The media puts a lot of pressure on women to meet impossible beauty standards: thigh gap, "good" hair, and of course, bubblegum-pink assholes. Genitals naturally vary in color, but somehow we've decided that the vulva and anus should be as pink as Barbie's high heels. According to this ad for Clean and Dry Intimate Wash, your depressingly dark vagina is probably ruining your marriage.
Clean and Dry comes from India, a nation that consumed 233 metric tons of skin whiteners in 2012. Skin lightening in India has deep roots in the colorism and caste system of Indian society. During the Mughal Empire, fair skin was equated with beauty and wealth. This was only exacerbated under British colonialism. Today, when Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan endorses a facial lightening cream.
Stateside, facial lighteners are available, but they aren't as common. Vaginal and anal lightening are still in their infancy. The trend started in California, as a consequence of the full Brazilian wax. "Clients asked for it," says Suzi McEvilly of the Charmed Salon in Roseville. "After they'd get a Brazilian, they'd notice the skin down there was darker and wanted something to lighten it up." Charmed Salon also offers an at-home anal bleaching kit, which they will ship to those of us in the flyover states who want that Cali-style ass. A product called My Pink Wink is also available on Amazon for around $40 for one-and-a-half ounces.
But science was so focused on the question of Could you bleach your asshole? it forgot all about Should you?
American skin lighteners are safer than ones found overseas, which use hydroquinone. In high concentrations and without doctor supervision, hydroquinone can cause liver and kidney cancer, as well as a hyperpigmentation of the treated skin. Most vaginal and anal lighteners made in the United States use kojic acid as the active ingredient.
Still, is it safe to apply acid to skin so sensitive that both Saint Louis University and the University of Iowa recommend avoiding even the chemicals present in dyed cotton panties? Your vagina is like the majestic Florida Everglades—a moist, fragile, self-cleaning ecosystem that gets destroyed every spring break. Wouldn't applying acid down there, you know, hurt?
"The most common question I get asked is, 'Does it burn?' And no, it doesn't burn," says McEvilly. "There's no sensation, really. I think the major misconception is that we're using an actual bleach. We're not. [Kojic acid] is an exfoliation method."
The second most common question?
"People ask me if they're gonna have a pink butthole."
It depends on your skin tone. "You're going to fade to the lightest tone your skin can be. So a black woman will fade to something darker [than a white person will]. A Caucasian woman might be pink. And it will fade with time either way. It's like a facial: You may be bright right after, but things will start to darken again unless you keep applying."
And, like facials, there are both doctors who advise against the process and doctors who offer it. Because everyone's skin is different, everyone will have a different reaction to chemicals. This is true for your scalp, your face, and even your anus. It's up to you to decide whether the aesthetic benefits are worth the risk.
"I do get lots of clients that ask why someone would do it if they aren't in porn," says McEvilly. "Seems most people do it like any other beauty product." In the end, what you do with your business is your business—but it could also be very itchy, burn-y, and at risk of bacterial infection.