Beauty "Down There": New Trends in Products and Procedures for Your Lady Parts

Skin Care

girl is hiding panties

Exactly how much must lady parts go through until they’re deemed “attractive”? Once upon a time, when it came to the land down under, pubic hair style was the biggest concern women faced. Then came accoutrements, accessories like vajazzling to add a little extra pizzazz. But in the last several years, the ante has been upped, and now it takes more than waxing strips and a few rhinestones to maintain your lady parts. Apparently.

Now, there’s vaginal bleaching, tightening cream, and vaginal cosmetic surgery. Instead of just having to worry about whether you’re a Brazilian or a full bush kind of gal, you now have to consider what kind of vagina you want to have and what shade it should be. Remember when everyone got “The Rachel” — Jennifer Aniston’s “Friends”-era haircut? Welcome to the age when some women slap down a photo of an adult entertainment star’s privates in the plastic surgeon’s office and say, “I want to look like her!”

[Read More: Product Review: Clean and Dry Intimate Wash by Midas (and a Little Rant from Dr. Taha)]

But is this really a good idea? For the present article, I’m going to suspend discussion of the political ramifications of such a trend (we’ll leave that up to you) and, instead, focus on the science of whether or not these procedures are OK.

Is Vaginal Bleaching Safe?

Some ingredients can be more sensitizing than others in vaginal and anal bleaching creams.
Some ingredients can be more sensitizing than others in vaginal and anal bleaching creams.

It’s not just vaginal bleaching that’s seen a raise in popularity; anal bleaching is also a hot, new procedure. The vaginal bleaching trend began in India and parts of Eastern Asia, where there has historically been a desire for fairer skin. But now, as women look for the perfect shade, they’re turning to products that will bleach them.

The ingredients they’re likely to contain kojic acid or hydroquinone, which are generally the same ingredients used in lightening creams anywhere else on the body. Both work by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme responsible for melanin production.

[Read More: Which is Better Kojic Acid or Hydroquinone?]

Kojic acid has been linked to cases of contact dermatitis in concentrations of 2.5% (Dermatologic Surgery). Think that if your bleaching cream has a lower concentration you’re safe? Think again. Even at just 1%, kojic acid sometimes causes cases of contact dermatitis and be sensitizing (Contact Dermatitis).

It’s also possible to be sensitive or allergic to hydroquinone. There are other issues too. From a practical standpoint, hydroquinone has been linked to ochronosis (reflex darkening of the skin). While it is quite rare (and worse in darker skin tones), it’s still a counterproductive possibility (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology). And keep in mind that hydroquinone is less stable is cosmetics than the more-irritating kojic acid (Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology).

If we were to quibble over which of the two is better, hydroquinone is less likely to cause irritation. (Because ochronosis is a problem, it’s best to consult a dermatologist before use). But there are risks to putting either on your genitals. And it’s important to always patch test, because I honestly can’t think of a worse place for irritation and contact dermatitis than you privates.

Is Vaginal Tightening Cream Effective?

If you want to tighten the muscles of your vagina, forget cream and start exercises.
If you want to tighten the muscles of your vagina, forget cream and start exercises.

Recently there’s been uproar about an Indian company’s cream, called 18 Again, because of it’s politically charged commercial (BBC). The creators acknowledged upfront the cream didn’t restore virginity … just built inner-confidence and restore the feelings a woman had as a virgin.

But let’s forget the gender and sexual politics surrounding this issue (we’ll leave that up to you).  If you want your lady parts to be tight, studies show creams probably aren’t a good bet.

Why? The biggest problem with this cream in terms of efficacy is that it doesn’t actually go deep enough into the skin to do any tightening, regardless of the ingredients. The “tightening” of the vagina is cause by muscle strength. If you could use a cream to strengthen the muscles in your vagina, well, let’s say we’d probably all forgo the gym as a whole and just start slathering it on our thighs and abs. Alas, just like there’s no cream that will make us bikini models, there’s no cream that will tighten the muscles in our vaginas.

