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Pubic Hair and the Urinary and Vaginal Microbiome

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Read our disclaimer for details. Identifier: NCT03272204
Recruitment Status : Completed
First Posted : September 5, 2017
Last Update Posted : June 4, 2020
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
Margaret Mueller, Northwestern University

Brief Summary:
This research study seeks to find if there is a connection between the presence of pubic hair and the type of bacteria that live in the vagina and bladder.

Condition or disease Intervention/treatment Phase
Healthy Behavioral: No pubic hair Behavioral: Pubic Hair Not Applicable

Detailed Description:
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common bacterial infections. In 2007, in the United States alone, there were an estimated 10.5 million office visits for UTI symptoms (constituting 0.9% of all ambulatory visits) and 2-3 million emergency department visits. UTIs are significantly more common in women and are a leading cause of urogynecology referrals. In women, the vagina plays a key role in the pathogenesis of UTIs. The initial step in the pathogenesis of UTI is colonization of the vaginal opening and peri-urethra with uropathogens from the intestinal microbiota, followed by ascension of uropathogens via the urethra to the bladder and sometimes the kidneys to cause infection. Thus, understanding factors that affect the microbiota of the vagina is key to understanding the pathogenesis of UTI. Likewise, since Wolfe et al published the first evidence of a urinary microbiome in 2012, there has been growing interest in whether the content of this microbiome could correlate with symptoms of the lower urinary tract. The urinary microbiome has been shown to correlate with symptoms of urgency incontinence but to date, there is no data on whether the composition of the urinary microbiome is associated with any change in risk for UTIs. If the urinary microbiome could play a role in the acquisition of clinical infection, then the factors that affect the microbiome of the bladder would be important in preventing UTIs. One plausible and modifiable factor that may change the vaginal and urinary microbiome is the presence of pubic hair. Hair in other parts of the body (nose, ears, eyebrows) traps and stops the passage of pathogens into our mucous membranes. Additionally, the sebum produced by hair follicles is bacteriostatic. However, some form of pubic hair grooming is performed by the majority of pre-menopausal women (83%) and 62% of women between age 18-40 report having removed ALL of their pubic hair at one point in life. This is predominantly done by using non-electric razors (61%) but other women use lasers, waxing and depilatory creams. Fifty-nine percent of women who perform pubic hair removal report their primary reason is to improve hygiene. However, there is no data that this practice changes hygiene, with the exception of preventing pubic hair lice. On the contrary, pubic hair removal has been associated with skin injury leading to inoculation of bacteria and viruses. In a recent cross-sectional study of pubic hair and sexually transmitted infections, researchers found that frequent pubic hair grooming was correlated with a higher risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This preliminary work raises the question of whether the presence of pubic hair affects the vaginal or urinary microbiome, thereby changing a woman's risk of infection in either organ. Furthermore, specific pelvic floor disorders (PFDs) including painful bladder syndrome and urgency urinary incontinence have been associated with specific microbiome profiles. Therefore, by falsely attempting to maintain pelvic health through grooming practices, women might inadvertently be exposing themselves to PFDs mediated by changes in their urinary or vaginal microbiomes. The aim of this study is to address this question through a pilot study of urinary and vaginal microbiomes in women with and without pubic hair AND in the same woman with and without pubic hair.

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Study Type : Interventional  (Clinical Trial)
Actual Enrollment : 43 participants
Allocation: Non-Randomized
Intervention Model: Crossover Assignment
Masking: None (Open Label)
Primary Purpose: Basic Science
Official Title: Effects of Pubic Hair Grooming on Urinary and Vaginal Microbiome
Actual Study Start Date : October 1, 2017
Actual Primary Completion Date : June 14, 2019
Actual Study Completion Date : June 14, 2019

Arm Intervention/treatment
Natural Pubic Hair
Participant with natural hair crosses over to removed pubic hair
Behavioral: No pubic hair
Natural pubic hair to fully removed pubic hair

Removed Pubic Hair
Participant with no pubic hair crosses over to natural pubic hair
Behavioral: Pubic Hair
Removed pubic hair to natural pubic hair

Primary Outcome Measures :
  1. Comparison of Urinary and Vaginal Microbiomes [ Time Frame: up to 3 months ]
    Describe and compare the urinary and vaginal microbiome in the same woman with natural pubic hair and with fully removed pubic hair

Secondary Outcome Measures :
  1. Questionnaire Comparison [ Time Frame: up to 3 months ]
    To compare questionnaire results for standardized patient surveys in the same woman with and without pubic hair

  2. Self-Reported Infections [ Time Frame: up to 3 months ]
    Comparing self-reported vaginal infections and urinary tract infections between women who have natural pubic hair and women who fully remove their pubic hair

  3. Subtracting Microbiome Results [ Time Frame: up to 3 months ]
    To suggest whether the transurethral urinary microbiome can be determined by subtracting the vaginal microbiome from the voided urinary microbiome

Information from the National Library of Medicine

Choosing to participate in a study is an important personal decision. Talk with your doctor and family members or friends about deciding to join a study. To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contacts provided below. For general information, Learn About Clinical Studies.

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Ages Eligible for Study:   18 Years to 50 Years   (Adult)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   Female
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   Yes

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Pre-menopausal women between the ages of 18-50
  • English-speaking
  • Women with either natural growth/distribution of pubic hair or complete removal of pubic hair through a reversible process.
  • Women who do not feel they have urinary or vaginal health problems and are not seeking care for these issues
  • Women must be willing and able to complete study documentation and study procedures.

Exclusion Criteria: Women will be excluded for any of the following:

  • Hair has been removed through an irreversible process like laser or electrolysis
  • Patient feels they have bothersome urinary or pelvic floor conditions for which they are seeking care (for example: vaginal prolapse, frequent urinary incontinence, chronic pelvic pain, bladder pain)
  • Patient plans on having any type of surgery in the next 2 months (due to likely antibiotic use)
  • Patient has a history of a transplant and is on immunosuppression
  • Patient has cancer for which she is currently getting chemotherapy or radiation
  • Currently taking or has taken antibiotics in the last 7 days for any reason
  • Patient has symptoms of a urinary tract or vaginal infection or is found on exam or culture to have a urinary tract infection or vaginal infection
  • Patient is pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Patient has douched in the last 48 hours
  • Patient has had intercourse in the last 48 hours
  • Patient is currently menstruating

Information from the National Library of Medicine

To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contact information provided by the sponsor.

Please refer to this study by its identifier (NCT number): NCT03272204

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United States, Illinois
Northwestern University
Chicago, Illinois, United States, 60611
Sponsors and Collaborators
Margaret Mueller
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Principal Investigator: Margaret G Mueller, MD Northwestern University
Publications automatically indexed to this study by Identifier (NCT Number):
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Responsible Party: Margaret Mueller, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Urology, Northwestern University Identifier: NCT03272204    
Other Study ID Numbers: STU00205206
First Posted: September 5, 2017    Key Record Dates
Last Update Posted: June 4, 2020
Last Verified: June 2020

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Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Drug Product: No
Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Device Product: No
Keywords provided by Margaret Mueller, Northwestern University:
pubic hair; grooming; urinary tract symptoms; vaginitis