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Is hair removal linked to the risk of skin infections?

Waxing, shaving, and other kinds of fashionable methods of hair removal could increase the risk of skin infections, according to a report by doctors about a small number of cases.

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?


Removal of body hair and pubic hair by various methods is currently very fashionable. But there is some concern among specialist skin doctors (dermatologists) that the trauma that hair removal causes the skin and hair follicles could be linked with health problems.

In particular, dermatologists looked at cases of a highly contagious viral skin condition called molluscum contagiosum. It causes small, raised spots (papules) that can spread across the body and sometimes be itchy. Molluscum contagiosum can be passed on by touching contaminated materials such as towels and clothing. It can also be passed on through skin-to-skin contact during sex.

Over the past decade, the number of people who develop molluscum contagiosum after sexual contact has risen. Dermatologists were interested to find out if pubic hair removal, which exposes the skin, can cause people to scratch, and is linked with other sexually transmitted infections, could be related to molluscum contagiosum.

They looked at 30 people who were treated for molluscum contagiosum in one dermatology clinic in France between January 2011 and March 2012, and worked out how many people had waxed or removed their pubic hair.

What does the new study say?

Among the 30 patients, most (93 percent) had had their pubic hair removed, with the majority opting for shaving (70 percent). Among the rest, it had either been clipped (13 percent) or waxed (10 percent).

How reliable is the research?

This is a very small study, and much too small to be able to draw any firm conclusions. We don’t know if the risk relates to removing pubic hair only, or other kinds of body hair. There are lots of physical and social factors that put people at risk of sexually transmitted infections, and these are likely to be more important than body hair removal.

What does this mean for me?

The researchers say that, in spite of its limitations, this case study suggests that some kinds of hair removal could be a risk factor for molluscum contagiosum and certain other sexually transmitted infections. They argue that other kinds of hair removal, for example by lasers, could be safer. But while a study like this might make us think twice about hair removal, it’s too small to give any firm answers.

Published on March 20, 2013

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