Rx for Readers

My 17-year-old son has been caught up in the fad of removing hair from his abdomen with wax. Is it harmful?

abdomen 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
abdomen 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
My 17-year-old son is an amateur sportsman. Recently, he has been caught up in the fad of removing hair from his abdomen with wax. I worry that this could be harmful. Is it? R.M., Ra'anana Dr. Dov Stempler, a senior dermatologist at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Tzrifin, comments: Men and youths who have their hair plucked with wax or removed with lasers are at risk for acute infections in the follicles from which the hair grows; treatment can include antibiotics and even steroids. In the past, hair removal was considered fashionable only among male models and swimmers, but more recently it has spread to teenage boys and men with no connection to those professions who want to have smooth, hairless skin. Male hair plucking is usually done on the abdomen, back and shoulders. Naturally, hair in these locations is much thicker than in women, and the skin has more sebaceous glands. As a result, these areas are at higher risk for acne. When male hair in these locations is removed by wax or laser, there is a risk of a serious reaction characterized by folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles). Thus, if you insist on doing it, start with a small area of the skin, wait a few days and see the reaction. If there is no serious one, the hair in that area can be removed, but if there is a major reaction, it must be treated, and you should seriously reconsider whether to go ahead for more. In any case, there will always be a reddening of the skin and perhaps a mild local inflammation, which usually passes in a few days. The question is whether it will develop into acne with whiteheads (pimples with pus). In the event of a serious reaction, antibiotic cream has to be used and maybe also steroid salves. The infection can go on for months. Men with sensitive skin should apply antibiotic salves before having the hair removed and use a soap called Folliculi before and after. Folliculi cream should also be applied afterward to try to prevent folliculitis. With correct treatment, the infection should go away. However, if the hair removal is not repeated, the hair will return. More on 'tummy time' Dr. Anat Shatz, a pediatrician at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center involved in the reduction of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), comments on a recent query in this column about the increasing phenomenon of flattened heads when infants are put to sleep on their backs. The response, quoting the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), was that some infants indeed developed flat heads (plagiocephaly) from sleeping on their backs for hours on end and that if the head is flatted, the baby's head should be placed with its head turned on the opposite side and with a rolled-up towel or blanket beneath the back and hip on the flattened side, positioning the baby to 45 degrees. The AANS said that if positional therapy doesn't work, a helmet or band customized to the baby's head is worn more than 23 hours a day from the age of five months for two to six months. But the association said parents should not put babies to sleep on their stomachs because of the risk of flattening. Shatz notes that since the campaign encouraging back sleeping to reduce the risk of SIDS, several reports were published suggesting increased incidence of plagiocephaly. However, the real increase in reported incidents may simply reflect an increased awareness on the part of parents, other caregivers and health-care professionals. Babies sleeping on their backs are more likely to have had less than five minutes per day of "tummy time" and less likely to have been held in the upright position when awake. They are also more likely not to have had the head position varied when put down to sleep. To reduce the chance that flat spots will develop on a baby's head, says Shatz, it's currently recommended that a caregiver should provide "tummy time" whenever the baby is awake and someone is watching; also changing the head direction that the baby lies in the crib and minimizing time in car seats, carriers and bouncers would help. Infants should always be put to sleep on their backs, including day sleep, but should be provided "tummy time" when awake. Also parents should be aware that, contrary to the AANS recommendation, the American Association of Pediatrics' guidelines are that soft materials or objects (such as pillows, quilts, comforters or towels) should not be placed under a sleeping infant. In fact, soft objects and loose bedding should be kept out of the crib to provide a safe sleeping environment. Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to jsiegel@jpost.com, giving your initials, age and residence.