V-Beauty: Why the Vulva is getting its own 12-step routine
As if we weren’t already spending long enough on our faces, our vulvas now have their own 12-step routine to contend with. In fact, it’s the new ‘it region’ of beauty product development, according to Cosmetic Business, partly because we’ve reached peak product in every other category and partly because the body positivity movement should surely stretch to pride in one’s pussy. According to WGSN, the intimate health industry is set to grow by 7.2% by 2024 to a value of $35.3 billion. Fannies are on the up.
Everyone’s talking about it, too – no more hiding an old bottle of Femfresh under your bush(el). Makeup maven Huda Kattan recently published a tutorial on lightening one’s crack, lifestyle influencer Lo Bosworth has launched her own intimate cleansers and Busy Philipps influenced me into considering a Yoni Steam (via her Instagram Stories). I assumed product-wise it would be mostly souped-up lube that makes your vagina smell like pot pourri, but there are illuminators and exfoliators for your V now, you know? Beauty mists and sheet masks, even.
Still, other than an attempt at a lightning strike, using a stencil cut out from a Shreddies box in 2001, my own V has gone woefully under-styled. It’s had the same haircut for the past ten years, and I haven’t so much as moisturized. I honestly didn’t know I needed to. I’m sure some would say it could do with…something. I mean, we’re talking 35 years and an episiotomy later, here. Although, for the record: I don’t care what it looks like. In fact, if anything I want a vagina that makes it clear I don’t give a damn about the male gaze. But with all the self-care I now lavish on the rest of my body for my own satisfaction, is it weird my vagina doesn’t figure? Should I be crouching over a kettle filled with Vicks, to – what – open the pores?! Should we be eschewing sex and masturbating as self-love in favour of a good sheet mask?
I was open to the possibility, especially as the sheet mask in question – Two L(i)ps Blackout Mask, the first activated charcoal sheet mask for ‘vulva rejuvenation’ – sold 7000 units in a fortnight when it launched in September. But I can’t say I enjoyed the experience. I guess squeezing it into the thirty minutes before the plumber arrived wasn’t wise. But the whole thing was a bit Readers’ Wives – the lace membrane felt like a big pair of cold, wet crotchless pants, and as it repeatedly slid off, I felt like someone who hadn’t quite mastered knickers yet. I definitely didn’t look any different afterwards – the plumber said I looked tired, actually. I imagine it might be quite soothing if you’ve just had a wax, but I assume a damp flannel would work just as well.
Onto The Perfect V – a whole regime dedicated to your nether regions. It’s important not to confuse your Vs here – The Perfect V actually refers to the triangle of skin we wax and so forth, not your vagina. The millennial-pink products are certainly shelfie-worthy, so I get the Essentials Kit, which requires you to moisturize, mist, cleanse, luminize and tone. I’m not sure when I’ll fit this lengthy routine in. But if you’re a regular waxer, I can see the sense in some aftercare – exfoliating can help limit in-grown hairs, and perhaps a moisturizer will help the skin repair. But it’s the Luminizer that has me arching a brow. It’s a pearlised lotion, to ‘highlight’ your V. I mean, it’s always struck me as being pretty obvious, I’m not sure many people need help directing the eye. And whoever heard of a radiant hoo-ha? But it’s not horrid, and I’ll definitely try it on my face. In combination the V skin does feel softer and smoother I suppose, but…why?! Plus, my legs are clamped shut for fear of accidentally resurfacing my innards.
If you are typically hirsute, Fur Oil might be a more obvious choice. Emma Watson likes it and she’s a feminist, so I already feel more positive about this one. It’s not promising to lift or highlight anything, it’s just for softening hair, clearing pores and preventing ingrown hairs. It’s lightweight, silky, with a subtle citrusy scent, and not at all greasy – I quite like it. Still though, I asked the experts before pouring it on, and Consultant Gynaecologist, Anne Henderson advised caution: “The vulval skin is rarely exposed to sunlight and air, so anything occlusive will be less readily absorbed than elsewhere, and is more likely to cause blockages. Oils might also inhibit the hair’s naturally protective effect.”
And that’s why I’m far from sold on the whole V-Beauty category. Ultimately, I’m concerned pampering my pussy be a bit like putting ketchup on a steak – it’s not only unnecessary, it might actually ruin it. “The vagina and vulva are naturally self-cleansing due to vaginal secretions which flush out any nasties,” says Anne, “The natural pH is very low and the secretions contain healthy bacteria to ward off thrush and other pathogens. Products can affect this natural protection.” I doubt there’s a single vaginal improvement that could be worth the risk of thrush, personally.
In fact, when pressed the experts will only recommend a moisturizer for those with persistent dryness due to the menopause or breastfeeding, or atrophy. Yes VM Natural Vagina Moisturiser is their top pick, as it’s formulated to match vaginal secretions. But as for a 12-step routine? Far from necessary. And perhaps it’s not the secret to empowering self-care, either, given the implications that we should be ‘improving’ our vaginas? “We already see women declining potentially life-saving smear tests because they’re worried about the look of their vulvas,” says Dr Anita Mitra, the scientist and NHS Gynaecologist behind @GynaeGeek, “I think this kind of product just gives women another unnecessary thing to worry about, or perpetuates the myth that your vulva is a dirty place. You do not need to ‘nourish’, ‘regenerate’ or ‘illuminate’ your vulva.” So, I for one am sticking to water. And will just have to think of some other way to lavish love upon the V.