From the moment we sprout our first wiry hairs, we’re conditioned to think they should be trimmed or yanked. Just look at all the advertisements, gadgets, and methods out there for wrangling pubes.
And that’s just until we meet someone who then says au naturel is the way to go.
Maybe that’s a partner who likes a lush look or a gal pal who’s a free bird. Everyone’s got an opinion about pubic hair. No wonder we’re confused on which way is really best for us.
Should you nix your monthly wax? Are there benefits to having a bush? “Pubic hair patterns vary widely, according to one’s age, ethnicity, and most importantly, their own individuality,” says Katy Burris, a dermatologist at ColumbiaDoctors and assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center. “Although the trend at this time encourages grooming, or even removal, of pubic hair, it should be a decision one makes for themselves.”
So how do you decide what to do with your hair down there? We’ve plucked some pointers and safety tips from the experts.
1. Letting it grow
If you’re going au naturel, you don’t need to do anything. Your hair will only grow to a short length. You won’t look like Rapunzel down there. You can trim or shape to your liking using a dedicated pube clipper, trimmer, or haircutting shears.
Pro tip: If you use scissors, disinfect them first. Designate the tool as your official pube cutter. Don’t use it on anything else. For your clipper or trimmer, follow the manufacturer’s directions for keeping it clean. Don’t share it.
“Anyone who shaves knows that it’s not uncommon to cut the skin accidentally,” Burris says. Plus, shaving can cause tiny tears that we don’t even know are there. This creates opportunity for bacteria to enter. That’s why it’s important to operate with a clean razor and a clean bikini zone.
Pro tip: Suzanne Friedler, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology PC in New York City, recommends using a shaving gel or other lubricant to protect your skin. Slather on a moisturizer and an over-the-counter cortisone cream afterward to counteract any irritation. Avoid applying products around the vaginal opening.
3. Waxing and threading
Waxing and threading both yank hair out by the root. According to Friedler, this could expose the follicle to infections like:
Pro tip: That doesn’t mean you have to shy away from these methods. Just choose a reputable salon that follows proper protocol. Your aesthetician should have a clean workstation, wear gloves, and never double dip the waxing stick. They should also have you fill out a consultation form prior to your first treatment. The waxing or threading table should be draped with a clean, disposable paper.
4. Chemical depilatories
Chemical depilatories break down hair so it washes away from your skin. Although convenient to use, they can lead to allergic reactions and irritation. Many people are sensitive to these products. Be sure to do a small patch test on your skin before trying on a larger area. Avoid using near the vaginal opening.
5. Laser hair removal or electrolysis
Laser hair removal and electrolysis are different methods of long-term hair removal. They both target the hair follicle underneath your skin’s surface. With electrolysis, Buka says scar tissue is a concern. If you have a history of keloid scar tissue, this approach isn’t a good choice.
When it comes to both of these options, Buka recommends finding a trained medical professional to administer the treatments. Think twice before jumping on a coupon-code bandwagon without doing your homework. “It could mean you’re rolling the dice,” he says.
Although pubic hair has many modern purposes, it likely played a larger role in health long before humans had an array of undies or chafe-resistant leggings in their dresser drawers. “Pubic hair is the vestigial hair from our days as apes,” says Bobby Buka, a dermatologist and contributing founder and chief science officer of the First Aid Beauty skin care line.
These days you can do as you please: Keep it all, trim it up, or go buff. “While natural is probably the healthiest,” says Friedler, “having good habits for trimming and shaping can make any style a healthy one.”
Pick a style
If you do decide to head to the salon for a waxing sesh, communication is everything. Don’t be shy while you’re spread-eagle. Describe to your aesthetician exactly what you want — or don’t want.
|bikini||removes the pubes that peek out of your panty line|
|Brazilian, aka Hollywood or Full Monty||removes all the hair from your pubic area, labia, and even your bum|
|French||the happy medium between a bikini wax and a Brazilian; it leaves your labia and bum hair intact but tidies up the front|
Pick a shape
For any waxing option, you’ve got a shape choice as well. If you’re going Brazilian, you can choose to keep some rug up front and select a cut. If you’re choosing the French wax style, your shape will trail down your labia.
|Hair shapes||What it’s like|
|landing strip||a classic, short-haired, inch-wide path|
|mohawk||landing strip but with a thicker line|
|postage stamp||a square version of the landing strip|
|Bermuda triangle||wide at the top, narrow at the bottom|
|martini glass||trimmer than a triangle|
|heart||a romantic choice|
|vajazzle||adhesive faux jewels temporarily adorn your nether regions|
Ingrown hairs are the bane of shaving, waxing, threading, and chemical depilatory hair removal. But they don’t have to be. “An ingrown hair is your immune system’s reaction to a hair growing sideways,” Buka explains. Your body begins building up scar tissue around the area.
If you do get a case of red bumps, avoid using tweezers or other devices to remove them. “This often leads to more trauma in the area and increases the risk of bacterial infections,” Burris says. “Warm compresses can help reduce the inflammation, and the hair may heal on its own and spontaneously dislodge.”
Try over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to bring down swelling and benzoyl peroxide to nix bacteria, Buka recommends. Again, avoid using products near the vaginal opening. If an ingrown hair doesn’t resolve or becomes painful, see your doctor or dermatologist.
As a general rule, if it’s on our bodies, it’s probably there for a reason. The same is true for our pubes.
“Pubic hair functions to cushion and protect the sensitive skin around the genitals,” Burris says. “It also plays a role in hygiene, trapping dirt and bacteria and preventing it from entering the vaginal opening. Although many people feel it’s more hygienic to remove the hair, it’s actually the opposite.”
Pubic hair’s purpose
- protects the vaginal opening
- wicks away sweat
- prevents chafing
- offers some infection protection
- plays a role in basic sexual instincts
Our pubes help wick away sweat from our bodies for faster evaporation, explains Friedler. Essentially, our pubic hair can help cool us down when we’re on a run or dripping puddles at the hot yoga studio. And there’s a bonus: “Hair acts as a barrier, which prevents friction and chafing,” Friedler adds.
Speaking of activities: “Last I heard, sex was a contact sport,” says Angela Jones, an OB-GYN and Astroglide’s resident sexual health advisor. Our pubes can step up and prevent irritation while in the sack, but that’s not all.
Although more research needs to be done on this topic, leaving your pubes intact — rather than risking nicks, cuts, or abrasions — could offer some protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “Certain STIs have an increased risk of spreading or being acquired if there’s a compromised skin surface involved,” Jones explains. But our pubes aren’t meant as a substitute for using protection, such as condoms, during sexual activity.
Our pubic hair also plays a role in finding the person to do the rolling with. Hair traps the scents commonly known as pheromones that our apocrine glands produce. “These scents are important for mating in all types of animals,” Friedler explains.
All in all, don’t stress too much about what to do with your pubic hair. You can always do nothing if you desire, and that’s perfectly fine. And if you’ve ever wondered if your doctor cares about your pubes, here’s your answer:
“I have women apologizing to me all the time about not grooming or shaving before they come in for their gynecological visits,” Jones says. “OB-GYNs don’t care. It’s your choice. Hair or bare, women are beautiful regardless.”
Jennifer Chesak is a Nashville-based freelance book editor and writing instructor. She’s also an adventure travel, fitness, and health writer for several national publications. She earned her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill and is working on her first fiction novel, set in her native state of North Dakota.