Talking sex with your doctor isn’t always easy. Whether you are afraid she will judge you, you just don’t feel comfortable sharing the intimate details of your life between the sheets, or you can’t think straight with a speculum between your legs, many people get tight lipped in the doctor’s office. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have questions.
We thought we’d help and every Thursday our friend Dr. Lissa Rankin will be answering your questions. The ones you couldn’t ask your doctor in person. Just leave your questions in the comments, or send em over to us. (We’ll keep it all anonymous for you.) Dr. Lissa will answer anything – really, anything – about sex and other lady things. Don’t be shy; she’s waiting for ya!
Q: Whenever I shave my bikini line or get waxed I get MASSIVE bumps down there. We’re talking HUGE. They hurt a ton and are super gross looking. Oh, and sometimes they pop (like a zit) and I get nauseous just looking at them. I can’t NOT wax/shave, but I also can’t handle these things. What is the cause and how can I prevent them?
A: I hear you, sister! Sounds like you’re suffering from what we call folliculitis, infected ingrown hairs that can be caused by shaving. We’ve all been there: it’s a hot, sunny day, and the beach beckons. You don your pink polka-dot bikini, only to discover that your Fabulous Furburger is flowing over the bikini line. Bathing suit still on, you grab the razor and maybe a little hand soap, and set to work scraping the pubes off your inner thighs. Problem solved, right? Maybe not. Two hours later, you’re covered with fire-engine red bumps advertising your bikini shave to the universe. And you can’t even swim because you’re so raw that the salt water makes you want to rip out your whole genital region and sling it into outer space.
And even in non-emergencies, when you do it right- soak in the bathtub first, lather up your pubes with the best shaving cream, and use a fresh, sharp razor, shave against the grain of what pubic hair wants- razor burn, ingrown hairs, itching, and burning often follow.
Why do we get razor burn? In addition to slicing through hair, razors shave off the top layer of the epidermis, resulting in tissue injury. The skin responds as it’s supposed to, by increasing blood flow to the area in order to heal the tissue injury, leaving you looking like a sunburned, plucked goose. Then there are the bumps, which result from shaving off puckered hair follicles that were damaged by the razor.
The easiest way to relieve the red rash of razor burn is to stop shaving and grab some boy-short swimming trunks. However, if the bikini beckons and you’re not interested in exposing your Furry Monkey to a beach full of hair-gazers, don’t fret. There are ways to shave safely and relieve the raging redness.
Tips For a Safe and Sane Bikini Shave
1. Before you shave, soak in a warm bath, which softens the hairs and allows for a gentler shave. Then exfoliate your bikini region with a loofah or shower puff to remove old, dead skin cells that could clog your pores. Bath products containing salicylic acid or glycolic acid may help prevent ingrown hairs, but some people are very sensitive to chemicals in this delicate region.
2. Purchase high quality razors and discard them after a few uses.
3. Choose a shaving cream with aloe or other soothing ingredients, and avoid shaving with bar soap, which further dries the skin, rather than hydrating it. An old fashioned shaving soap with a badger brush can work wonders. Try leaving the shaving cream on for a few minutes before you shave to further soften the hair.
4. Hold the area to be shaved taut, but not stretched. Shave in the direction the hair grows- with the grain, rather than against. Clean your razor with water between each swipe. If you must double back over an already shaved area, apply more shaving cream.
5. Apply ice to your freshly shaved bikini line to hasten the closing of your pores.
6. Try following shaving with a product like Tend Skin, which you can buy at the drug store. Aloe vera gel and tea tree oil sprays offer natural relief.
7. Wait at least 30 minutes after shaving to apply moisturizing lotion. This allows the pores to close after shaving, minimizing irritation.
8. Treat redness and irritation with over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. This topical steroid cream acts as an anti-inflammatory and constricts raging blood vessels. But don’t get hooked on it – chronic use can thin the skin and cause problems. Save hydrocortisone for serious irritation.
9. If you break out into pimples where you shave, zap zits with benzoyl peroxide cream.
10. Ingrown hairs can lead to pustules. If you are plagued by them, apply warm compresses to the pustule twice a day to encourage the hair to bust through. If this doesn’t work, or if the overlying skin is thin enough that you can see the hair, you can try unroofing the pustule yourself. Clean the area with hydrogen peroxide and use sterile tweezers or a needle to fish the wayward hair out of the pustule. Minimize squeezing and other trauma that can further damage the hair follicle and cause the ingrown hair to recur. When you locate the offending hair, don’t pluck it, which can further inflame the area. Just free it and encourage it to grow in the direction of the other hairs. If a pustule is especially large, surrounded by a lot of redness, or severely painful, or if you develop a fever, call your gynecologist or dermatologist right away.
[Like what you read here? Dr. Lissa's got a new book coming out in September: What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist if She Was Your Best Friend. Be sure to check it out for all the answers you want but were too afraid to ask.]