I never thought I’d find myself spread-eagled, knickers off, in the office of someone who wasn’t my doctor. I wonder, as the man in question puts down his measuring tape, pulls out a felt-tip pen and carefully draws a dotted line across my inner labia.
When he does finally raise his head from between my legs, pen poised, Dr Niekerk says only one thing: ‘You’re not abnormal. But there is work you could have done.’ In case you missed the memo, there’s a vulva beauty movement going on right now. Forget douches and Femfresh, the beauty world is now flogging us products that promise to moisturise, whiten, tighten, plump and even highlight (yes, just like your cheekbones) our genital area. It appears the never ending quest for ‘perfection’ has finally reached our most private of parts, but the question is: are we, and most importantly our vulvas, ready for it?
I wonder this as I find myself (yet again – there’s a theme in this story) horizontal, legs agape, on a treatment table with a smiling therapist leaning over me. I am having something called the Bikini Facial at Bea Skin Clinic, London, which sounds benign enough. The therapist gets to work with a scrub on my inner thighs. ‘It’s basically a pre-holiday refresh for your bikini line,’ she explains, narrowing her eyes to make sure she eliminates every single remaining ingrown hair. ‘It’ll get rid of any dead skin and all the ingrowns.’ Forty-five minutes later and I’m done. I may have the glowiest bikini line in all of London. Not that anyone would know.
On the rise...shade-shifting 'skin' care
A few days later, the word ‘uncomfortable’ comes to mind again as I sit on a plush chair in an air-conditioned medical spa. On the computer screen in front of me are six different vaginas, all of varying hues. Zoe Sheard, treatment coordinator at EF MediSpa Kensington, is showing me the results of the spa’s Intimate Peel – basically chemical peels designed to lighten the appearance of the area.
Apparently, it is most popular with women of colour (who, says Sheard, can suffer from more severe pigmentation). And if the images are anything to go by, the mix of AHAs, BHAs and a retinoid (all potent cell rejuvenators) seems to work. Lying on the treatment table a few minutes later, the therapist chirpily tells me that ‘many women don’t realise they have problems down there’. I panic. Do I have the wrong colour vulva? Is there even a right shade to be? Suddenly a whole Pantone chart of potential labia hues flash before me, as well as a thousand new vulva-related neuroses.
While intimate rejuvenation won’t be for everyone, what will be are the new vulva-skincare regimes heading our way. Where once Femfresh was a lone soldier at the frontier of vulva cleansing with its stoical Intimate Cleansing Wash, there are now a whole host of bully boys jostling for our attention: oils, scrubs and even, wait for it, sheet masks. I confide in Dr Anita Mitra, gynaecologist and author of The Gynae Geek, about my hesitation at investing in a 12-step skincare system for my bits. ‘The carefully balanced bacteria that live in the vagina are designed to protect you from STIs, thrush, bacterial vaginosis and can even lower our risk of getting HIV,’ she explains, sounding deeply concerned.
‘And because the vagina is naturally acidic, it cleans and renews itself, like an acid toner you would use on your face.’ What’s more, according to Dr Mitra, washes can disrupt the balance of the bacteria, causing irritation, while scrubs can cause micro-tears in the skin, leaving us vulnerable to the HPV virus, which can lead to warts and even cervical cancer.
When I tell her of my newfound pigmentation concerns, Dr Mitra assures me – no, instructs me – to forget about it. ‘First of all, you shouldn’t be using ingredients like that in the vulva. But more importantly, she adds, ‘There is a misconception that the area should look like that of a Barbie doll, when pigmentation here is normal for women of any race.’
The next step... transformative treatments
Bea Clinic’s Bikini Facial is just the tip of a large iceberg when it comes to ‘intimate rejuvenation’ treatments, with evocative names such as The Intimate Peel and The O-Shot (which is basically a Vampire Facial for your vagina, where platelets from your own blood are injected back into your clitoris to reinvigorate your sex drive). In fact, nowadays, you can have pretty much every treatment you’ve had done to your face over the past 20 years applied to your vulva, too.
I’m particularly intrigued by something called the Two Lips Rosebud Vajuvenation Treatment over at the Ministry Of Waxing, which has clinics across London and worldwide. At £950 for eight sessions, it’s not cheap but it says it uses ‘Thermal O2’ technology – a mix of radiofrequency, vacuum suction and heat – to increase lymphatic drainage, lift, tighten and rebuild collagen and elastin in the area. In other words, you will end up with a ‘plump labia’, which will make your bits look like, ahem, a… rosebud. I’m not sure I want a vagina that looks like a garden centre. But it begins to make me think: maybe I should. I sit back and let the magic happen – the magic being a therapist gently heating up my vagina. Later that night, I take a quick peek: nope, still not rosebud-like. In fact, the ‘instant contracting’ results are barely noticeable.
Final word...advice from the professionals
Back in Dr Niekerk’s consultation room, I feel tired, confused and, I’ll be honest, a teeny bit concerned that the vagina I’ve been happily housing since 1993 may not, after all, be up to scratch. Dr Niekerk says I’m not the only one. He’s seen a marked rise in the amount of consultations and procedures he’s conducted in recent years. Citing a combination of factors including ‘fashion’ and the fact that women are ‘more likely to be clean shaven’, I get the sense he is alluding to the influence of the porn industry.
Either way, he stresses that he prefers to operate on women whose inner labia cause them genuine discomfort when they sit, cycle or wear tight clothing. But if they don’t, he conducts in-depth interviews on why these women feel the need to undergo the procedure, and will only operate ‘on those who are doing it for themselves, and no one else’. Over half of his job is spent reassuring women that their vulva is normal, he tells me.
As he pops the lid back on his felt-tip pen and I pop my pants back on, I think over all the new opinions I have been offered by various experts on a part of my body that, before now, I’d never given much thought to. Sure, I don’t have an inner labia like a rosebud (quite frankly, who does?), and no, my vulva is not millennial pink, but I’d take a healthy, working vagina over a clitoris injection any day of the week.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
In need of more inspiration, thoughtful journalism and at-home beauty tips? Subscribe to ELLE's print magazine now and pay just £6 for 6 issues. SUBSCRIBE HERE
You Might Also Like