A “vaginal highlighter” is now upon us.
Before we get into the specifics the editors who have approved the various headlines about this product from the Perfect V™ (ugh) need an anatomy lesson because no one is selling a vagina highlighter or make up, this is vulvar product. I have devoted an entire post to the important difference between vulva and vagina and it irks me that this confusion continues and quite frankly a woman’s magazine should be on top of this. Allure and Glamour I am looking at you, but I guess I expect it from The Sun). Confusing the two is the same as confusing scrotum and penis. Just so we are all using anatomically correct language here is a handy vulvovaginal Venn diagram.
OK, on to the “highlighter” nonsense.
The product is called Very V Luminizer and it is supposed to be a Scandinavian fruit poultice or something to “highlight, soften, and illuminate”(?) and add “extra prettiness to the V.” And yes, typing that sentence made me very, very angry because insinuating that vulvas need extra prettiness is not a very empowering message. At all.
I have some concerns so here goes.
What’s in it?
The ingredient list includes arctic cloudberry, bilberry, elderflower, rose hips, and sea buckthorn. I highly doubt the product looks like a compote so there has to be something else. What you ask? I don’t know. This is important so hang onto to that thought.
How does it work?
The site says it is a “highlighting cream” that “renews and improves the skin, making it appear more youthful and fresh” and can “even “skin tone and “prevent dark spots.”
There are two ways to brighten up the appearance of skin with product. One is make-up and the other is with chemicals that cause skin depigmentation and/or increased cell turnover. Preventing dark spots and renewing skin is usually code for the latter. I’ve never seen a concealer or blush advertised that way. It also doesn’t appear to come in shades.
Common products used for depigmentation/increased cell turnover that are considered safe for the face are ascorbic acid (vitamin C), retinoic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, and salicyclic acid. Hydroxyquinone is available in the U.S. but it is banned in Europe. These products have not been tested for the vulva.
Ingredients that should not be used for this purpose in cosmetics are mercury, monobenzyl ether hydroquinone, and corticosteroids. There is apparently quite a robust illegal cosmetic practice in Europe with unsafe or unapproved skin whiteners so bowls of berries in lieu of ingredients just doesn’t cut it for me, you know?
What if it a has “safe” depigmentation ingredients?
Given the magnificent pictures of berries and rose hips and such and the repetitive mention of vitamin C my best guess is this is a vitamin C serum mixed with a moisturizer. Hydroquinone (HQ) is apparently found in cranberries and blueberries so it is possible that the product could contain more than trace amounts as well, but who knows?
Just because a plant lightens your skin doesn’t mean it is fine for your vulva or safe at all for that matter. Any depigmentation agent or drug that increases cell turnover poses a risk of an irritant reaction and/or contact dermatitis. The vulvar skin differs from other skin as it is more permeable. It is also more susceptible to friction and more prone to, yes you guessed it, irritant reactions and contact dermatitis. Women who remove their pubic hair are even more likely to develop irritation and allergic reactions from topical agents due to microscopic breaks/trauma in the skin and this appears to be the target group. This could very easily lead to an itchy, scratchy vulva.
What if it is just a moisturizer?
A moisturizer isn’t going to brighten anything, so I’m having a hard time buying that.
The most common cause of a dry feeling is too much product/soap/hair removal. Consider leaving hair alone, use a very mild soap infrequently and consider coconut oil or a product with hyaluronic acid, like HyaloGYN or Vagisil Prohydrate, for hydration. A barrier ointment can also help. It is best to check in with a doctor as skin conditions can present with very dry skin. Menopause can also lead to dry skin.
Why would anyone want this?
You mean apart from society making women feel insecure about yet another body part?
Some women do get changes in their vulvar skin, darkened and thickened labia, from chronic hair removal and some women have acanthosis nigricans, a darkening of the skin that can affect the vulva and inner thighs (most often due to insulin resistance). I can see how some women might feel self-conscious about these changes if they are with a new partner or even their regular partner. Hey, I have terrible sun damage on my shins and when I wear a short skirt sometimes all I can think of are my crocodile legs. The skin on my face could be peeling from the worst sunburn and I would still be thinking about how bad I think my legs look. How we feel is how we feel. However, concerning skin changes should be addressed with a GYN or a dermatologist not a Nordic bouquet garni and jam with uncertain ingredients.
While a bowl of rose hips looks natural pubic hair is the most natural (and green) product around.
If you have irritation or concerning skin changes see a doctor who is a vulvar specialist.
If your partner really cares about you they are unlikely to notice what you perceive as an imperfection especially on your vulva.
Stay clear from anything with a suggestion of skin whitening/brightening/dark spot prevention for your vulva.
The perfect vulva is the one you have.