Is It Really Safe To Bleach Your Vagina?
We've heard of TikTokers putting ice in their vaginas, but now they are all about vaginal bleaching (vaginal lightening or intimate area lightening). It's a controversial process that has some people questioning its safety.
Although social media influencers make bleaching your vagina sound simple and possibly worthwhile, what do healthcare professionals have to say?
What is vaginal bleaching?
The vagina is a muscular tube that leads from the vulva to the cervix and uterus and is primarily located internally. The bleaching or lightening is done on the external genitals (the vulva).
The parts of the vulva include the following:
- Labia majora
- Labia minora
- Mons pubis
- Vestibular bulbs
- Vulva vestibule
- Bartholin's gland
- Skene's gland
- Vaginal opening
Contrary to what it sounds like, vaginal bleaching doesn’t really involve lightening of the vagina. Chemical peels, topical bleaching creams or laser treatments are used to lighten the vulva.
In most cases, the labia minora are targeted for lightening because they may have slightly darker skin than the surrounding skin.
The hashtag, vaginal bleaching, has even amassed over 35,000 views on TikTok, with some of the most popular videos recommending 'natural' products such as citrus scrubs and turmeric. Some users have documented their laser treatments.
Even celebrities are getting in on the trend, with Cardi B sharing a video of herself receiving intimate bleaching.
Is it safe to bleach your vagina?
There is no "normal" color for a vulva. The skin color of the vulvar area varies from one person to another. It’s also perfectly normal for your intimate areas to be darker than the rest of your body.
The colors of the labia minora in adults range from light pink to dark brown-red or black and vary among ethnicities, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). If it appears as though your vulva has darkened, it's possible. Your vulva may darken for factors including:
- Skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis
If you notice a particular area that's darker, or you have a mole, lump or a sudden darkening of your skin along with irritation, contact your doctor.
Darker vulvar skin doesn’t typically mean anything is wrong with your skin. Masturbation does not cause your vulva or labia to darken either, according to Planned Parenthood.
"There is no physiologic reason to lighten a vulva," explained Julia Arnold VanRooyen, M.D., an OB-GYN in Wayland, Massachusetts.
"There are significant potential downsides to bleaching the vulva depending on the method used. Chemical peels and lasers can all cause burning and irritation of the skin and natural substances are no better," VanRooyen said.
While a natural substance like turmeric can temporarily stain the skin and is generally harmless, some people may be allergic to turmeric. Turmeric, and other supposedly natural vagina lighteners, could cause contact dermatitis.
What are the risks involved in bleaching your vagina?
One of the potential complications of bleaching your vaginal area is skin irritation. Vulvar irritation could range from mild redness and general sensitivity to a full-blown chemical or thermal burn. There are several side effects possible if you choose to undergo vaginal lightening.
Complications of vaginal bleaching could include:
- Labial adhesions, or when the labial (inner lips of the vulva) fuse together
- Chemical burns
- Thermal burns
- Scarring of the area
"All of the treatments used to lighten or bleach can cause micro-traumas to the skin," VanRooyen explained. "So even if you don’t see a cut in the skin, the normal protective barrier that the skin provides has been broken."
Those micro-traumas can leave you susceptible to infection, including common skin bacteria and yeast organisms, pathologic organisms that cause sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
"There are also potential changes to how that area of the skin feels, and you might even lose sensation to that treated area," explained Hana Patel, M.B.B.S., a general practitioner in London specializing in women’s health.
The labia minora, for instance, has a rich supply of blood vessels and nerve endings, which play an important role in sexual response. These treatments can damage the nerves in the labia, potentially impairing future sexual response and dampening pleasure.
Why are women lightening the skin of their vulva and labia?
Women are often bombarded with messages about how every part of their body is supposed to appear, from their weight to their hair, to their breast size and their skin tone.
"Because it’s financially profitable, health and wellness industries have more recently targeted the vulva," VanRooyen said. "Body parts rarely seen by anyone but intimate partners and an occasional doctor are now being subjected to bleaching, steaming and turmeric baths."
Patel added that she often sees women in her clinic asking if certain parts of their anatomy should be there and if certain things are normal.
"Most women do not realize that it is normal to have these areas of skin on their body darker than the rest of the skin," she said.
This troubling beauty trend may also have to do with how women’s genitals are portrayed in the pornography industry, but that’s just in part.
"Porn is ubiquitous, smartphones and internet access equally so, exposing more people and at an earlier age, to images of body parts that once remained unseen," VanRooyen said.
"Close-up shots of hairless vulvas with perfectly symmetrical, pale pink labia may lead some to think that this is the norm and that something is wrong with them if they don’t look exactly like that," VanRooyen added.
If you are worried about how your vulva looks or you’re wondering whether it’s normal, consulting a trusted healthcare practitioner can help you determine whether it’s healthy. Familiarize yourself with how your genitals look, to understand what is typical for you.
The bottom line
There is absolutely no medical reason to bleach or lighten any part of your vulva with topical creams, chemical peels or any other lightening method. All female genitals have different colors, shapes and sizes. Learn what's normal for your body, and if something seems unusual, speak to your doctor.