Brazilian Waxes Aren't Killing Off Crabs After All

We hate to ruin Bloomberg News' squirm-inducing trend story of the day, but there's no solid evidence that the increasing popularity of the bikini wax is, in fact, actually leading to the elimination of pubic lice.

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We hate to ruin Bloomberg News' squirm-inducing report of the day, but there's no solid evidence that the increasing popularity of the bikini wax is, in fact, actually leading to the elimination of pubic lice. And, yes, we've heard this "trend" story before.

"Pubic lice, the crab-shaped insects that have dwelled in human groins since the beginning of history, are disappearing. Doctors say bikini waxing may be the reason." So began the promising (if a little gross) story from Jason Gale and Shannon Pettypiece, which gained traction pretty fast this morning:

And we get the novelty — something as frivolous and shallow as going bare down there might actually be doing some good! But go ahead and look back at Gale and Pettypiece's first line and you'll notice that doctors only told them that the waxing "may be the reason." Hmmm.

There's also this very important piece of the story:

Incidence data aren’t kept by the World Health Organization in Geneva because the gray, six-legged, millimeter-long louse doesn’t transmit disease, and national authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and U.K.’s Health Protection Agency don’t collect the information."

So organizations that we normally rely on to give us health reports don't really keep data on pubic lice. And since they aren't keeping tabs on your crotch critters, we're forced rely on unestablished data sets and anecdotal evidence:

Historically, it’s been very difficult to get incidence data on pubic lice simply because people don’t like to report it,” said Richard Russell, director of medical entomology at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital. “In over 40 years, I could count on two hands the number of people who had brought pubic lice in for identification and admitted to knowing what they were.

Dr. Russell's evidence is purely anecdotal — if people aren't reporting the lice down there (maybe because it's too gross) and experts at the CDC aren't really keeping tabs on crabs (maybe because it's not that frequent), then we're not really sure what kind of data we're working with beyond a trend story.

Enter "bug_girl," a science writer for the website Skepchick who has a PhD in Entomology and is sort of like the Nancy Drew of pubic-lice trend pieces. Sorry, but, yes, this a thing — a lot of people get bikini waxes, okay? — and she notes that the correlation between going bare and crabs dying has been a news meme for the past five years or so, with stories showing up in The Guardian in 2008 and The Sydney Morning Herald in 2007. And all the stories in question cited that the Brazilian "might be to blame."

So why would newspapers and even some scientific papers rely on shaky anecdotal evidence?  According to 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.

Honestly? I think the only reason this paper made it past the journal editors was because it was about pubic lice, and crotch crickets are inherently interesting because of the pastures they graze in.

So, yes, basically if crabs were found in a less sexy area, there might be fewer people willing to rely on shaky evidence. Now, that's not to say that you shouldn't go bare. If the spirit moves you and you trust this evidence, by all means go ahead and trim down below. Just be careful: According to a study presented to the Société Internationale d'Urologie the number of injuries related to pubic-hair grooming in patients who go to the ER increased five-fold from 2002-2010, with 11,704 incidents in 2010. "Shaving razors were implicated in 83% of the injuries. Laceration was the most common type of injury (36.6%). The most common site of injury was the external female genitalia (36.0%)," the authors wrote. Ouch.

Photo of waxing by Adam Gregor via Shutterstock; Photo of pubic lice via Wikimedia Commons

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.