Not. Even. Jok­ing. But is vagi­nal pam­per­ing a le­git ex­am­ple of next-gen­er­a­tion beauty, or van­ity gone bonkers?

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - words SUZANNE SCOTT

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.


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


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.


Rose bush

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