invasion of bacteria.

Symptoms?  Aside from the gross factor and the inconvenience, most of these infections can fortunately be treated with antibiotics.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the research literature claiming waxing as the culprit of common skin infections. However, in 2009, there were two incidences of women who had infections after receiving Brazilian waxes and had to be hospitalized. And apparently, it’s not just the major waxing below the belt that can be an issue. Another incident of a more serious bacterial infection beneath the skin, called Cellulitis, was reported after a woman received just a basic eyebrow wax.

While we don’t really know if the infections are coming from the waxing studio or if they are from the individual, more and more physicians are voicing their concerns as the popularity of the “bare-it-all” services continue to rise.  That said, waxing is not permanent; repeated sessions means repeated risk for infection. In the meantime, consumers should proceed with caution, and consider their risks carefully:

  • Recognize that not all estheticians are created equal. If the cloth strip isn’t pulled off at the right speed or in the right direction, not all hairs will come out completely causing the infamous ingrown hairs to form (inflammation without the infection–also, not pleasant).
  • To reduce the risk of bleeding, once an area of skin has been waxed, it should not be waxed over again. This is a common mistake, especially with males that have thicker hair like Steve Carell.
  • The double dipping rule applies here as well. If the esthetician uses the same stick to spread the wax on to your skin, the risk of introducing more bacteria is greater. It may seem obvious, but the esthetician should be using gloves and the establishment should be licensed by the State Board of Cosmetology.
  • Allow a few days for the skin to heal, and keep the area as clean as possible to avoid infection.

It is also important to note that there are some populations at higher risk for infection. Individuals who already have weakened immune systems should not engage in waxing as a means for hair removal. When the immune system is compromised, the risk for bacterial infection is even higher. This includes individuals with diabetes, HIV, or women who are pregnant. Also, waxing is not recommended for individuals who have sensitive skin and who are on certain acne medications, such as Accutane.

The personal waxing (and nail) industry, profiting $7 billion in 2011 has certainly changed the face of skin and beauty care across the country. Whether you’re going in for a weekly eyebrow, or going in for the whole shebang down under, it seems that there is a service for just about any hair you want gone. And, it doesn’t just stop at waxing either. Now studios are offering jewelry adhesion after the wax, calling it “VaBling”.  If waxing didn’t already pose a higher risk for infection, adhering glitzy crystal to the skin may be a perfect storm for trapped bacteria underneath.

Bottom line: just because the salon is offering a service, it doesn’t mean it’s worth the risk (or your money, for that matter).

Despite the health risks, if you decide to take the plunge, be a smart consumer. Hygiene and sanitation should be on your radar; report the salon if you witness anything suspicious. If you experience any pain or discomfort, consult your physician right away.

 

 

 

Sources:

Dendle et al. (2007). Clinical Infectious Diseases. Severe Complications of a “Brazilian” Bikini Wax. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/519425

Kress, D. MD (2006). J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. Pubic Hair Removal–Pearls and Pitfalls. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpag.2006.01.051

Stulberg,D. MD et al. (2002). Common Bacterial Skin Infections. Retrieved from: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0701/p119.pdf

Lutz J. and Lee J.(2011). Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. Prevalence and Antimicrobial Resistance of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in Swimming Pools and Hot Tubs. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph8020554

Folliculitis. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/folliculitis/DS00512.html

Staphylococcal skin infections. Retrieved from: http://www.dermnetnz.org/bacterial/staphylococci.html

 

Loon March 5, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I’m a bit confused by some aspects of your article. I read the sentence “Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the research literature claiming waxing as the culprit of common skin infections” as meaning that there isn’t actually much research backing the claims that you make so confidently earlier. And I find that rather fortunate, because I read it to mean that waxing isn’t that dangerous. You probably mean to say that it is unfortunate that little research has been done in the area, but that is not how the sentence reads.
I also wonder whether anything is known about hair removal with electric epilators?

Paige March 8, 2013 at 11:04 am

Thanks for the comment. I apologize that you were confused by my statements. My purpose was to inform people of the potential consequences of waxing given the nature of the process.
I meant to make clear that while there is little research stating that waxing causes skin infections, there is the potential risk of contracting the infection from the studio and then the risk of exposing your skin to pathogens in the environment after the fact (I.e. the hot tub example).

I haven’t looked at the electrical epilator process in detail, but I don’t believe it exposes the skin in the same way that waxing does. Ill have to look in to that!

dearth vader March 7, 2013 at 10:53 am

Ah, yes, the consequences always come after the act, don’t they? After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Paige March 10, 2013 at 9:40 am

Absolutely–that was really the whole point of the post!
Thanks for reading.

Mary Hall March 8, 2013 at 11:04 am

Wonderfully written and well supported. Your explanation of how a wax might invite infection was easy to understand and really put the whole process into perspective. I found myself wincing quite a few times!

Paige March 10, 2013 at 9:41 am

Thanks Mary–I appreciate your comment!

Angela March 12, 2013 at 7:57 am

Thanks for the post! It is very hard to find good information on the risks of hair removal. I have once heard beauticians discuss this topic, and they were very concerned about more and more women wanting hair removal in parts that they were not comfortable waxing because of the health risks. They said that the skin around the vagina is too soft to do responsible waxing, so women might end up with dangerous tears, infections and stretched skin. They were also worried about the ‘pre-pubescent’ look being demanded of women by an increasing number of men.

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