Not. Even. Joking. But is vaginal pampering a legit example of next-generation beauty, or vanity gone bonkers?
Yep, skincare and cosmetics for, erm, down there
What do you call your vagina? Because if it’s something like foof, noony or any other cutesy-sounding moniker, it’s time you started taking it more seriously. Not just to give you the best chance of warding off gynae health issues (one in four British women fail to take up a smear test invitation), but because your vagina and its surrounding area is becoming a pretty big deal in the beauty industry. We’ve come a long way since Gwyneth Paltrow earned herself yet another eye-roll by extolling the virtues of vaginal steaming to ‘cleanse the uterus’. Intimate skincare – that is, products and treatments designed to upgrade the appearance, smell and feel of your genital area – is booming. The global feminine hygiene market is set to be worth £30 billion by 2022. Recent data gathered by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery showed labiaplasty has become one of the world’s fastest-growing cosmetic procedures, as more and more women seek to surgically alter the inner lips of their vulvas. And a Google search for ‘vagina skincare products’ delivers four and a half million results. Leading the way are brands such as intimate skincare company SASS and V Magic, whose products claim to ‘deliver the perfect balance of moisture, nutrition and support for the vulva area’. It’s fair to say that The Only Way Is Essex hasn’t done much to change the fundamentals of society (bar delivering Gemma Collins and her incredibly strong meme game), but it did bring the vajazzle into the British collective consciousness, paving the way for vajacials, which are now so mainstream, they’ve been performed live on ITV’S This Morning in front of a mortified Eamonn Holmes. A facial for your mons pubis (as in, the bit where you would have a bit of hair if you choose a Brazilian), labia and the skin surrounding it, the vajacial involves cleansing and AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) exfoliation, followed by a mask or peels – a treatment many of these new intimate products claim to let you replicate yourself at home. As well as this growing bounty of customised vulval cleansers and exfoliators – standing firmly in the skincare camp – there’s also an influx of (more controversial) intimate make-up products. The Perfect V – a brand that offers women the chance to ‘rejuvenate, enhance and beautify the V’ – sells its own Very V Luminizer (around £31 for 50ml), which ‘highlights, softens and illuminates’, should you find yourself with a burning desire to pretty up your bits. The most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard? Taking it even further is Passion Dust; a glitter capsule you insert into your vagina, where it breaks down to leave its shimmering mark on, presumably, your underwear – or anything else you choose to rub your genitals up against. You still there? Obviously, gynaecologists are unimpressed and have warned that the cost of sparkling discharge could be inflammation, infection and even tiny scratches in the vagina. So, yeah, totally not worth it.
AS NATURE INTENDED
Passion Dust aside, there’s a certain sense of empowerment emanating from these new launches. For centuries, simply the idea that women had genitals was an ‘out of sight, out
DOCTORS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT MEDICAL RAMIFICATIONS
of mind’ situation, so is the very fact that down-there exfoliators exist an indication that society now considers genitals as ‘normal’ as the rest of the female body? Or is it just a porn-inspired trend that does more to objectify than inspire? The jury’s out. What we do know is that, while an increasing number of women are beginning to add an extra step or two to their beauty regime, doctors are becoming concerned about the medical ramifications. ‘The vagina is a carefully balanced environment,’ says Dr Vanessa Mackay, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. ‘If you place a foreign object in there, or apply products to skin nearby that can make their way inside, you risk disturbing this balance, which may lead to infection.’ Which poses the question: do you actually need intimate skincare? Medical experts say no – to cleansing your bits as well as beautifying them. ‘You risk upsetting your vagina’s delicate ph and bacterial flora balances by using any of these products, which can lead to infection and inflammation,’ says Narendra Pisal, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology. Instead, it’s recommended that you stick to good old H²O to freshen up. ‘Remember, the vagina is designed to clean itself with natural secretions,’ adds Dr Mackay. If you do feel like you want to go the extra mile, ensure you’re using a cleanser that’s been specifically formulated for female genitals. SASS Intimate Purifying Cleanser (£6.99 for 100ml), for example, boasts probiotics, while The Perfect V Gentle Wash (around £15 for 100ml) is gentle and chic enough that it doesn’t need to be hidden away in your bathroom cabinet. But if you experience any sign of irritation, itching or redness – step away. While they might be convenient, the same rule applies to wipes sold by intimate
skincare brands. A study from Ohio State University identified a chemical preservative in flushable wipes that causes red lumps and allergic reactions – not exactly what you want to subject your privates to. Take into account the fact that last year Water UK reported that wipes make up about 95% of the material blocking sewers, and they’re best avoided all round. As for vajacials, Dr Anne Wetter, clinical dermatologist and co-founder of Allél, advises caution: ‘Peels can result in irritation, eczema and long-term problems, and there is a risk of harsh active ingredients reaching the mucous membrane of the vagina.’ Meanwhile, ingrown hairs are best tackled with a loofah, as tweezers can cause infection. Plus, most gynaecologists advise against using AHAS around the pubic area, voicing concerns that it may spread to the vaginal canal and cause irritation. PAYING LIP SERVICE Any anti-ageing claims are also worth an eyebrow raise. As UV damage accounts for about 85% of visible ageing, unless you’re spending a serious amount of time on a nudist beach, your pubic region is pretty safe on that front. ‘The biggest ageing factor in the genital area is actually oestrogen, so skincare products targeting external aggressors aren’t much help,’ says Dr Wetter. On the other hand, a vulval lipstick might be useful – particularly when it comes to vaginal dryness, which can affect women at any age. V Magic Feminine Lips Stick (around £15) contains avocado and extravirgin olive oils for on-the-spot relief, but shouldn’t be used regularly, according to Dr Pisal. ‘Lipstick for vulval use may help with soreness, but I would be reluctant to recommend repeated use,’ he says. ‘Vulval skin is very delicate and it’s best to use simple moisturisers, such as aqueous cream.’ Dr Wetter echoes his sentiments. ‘Don’t use products with fragrances or too many ingredients, as they increase the risk of an allergic reaction,’ she advises. ‘ In my opinion, Vaseline is a good choice.’ If you do feel drawn to indulge in a little intimate skincare, it’s important to bear one thing in mind: despite what you may read online, there’s no such thing as the perfect vagina, so no beauty product is going to transform yours into one. ‘Every woman’s genitals are different in colour, size and shape,’ agrees Dr Mackay. ‘Labia are as individual as women themselves, so they are going to vary. People need to understand that everyone is unique and that difference in appearance is normal in the vast majority of cases.’ Amen to that.
UV DAMAGE CAUSES 85% OF VISIBLE AGEING, SO YOU’RE SAFE DOWN THERE