What Is Vaginal Bleaching? Doctors Warn Against Potentially Dangerous Treatment
Cardi B doesn’t usually hold back about her personal life, and her latest 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.
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 say 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.
What exactly is vaginal bleaching?
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, tells Health. “The name implies lightening the vagina itself, which is inside the woman’s body, but this is not the case,” he says, clarifying that the procedure focuses on the vulva (the part of a person's genitals that exist 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, tells 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, tells Health. “As the darker color of the vulva is actually the normal color, these skin bleaching procedures may only give temporary lightening,” she says. “Once you stop using the creams or don’t continue to get chemical peels consistently, then the darker color will return.”
Why would someone bleach their vagina?
“It’s purely aesthetic,” Shepherd says. It’s “not uncommon” for labias to darken with age, especially in women with darker skin tones, Cackovic says, 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 Shepherd says the porn industry may have something to do with it. “We get social constructs in nudity in the adult film industry that make people think the vagina should look a certain way,” she says.
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, tells Health.
But, from a “purely physiological perspective,” Shepherd says that there will usually be areas of hyperpigmentation that can lead to darker skin in areas where there are 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,” Shepherd says. “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.”
Is vaginal bleaching 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 says. “It’s potentially very dangerous.”
The skin around your vulva and genitals is more sensitive than other areas of your body, Dr. Rodney says. “Even when done correctly, lasers and chemical peels run the risk of burning and discoloration of this sensitive skin,” she says. She also warns 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 says.
Vaginal bleaching can lead to pain, burning, irritation, redness, rash, and even long-term nerve damage, Dr. Streicher says. 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,” she says.
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,” Shepherd says. “It’s not commonly done, but it happens.” The bottom line: Nix any ideas about bleaching your vagina—it's perfectly fine as-is.
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