No matter your personal opinions and preferences about hair down there, pubes are surprisingly useful.
BuzzFeed Health spoke with three experts — Dr. Filamer Kabigting, assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, Dr. Rachel Miest, Minnesota-based dermatologist with Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Evan Rieder, assistant professor of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center — to learn more about pubic hair and best practices for grooming, whether you like your pubes au natural, nonexistent, or somewhere in between.
Here are all the interesting things they had to say.
1. Pubic hair acts as a cushion for your genitals and reduces friction when you’re having sex.
“Pubic hair acts like a defensive barrier between you and the things you come into contact with,” Rieder says. “It also protects against friction, preventing abrasions and injury of the surrounding skin.”
2. And it can potentially help protect you from bacterial infections and viruses during skin-to-skin contact.
“Its presence does prevent foreign particles, such as bacteria, from not only infecting the skin, but also from entering the body,” Miest says. “So pubic hair does potentially serve as a protective mechanism for STIs, and hair removal does put us at a higher risk for those infections, like herpes, HPV, and gonorrhea.” That’s not to say that going bare is going to cause an STI, but if your grooming method leaves you with abrasions or tears in the skin, it’s possible an infection can enter the body this way.
She adds that skin, in general, harbors bacteria and viruses, and pubic hair can help prevent them from spreading to others during sexual contact.
3. It’s called pubic hair because of where it grows: in the lower part of the abdomen just above the genitals, aka the pubis region.
“Anatomically that region is called the pubis, which is why it’s called pubic hair,” Kabigting says.
4. Pubic hair transplants are a real thing in some places where having more pubic hair is seen as a sign of fertility and attractiveness.
“Dermatologists and plastic surgeons are performing pubic hair transplants in the US too, but not in great quantity,” Rieder says. “South Koreans see pubic hair as attractive, and they’re usually on the forefront of cosmetic dermatology, coming up with innovations years before new products and techniques reach America.”
5. And yes, pubic wigs (aka merkins) are a thing.
“They are definitely a niche interest, but they do exist,” Rieder says. “Before the advent of penicillin (the gold standard for the treatment of syphilis), prostitutes would wear merkins to cover up the appearance of sexually transmitted infections. They’ve also reportedly been used on stage for actors who were playing roles of the opposite sex.”
6. It’s a myth that when you shave, your pubic hair will grow in thicker.
“When a new hair comes in, it’s actually tapered at the end like a javelin, making the hair look like it’s thinner,” Rieder says. “And when you shave, you cut off that tapered end, getting a jagged, blunt tip that makes it look like the hair is growing in thicker.”
Kabigting says the only way to actually make a pubic hair grow in thinner is by getting laser hair removal treatment.
7. At a certain length (usually relatively short but it’s different for everyone) your pubic hair will stop growing.
“Every hair that we have has three specific stages during its life cycle: growth, rest, and ultimately shedding, which can be different lengths of time for every individual and every area of their body,” Miest explains. “And in most cases your pubic hair is like your eyelash hairs in that it will grow to a short length and then fall out on its own.”
The length your hair will grow to is determined by genetics (think about how some people just have longer eyelashes than others), so you don’t need to worry about having to throw it in a ponytail or braid it if you decide to go au natural.
8. Your pubic hair can be a completely different color than the hair on the rest of your body.
“Melanin is a protein that gives hair its color and it’s found in different quantities in different areas of the body,” Rieder says. “For many people, there is little variation, but for others, the color of the scalp, underarm, and pubic hair is not always the same.”
9. Evolutionarily speaking, pubic hair starting to come in signals that puberty and sexual maturation are on their way.
“Pubic hair begins growing in when people start to mature and go through puberty,” Rieder says. “It’s a sign that someone is able to start procreating, which makes sense since pubic hair’s supposed main purpose is to protect the genitals during sex.”
10. Pubes can thin out with age, and some people go completely bald in their genital region.
Some thinning of the body hair is common with age, but Rieder says that for women, pubic balding or thinning can sometimes be due to hormonal imbalances associated with menopause.
There are also several medications and medical conditions that can cause pubic hair loss in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, he says. If you’re experiencing pubic hair loss, definitely let your doctor know.
11. According to all three experts, grooming habits are culturally-specific, and within the past few decades people in the US have been grooming their pubes more frequently than in the past.
“Grooming habits are very cultural and are in some ways influenced by fashion trends and the media,” Kabigting says. “There has been a big shift towards grooming pubic hair here, and the clients I see say it’s because of a range of reasons from swimwear trends, to what’s seen in movies and TV shows, to what’s being done in the pornography industry.”
He also says some people just like the way shaved genitals look and feel and that it sometimes has nothing to do with outside influence.
12. A 2016 study showed that most women who groomed their pubic hair did so for “hygienic purposes” but actually, it’s more hygienic to have pubes.
“People believe that it’s more hygienic to shave their pubic hair, so they make it a habit, especially if there’s a chance they’ll be having sex or oral sex, because they want to be ‘clean’ for their partner,” Kabigting says. “It’s not the hair, but the genitals and the folds of the skin on the genitals that can be a good breeding ground for bacteria.”
He says that as long as you’re showering and practicing good hygiene, your pubic hair isn’t going to be a hellish petri dish of infectious bacteria.
13. Also, people in the US who are younger or have sex regularly seem more likely to be concerned with grooming their pubes.
In one study, the majority of men who reported grooming said they did so as preparation for sex, and in another study the most common motivation for women who groomed their pubic hair was hygiene. In both studies, younger respondents were more likely to groom.
“In my experience with clients, people stop shaving when they get older because shaving is tedious and they just don’t care about maintaining it as much anymore,” Kabigting says.
