Savvy womens Magazine

Women's Health Matters Q&A
Brazilian Waxing & Jogger's Nipples

By Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D. and Jacqueline Nardi Egan

When we were invited to write a women's health column by the editors of Savvy Women's Magazine, we were thrilled. We're both medical writers who have written extensively on women's health issues. We're constantly bombarded with health questions from family, friends, and friends of friends. They're usually from women, and are often about subjects they hesitate to mention to their doctors because they're too intimidated or too embarrassed. Or they may think that their questions are too trivial. We believe that all health-related concerns are important, and deserve attention. And we believe that our new Savvy Women's Magazine Women's Health Matters Column is the perfect place to address such questions. Since we're not medical doctors, the Q & As will focus on prevention and early detection, rather than treatment. All treatment-related questions should be directed to one's physician.

Q: I was surprised to hear that several of my friends favored Brazilian waxes. Are there any health benefits or drawbacks to removing pubic hair? And why is removing pubic hair so popular?

A: Your friends are part of a growing trend of both women and men who are opting to rid themselves of most or all their pubic hair by waxing, shaving, or laser. There's even a technical term for preferring to have hairless genitals: acomoclitism. In ancient Egypt, prostitutes removed their pubic hair to show that they didn't have lice or other infections. In the more recent past, this practice has been done primarily for cultural or religious reasons. Today, hairless genitals have become very popular for aesthetic and/or sexual reasons.

Unless a person must get rid of their pubic hair because of lice, there are no health benefits to doing it. However, there are many downsides. The most obvious: razors cuts, or hot wax or laser burns. The not so obvious: scratchy stubbles of new hairs growing in can irritate a sexual partner's genitals.

There are some other fairly common and more serious ramifications of this practice. Inflammation or infection of the hair follicle (folliculitis) is a common side effect; in severe cases, this can lead to permanent scarring. Viruses such as human papilloma virus (HPV) and herpes simplex can be reactivated. Women (and men) who have suppressed immune systems from diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and other serious conditions probably shouldn't have their pubic hair removed because of the risk of life-threatening viral and bacterial infections; nor should people who use the acne medication Acutane or other medications containing isotretinoin, because of an increased risk of developing serious skin lesions.

On the flip side, there are some reported benefits to having hair down there: pubic hair can act as a barrier to infections, as well as help reduce skin friction during intercourse. And last but not least, pubic hairs are purported to propagate pheromones, those sexy scents that help attract the opposite sex.

Q: My nipples sometimes get cracked and irritated, particularly after I work out at the gym. Should I be concerned?

A: You're not alone. Irritated nipples ' aka 'jogger's nipples' ' is one of the most common complaints of women (and men) who exercise and perspire. The repeated friction of the nipples ' especially sweaty ones ' against fabric can cause them to become red and inflamed. In very severe cases, dry, broken skin can bleed. Fortunately, jogger's nipples are usually a benign, though troublesome, problem that's easy to treat. Wearing a good sports bra can help shield your sweaty nipples from rubbing against a shirt and becoming chafed. So can sweat-wicking tops. Covering the nipples with a band aid or putting a dollop of petroleum jelly before jogging, jumping rope, or going to the gym can help reduce abrasion.

In some cases, however, irritated nipples can point to a chronic skin problem, such as atopic dermatitis, sometimes called eczema. Nipple eczema can be set off by an allergic reaction to the type of fabric or dye in a garment, or even the soap, detergent, or chemicals used to clean it.

An eczema-like rash on the nipple or breast can also be one of the few signs of Paget's disease of the breast, a rare type of breast cancer. Typically, only one nipple is affected. It may look flattened or inverted and may produce a straw-colored or reddish red discharge. When it comes to our nipples and breasts, when in doubt ' check it out!

Women's Health Matters' Columnists

Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D., is a medical sociologist and award-winning medical writer. Her articles have appeared in American Health, Ms., Newsweek, Redbook, Self, and Vogue; and she has appeared on numerous television talk shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show. Joan has written four other books, two with co-author Jacqueline: The Unofficial Guide to Overcoming Infertility and The Unofficial Guide to Getting Pregnant. She is a consultant at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center, on the board of the National Council on Women's Health, and lives in New York City with her husband, also a writer.

Jacqueline Nardi Egan is a medical journalist who specializes in developing and writing educational programs with and for physicians, allied health professionals, patients, and consumers. A former editor of Family Health magazine, she is currently Associate Editorial Director of Continuing Education Alliance. Jacqueline has been featured on several radio talk shows and appeared on The Early Show and Weekend Today in New York. She divides her time between Darien, Connecticut and Sag Harbor, New York.

Dr. Liebmann-Smith and Ms. Egan are co-authors of a new book, Body Signs: From Warning Signs to False Alarms...How to Be Your Own Diagnostic Detective, published by Bantam Books in January, 2008. Body Signs helps readers detect their own body signs and determine when a visit to the doctor may be needed.

If you have any questions or topics related to prevention or early detection that may be of interest to other women, please send them to us. Simply click here to contact us. Because we're not medical doctors, we won't be dealing with diagnostic methods or treatments. These should be directed to your physician. Unfortunately we can't acknowledge or respond to all questions. The senders of the questions that we do use in our column will not be identified in any way.