If you’re really looking for an easy way to tighten things up down below, the best way to do it is the same way you’d try to get abs: exercise. Kegel exercises, such as squeezing the pelvic muscles at intervals, will have much better results than a cream (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

What About Vaginal Cosmetic Surgery?

Just as you would for any procedure, you want your doctor to fully explain the benefits and risk of surgery on your lady parts.
Just as you would for any procedure, you want your doctor to fully explain the benefits and risk of surgery on your lady parts.

The first important point to make is that some women get vaginal cosmetic surgery to fix a serious problem. For example, damaged genital regions after cancer or child birth, or anatomy that inhibits their lives. That said, there are increasing numbers of women undergoing this surgery for purely cosmetic reasons.

This is not a problem in and of itself. What a woman chooses to do with her body and money are her discretion, and not for us to comment on. Bearing in mind, it is doctors’ responsibility to determine that a woman is acting without coercion and to inform patients of the potential treatment options, as well as the risks and benefits of such a surgery.

One of the biggest problems is that these surgeries are not standardized and as the popularity increases, so do the surgeons performing them. Because there’s no standard method, surgeons may not yet be using universally-agreed upon methods for the surgeries (Obstetrics and Gynecology).

Most of the surgeries are labiaplasty, which involves the vaginal lips, not the interior. These surgeries typically correct large size and/or asymmetries in the size and shape of the lips.  But there are numerous other surgeries, including those to tighten the actual vaginal canal and those to reduce the clitoral hood and expose more of the clitoris.

For each of these, it’s possible to find anecdotal evidence about successes and failures. While successes might be increased sensation for the woman during sex, a failure could mean that a woman is totally incapable of engage in straight up sexual intercourse (Marie Claire). In one instance, a patient had her clitoral hood reduced an acceptable amount, so much so that she had to have it rebuilt because she had constant stimulation after the reduction.

So, simply stated, for a purely cosmetic procedure, while the results could be somewhat beneficial, they could also be totally detrimental to one’s health. This is an important consideration to make before a procedure.

Bottom Line

We’re starting to explore new frontiers in making “down there” more attractive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should all hop on board. When it comes to your lady parts, some of these products and procedures just might not be worth it. Lightening creams can cause sensitivity and contact dermatitis, as well as potential darkening. Tightening creams don’t work — but exercises can solve the problem of weak muscles. And, finally, surgery on your downstairs isn’t totally standardized and while it’s your choice and no one else, it’s important that your doctor has a very frank conversation about all the possible outcomes of the surgery.

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  • jen

    Yikes, my vagina reflexively cringed while reading this article. In the strangest way – we women appear to actively contribute to the objectification and sexualization of ourselves. I’m grateful that your article highlighted the drawbacks to these three procedures. We women need to appreciate ourselves and the bodies that we live in. I just wish that thought was a stronger social meme than the memes that state that we should be youthful, beautiful, perfect, skinny (even 1 day after giving birth).

  • Natalie Bell

    @Stephanie — Thank you so much! In my personal opinion, I think many of these products prey on women’s insecurities. I also think that there’s a big ethical dilemma when it comes to cosmetic surgeries on vaginas. Reconstructive surgery is one thing, but cosmetic surgery that could end in permanent issues could really be a problem.

  • Stephanie

    This is a fantastic post! Is any of this ethical? I mean, does it seem like these companies (especially the tightening cream company) is preying on women? It’s so sad that we as women have so many social stigmas to try to live up to. Can’t we leave our vaginas out of it?

  • Natalie Bell

    @Rozy — Thank you for reading and commenting! There’s definitely discussion in the medical community about whether this kind of procedure is ethical, given the potential for losing function for purely cosmetic reasons.

  • Rozy

    As a feminist I find the idea of “cosmetic” genital surgery extremely offensive and degrading. I would never want to risk losing sexual pleasure.

  • Natalie Bell

    @Janessa: Thank you so much for taking time to comment! Readers like you keep me excited to research and write articles every day!

  • Janessa

    Oh, Natalie! You bring up the coolest posts :], though these products and procedures are quite ridiculous. Women need to love their parts, not treat them like beauty objects; society often does that well enough.

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