What Is Vaginal Bleaching? Doctors Warn Against Potentially Dangerous Treatment

Remember: Your skin is very sensitive down there.

Cardi B doesn't usually hold back about her personal life, and one of her series of Instagram Stories lays it all out there—literally.

"Bleaching my coochiee," she wrote alongside a video of her lying down on what appears to be her bed with her legs spread out. Cardi talked more about what was happening in the video: "In my crib, getting my vagina bleached," she said. "Because, you know, sometimes you just quick shave and it gets your vagina a little bit dark and everything." She also tagged AFL Beauty Bar Inc., known on Instagram as America's "#1 Travel Beauty Spa," in her video.

vaginal bleaching cardi b
Cardi B/Instagram @iamcardib

Cardi followed that up by saying that "I don't believe in body bleaching…I just believe in underarm or, like, your vagina—maybe your asshole. I like my brown asshole." And later on, she shared a bunch of videos about cooking and getting her upper lip waxed, showing that she made out from the vaginal bleaching procedure just fine.

On Instagram, Cardi seemed totally fine with getting her vagina bleached—but some doctors said it's not a great idea. Here's what you need to know about vaginal bleaching, including how it's done, why someone might choose to do it, and how it can be potentially dangerous.

How Vaginal Bleaching Works

Vaginal bleaching, aka "vaginal lightening" or "intimate area lightening," entails using a specialized treatment to lighten the labia or general bikini area, Michael Cackovic, MD, an ob/gyn at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Health. "The name implies lightening the vagina itself, which is inside the woman's body, but this is not the case," Dr. Cackovic said, clarifying that the procedure focuses on the vulva (the part of the female genitals that is outside of the body).

Much like anal bleaching, vaginal bleaching can be done with a laser treatment or topical creams that are applied directly to the skin, Jessica Shepherd, MD, an ob/gyn in Texas, told Health. In general, the vulvar area—mainly the labia—ends up looking brighter or lighter as a result.

The results, however, don't usually last very long, Ife J. Rodney, MD, FAAD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics, told Health. "As the darker color of the vulva is actually the normal color, these skin bleaching procedures may only give temporary lightening," Dr. Rodney said. "Once you stop using the creams or don't continue to get chemical peels consistently, then the darker color will return," explained Dr. Rodney.

Purpose of Vaginal Bleaching

"It's purely aesthetic," Dr. Shepherd said. It's "not uncommon" for the labia to darken with age, especially in women with darker skin tones, Cackovic said, and some women may not like to see that change.

It's hard to say exactly where the idea that a vagina needs to be lighter or brighter comes from, but Dr. Shepherd said the porn industry may have something to do with it. "We get social constructs in nudity in the adult film industry that makes people think the vagina should look a certain way," Dr. Shepard added

Some women also tend to think that a bleached vagina makes them "look more youthful or attractive, and so they bleach it," Lauren Streicher, MD, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told Health.

But, from a "purely physiological perspective," Dr. Shepherd explained that there will usually be areas of hyperpigmentation that can lead to darker skin in areas where there is usually hair—and that that's totally normal. Those dark spots are also not a bad thing. "All vulva, perinea, and labia are unique to every person," said Dr. Shepherd. "Having it a little bit darker doesn't necessarily mean that it's unhealthy or unnatural. People should feel empowered by how their bodies are in a natural state," recommended Dr. Sheperd.

Safety Warnings

Is it safe? Not really. "It's bad for the vulvar skin, which is delicate, and it can cause all manner of irritation and dermatologic problems," Dr. Streicher said. "It's potentially very dangerous," added Dr. Streicher.

The skin around your vulva and genitals is more sensitive than other areas of your body, Dr. Rodney said. "Even when done correctly, lasers and chemical peels run the risk of burning and discoloration of this sensitive skin," said Dr. Rodney. Dr. Rodney also warned against using bleaching creams with hydroquinone. "When used in high concentrations for a long period of time, hydroquinone can cause irreversible black staining of the skin," Dr. Rodney added.

Vaginal bleaching can lead to pain, burning, irritation, redness, rash, and even long-term nerve damage, Dr. Streicher said. That doesn't mean it necessarily will happen, but it can. "Certainly many women get away with it and have no problems, but many can have potentially severe problems, like burns and vulvar pain," said Dr. Streicher.

But overall, it's not a good idea—and many doctors won't even perform vaginal lightening procedures or treatments. "Most doctors won't do this," Dr. Shepherd said. "It's not commonly done, but it happens." The bottom line: Nix any ideas about bleaching your vagina—it's perfectly fine as-is.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles