Vaginal bleaching is a cosmetic procedure to lighten the appearance of the vulva. The procedure may involve the use of topical creams, lasers, or chemical peels. Vaginal bleaching can be dangerous, and it is not a medically approved procedure.
There are no regulations around vaginal bleaching, and it may have harmful effects on the body. All vulvas differ in appearance, including color, so it is advisable to seek help with body acceptance before deciding whether to undergo vaginal bleaching.
In this article, we look at what vaginal bleaching involves, the potential risks and side effects, and the steps people may choose to take instead.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Vaginal bleaching is a cosmetic procedure that aims to lighten the appearance of a person’s vulva. The procedure may use topical creams, lasers, or chemical peels. Vaginal bleaching can be dangerous, and it is not a medically approved procedure.
People may have the option to carry out vaginal bleaching at home with store-bought treatments or undergo a procedure at a clinic.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that any procedure to alter the appearance of the female genitals for nonmedical reasons is not safe and can come with significant risk.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any cosmetic treatments for vaginal rejuvenation, including vaginal bleaching, which may cause:
- vaginal burns
- long lasting pain
- painful sex
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), topical bleaching creams to lighten the skin may contain high concentrations of hydroquinone or topical steroids.
These ingredients can be harmful, and the use of hydroquinone can lead to a rare side effect that causes blue and purple pigmentation of the skin.
In addition, the label may not list all of the other ingredients. The AAD mentions rare reports of dangerous ingredients, such as arsenic and mercury, appearing in skin bleaching products.
If a person chooses to go ahead with vaginal bleaching, they may want to minimize the risks by:
- talking with a board certified healthcare professional or an obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) — a doctor who specializes in the female reproductive system
- avoiding using DIY treatments
- avoiding using any products that are not from a drugstore in the United States, such as unregulated products online
- researching the ingredients in a product and avoiding any products with hydroquinone, topical steroids, or mercury
- seeking medical help for any adverse reactions to treatment
Using unregulated skin bleaching products may result in:
- skin rashes
- steroid-induced acne
- thinning skin
- skin ulcers
The side effects of laser-based treatments can include:
- persistent pain or pain during sex
People may experience pain from vaginal bleaching. The extent of the pain may depend on the type of treatment method and the person’s response to topical creams, peels, or laser procedures.
Vaginal rejuvenation methods, such as vaginal bleaching, may cause long lasting pain or painful sex.
People may have vaginal bleaching to lighten the vulva, which is the external part of the female genitals.
They may choose to do this for cosmetic reasons, with the aim of getting the vulva to appear the same color as the skin on the rest of the body.
Deeply ingrained cultural beliefs around lighter and darker skin tones may also mean that the promotion of skin bleaching practices is negatively affecting People of Color.
Planned Parenthood notes that every vulva has a different appearance and that the size, color, and shape can vary widely from person to person. Vulvas can be a whole range of skin tones.
There is no right or wrong way for a vulva to look, and differences among individuals are normal and healthy.
If a person has any concerns about the appearance of their vulva, they can talk with a dermatologist or an ob-gyn.
An ob-gyn can tell examine the vulva and check that it is healthy. If the person has a healthy vulva, the next steps may involve working on body acceptance.
It may help to see other people’s vulvas to understand that every vulva is different and that various shapes, sizes, and colors are all normal and healthy.
People may find the following resources helpful:
Anyone who is finding it challenging to accept their body may wish to talk with a therapist or a healthcare professional specializing in body positivity and acceptance.
If someone’s partner has told them to bleach their vulva, they may wish to try to explain to their partner — if it is safe to do so — that it is normal for all vulvas to look different.
If this is not effective, they may need to consider distancing themself from their partner or even ending the relationship.
Pressuring a person to change their appearance can be a part of coercive control, which is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. It can also lead to the person developing a negative body image.
If a person is experiencing abuse in their relationship, they may find it beneficial to contact helplines, such as:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Women Helping Women
- Women Against Abuse
Vaginal bleaching may involve the use of topical skin lightening creams, lasers, or chemical peels to lighten the skin of the vulva.
Vulvas all appear different and can be any color, size, or shape.
Altering the appearance of the vulva for cosmetic reasons can be dangerous. Vaginal bleaching may cause pain and could result in adverse side effects.
Medical organizations, such as the ACOG, do not support female genital cosmetic procedures due to the risks and a lack of evidence for their safety and effectiveness.
If people still want to go ahead with vaginal bleaching, they may find it best to talk with a healthcare professional first and seek help for any body image concerns that may be fueling the decision.