14. Grooming your pubes can cause irritation because it’s basically microscopically wounding your skin.
Miest says waxing or plucking your pubic hair is going to cause microscopic damage because you’re forcibly removing the hair from its follicle. And shaving can cause the same thing if you’re using a blade that isn’t sharp enough and isn’t sterile (which, let’s be honest, most of ones we’re using probably aren’t) and if you’re usually shaving against the grain to get as much of the hair as possible.
So, if you are going to get rid of your pubes, do the best you can to minimize the stuff that causes irritation. Here are some ways to make your next Brazilian wax less terrible, for example. And if you’re getting it done professionally, make sure you’re going to someone who can meet whatever specific needs you might have around the sensitivity of your skin, the products you like, etc.
Miest recommends that right after you shave, wax, or remove your pubes, you keep the area clean and dry and use a topical steroid cream to reduce inflammation. Don’t scrub the area, and consider taking a break from working out because the added friction can cause irritation.
15. Having small abrasions and a super irritated crotch post hair-removal makes you more susceptible to inflammation and bacterial infection.
“I would say the most common thing that we see with hair removal is inflammation of the hair follicles or folliculitis,” Miest says. “The open wounds and irritation make it easier for bacteria to get in and infect the recently waxed or shaven area.”
She says folliculitis shows up as pink pustules, which can grow to be much larger than pimples and can be firm, tender, and red. Sometimes if the bumps are really serious, it may mean there’s something more serious going on than just an infection, and you’ll want to see your dermatologist to get checked out and maybe treated.
“Sometimes hairs won’t be able to grow through the hair follicle and out of the pore at all, and will end up growing just underneath the surface of the skin causing swelling and inflammation,” Miest explains. “The hair will forcibly grow for as long as you let it so you’ll have to remove it, or get it removed.”
She says the best way to do this is take a sharp sterile object (like a needle) and after softening the hair and the surrounding skin with a warm compress, dislodge the hair. But, this can be dangerous, so only do it if the hair is really close to your skin’s surface and you can visibly see it. If you can’t, you should see your dermatologist to have it removed.
Waxing and shaving can also increase your chances of ingrown hairs, which we’ll get into shortly.
17. You are more prone to ingrown hairs if you have thick and curly hair or a thick layer of dead skin that blocks the hair pore.
Rieder says that thick and curly hairs have a much harder time growing out of the hair follicle and smoothly exiting the skin than straight and thinner hairs, because they have a harder time growing in a straight line through the follicle shaft.
If you have curly or thick hair, here are a few tips on shaving that may help make the process less painful/reduce your ingrowns.
“The hair can also get trapped if you have a layer of dead skin over the follicle surface, again, especially if you have thick and curly hair,” Rieder says. “If you’re getting ingrown hairs chronically, use an exfoliator to help get rid of the dead skin a couple times a week.”
18. Pubic hair can also grow out of the skin, then curl downward and pierce the skin like a splinter, and grow back underneath the surface.
“It’s basically like getting a splinter and can be really common,” Kabigting says. “Pubic hair tends to be more curly and kinky, so they can curl down and pierce the epidermis. The body will recognize the hair as a foreign body and try to get rid of it, which will cause redness and swelling.”
He says the best thing you can do if this happens is to put a warm compress on your skin. Once the hair and surrounding area have softened, pull the hair out from where it’s gotten stuck (make sure you clean the area beforehand).
19. If you have an ongoing problem with ingrown hairs, dermatologists recommend you stop shaving or waxing, and just let yourself go free down there.
Waxing can contribute to ingrown hairs because when follicles are irritated or inflamed, hair has a harder time growing smoothly, Miest explains.
And she says shaving causes ingrown hairs because cutting the hair at an angle and shaving as close to the skin as possible gives the hair a jagged edge just beneath the surface of the skin, making it easy to pierce through the follicle and grow at an angle not ever making it to the surface.
20. If you have super persistent ingrown hairs, you may want to consider laser hair removal.
“Some people, even if they stop waxing and shaving, can still be prone to ingrown hairs, depending on their hair and skin types,” Rieder says. “You can still get ingrown hairs if you’re not shaving or waxing, particularly in places where the hair is naturally coarse and curly.”
Kabigting says that after multiple laser hair removal treatments your pubic hairs shouldn’t grow in, but even if they do, they will be of a much finer quality, reducing your risk of ingrown hairs. This is because laser therapy targets the follicular stem cells, and if you’re reducing the number of those cells then the hair won’t be able to grow in as full.
21. If there’s any blood when you pluck a hair, it means you pulled too hard and caused trauma to the hair follicle.
“Plucking your hairs can be worse than waxing and shaving because you’re applying all your force to that one single hair and actually uprooting the follicle and causing trauma,” Kabigting says. “That’s why sometimes blood comes out once the hair is removed. As a result, plucking also increases the likelihood of ingrown hairs.”
22. To minimize damage to the follicles, wait at least six weeks between waxing.
Miest says that if you’re getting a wax and the hair is not the appropriate length, it could cause collateral damage to the surrounding skin, increased pain, and trauma to the hair follicle.
“Typically, the hair growth cycle is close to six weeks,” she says. “So you usually want to wax six weeks from your last appointment because that’s when the hair will be long enough to get it done with less damage.”
23. BUT, less pubic hair does mean fewer cases of crabs (aka pubic lice).
“With increased rates of shaving over the past 10 or so years, it’s become a cultural phenomenon to shave all pubic hair, which has resulted in a decrease of pubic lice cases,” Kabigting says. “It may be the only actual health benefit of reducing the amount of pubic hair you have.”