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Brazilian Waxes Could Make Pubic Lice Go Extinct

Without pubic hair, people are that much safer from pubic lice

smithsonian.com

Image: CDC

This attractive little bugger is Pthirus pubis, otherwise known as crab lice or pubic lice. About 0.05 to 0.08 inches long, crab lice like to live around the course hair in the pubic area (although, fun fact, people can also get them on their eyelashes). So, logically, without that pubic hair, people are safe from pubic lice. Which is exactly what’s happening now that Brazilian bikini waxes are becoming more and more common. Well, sort of maybe, but probably not.

Bloomberg reports:

“ used to be extremely common; it’s now rarely seen,” said Basil Donovan, head of sexual health at the University of New South Wales’s Kirby Institute and a physician at the Sydney Sexual Health Centre. “Without doubt, it’s better grooming.”

The most extreme version of that grooming is the Brazilian wax, a technique that removes all the hair around the genital region using hot wax. Those who don’t wax, often use products like Nair or one of the other chemical hair removal products. And for those who make those products, business is booming. Bloomberg writes:

The global market for depilatories was worth $4.69 billion last year, according to London-based Euromonitor International Ltd., which estimates sales increased at a 7.6 percent average annual clip the past decade. Cincinnati-based P&G, Slough, England-based Reckitt Benckiser and Energizer Holdings Inc. (ENR), based in St. Louis, dominate the market, which Euromonitor predicts will reach $5.6 billion by 2016.

In fact, last year, a study found that the majority of college students—both men and women—do some sort of landscaping below the belt. They wrote:

While both genders reported similar rates of pubic hair removal, women reported greater frequency and higher normative, sexiness, and cleanliness reasons for pubic hair removal.

So what does all this grooming and removing mean for the pubic lice? Well, it’s really bad news, actually. Here’s Bloomberg again:

“Pubic grooming has led to a severe depletion of crab louse populations,” said Ian F. Burgess, a medical entomologist with Insect Research & Development Ltd. in Cambridge, England. “Add to that other aspects of body hair depilation, and you can see an environmental disaster in the making for this species.”

Now, there’s not really good data on just how common pubic lice is. Part of that is because it’s embarrassing and people don’t report it. Others simply might not know they have it, or not be bothered enough to seek treatment. But for a species obsessed with preserving other species, chances are most of us are okay with Pthirus pubis‘ habitat destruction and possible extinction.

Update: Okay, people, waxing probably won’t make pubic lice extinct, says Bug Girl:

There is a certain logical beauty in linking the destruction of Ho-Ha forests by clear-cutting and the death of the native fauna.  (A crab louse paper from 1983 describes them as “swinging from hair to hair” rather like monkeys, BTW.)  However, there simply is no evidence for for a link between snatch waxing and pubic lice decline.

 

More from Smithsonian.com:

Lice Evolution Tracks the Invention of Clothes
The Deep History of Dinosaur Lice

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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