health

This woman caught an STI after getting a common salon treatment.

Image via iStock.

We’ve heard all kinds of hair removal horror stories. From DIY waxing nightmares, to hair removal creams ending in a visit to the emergency department, to accidentally getting your entire face waxed off.

These are all shocking stories in their own ways, yet this one takes the cake: a US woman contracted an STI during a wax. In Cosmopolitan magazine last year, Maddie Rubin recalled being told she’d seemingly caught molluscum contagiosum — a viral skin condition that’s common in children, but can be sexually transmitted among adults — from a “particularly bloody, painful” Brazilian.

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“I noticed little bumps on my bikini line/vulva area. Two of them were in a little cluster, and a few others were more sparse. They basically looked like … shiny bumps with a dimple in the middles and a waxy white core,” Rubin wrote. Naturally, she panicked.

Although doctors correctly diagnosed the skin condition, they couldn't figure out what has caused it. After extensive Googling, Rubin sought the advice of a dermatologist, who explained she'd been seeing increasing numbers of women contracting molluscum contagiosum from beauty salons.

Molluscum is a common skin problem with small, harmless raised spots. The spots can stay on the body for a few weeks, several months or more than a year. It is caused by the Molluscum Contagiosum Virus (MCV), which only lives in humans.

RELATED: The woman who caught HIV from a manicure.

One explanation for contracting the virus through a wax could be explained by "double dipping".  This is the practice of dipping a wooden spatula into hot wax, rubbing over the area to be waxed and then re-dipping into the wax using the same spatula. Salons typically use a fresh disposable wooden spatula for each dip, but some don’t, meaning that germs on a client’s skin can be transferred into the wax.

So is it possible to contract MCV from waxing? Well, one study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, examined patients infected with molluscum contagiosum, and 90 per cent of them had some kind of hair removal in their nether regions. Seventy percent shaved, 13 percent clipped, and 10 percent waxed away unwanted hair. (Post continues after gallery.)

But this doesn't necessarily mean it's from "double dipping". Dr Catherine Gazzard, a general practitioner in Melbourne, explains there are various ways it can happen.

"MCV is a common viral infection in children, and it is spread by direct contact with the skin. If the beautician had molluscum, it is possible that if she had it on her hands and didn't wear gloves that she might have infected the client." Dr Gazzard says.

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The more likely explanation is that patients who have  molluscum contagiosum have a vulnerable area of skin after a wax (and possibly broken skin which always makes infection more likely) and then came into contact with the virus, either from someone else with the infection touching the area, or from themselves.

"You can actually catch it from yourself, which is called auto-inoculation. That is, if the patient had lesions somewhere else on their body and then touched the area in question, the infection can spread to that area." Dr Gazzard says.

brazilian wax
(Image via iStock.)

But what happens if you do contract the virus?

"It's usually a benign and self-limiting infection, and most cases resolve spontaneously in 6-9 months (keep in mind that I have only seen it in children) depending how long it takes your immune system to mount a response. You can remove the lesions with cryotherapy (freezing) or curettage (scraping), or use creams to stimulate the immune system - but see a doctor for these.  Antibiotics do not work." Dr Gazzard says.

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The verdict: Almost any hair removal technique can result in skin damage that makes you more susceptible to STIs—but as long as your skin is in good shape, infection is unlikely. When it comes to waxing, stick to a sanitary salon to further reduce your risk. Beauty salon waxing guidelines vary in different countries, so if in doubt about your salons hygiene standards, ask. If you are concerned you have an STI, then see your doctor.

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