HYDERABAD: “It is really good product, easy to use and it is working, It is the best..... Thank you so much...,” (sic) says one review, while another one says: “Simply Awesome product...effect started from the first day,” (sic). These are some of the reviews for vaginal tightening creams available on popular e-commerce websites.
With names like ‘18 again’ and ‘Everteen Vagina’, they sell the idea of women’s virginal bodies which are much valued in Indian society. There are vaginal whitening creams too available in the same websites which promise to make ‘intimate’ areas whiter and ‘pink’. But how safe or effective are these creams?
Renowned gynaecologist Dr Manjula Anagani, who is also the recipient of Padma Shri award, says: “Bleaching creams available for whitening vaginas may contain steroids which can be very dangerous and make the user susceptible to infections. The skin might become thin due to usage of steroids and it can become atrophic. This can lead to skin losing its natural immunity. If someone is really interested to get the skin lightened, they should consult a dermatologist.”
Echoing her views, Dr Vijayalakshmi B, a senior gynaecologist, says: “Melanin levels are higher around the body’s private parts and that is why those areas might be darker than the rest of the body. But applying any kind of chemical there is not advisable as they might lead to infections.”
Treatments and exercises
It is possible to lose some elasticity of the vagina due to multiple childbirths or age, but creams available online hardly seem to a safe bet to address the issue.
Says Dr Manjula: “There are three physiological aspects associated with vaginal tightening. First, the collagen. Second, the wall thickness, and third, the vascularity. Due to delivery injuries or decrease of estrogen in the body, the elasticity may come down. In case aging is causing the loss of elasticity, then estrogen cream might help. Otherwise, there are three procedures that can help – laser, high-frequency ultrasound and radio frequency. Every technique has its merits and demerits, but these are the three procedures in which the collagen develops and the circulation can improve. These are the scientifically proven ways to go about it. The creams which are available online have herbal ingredients which might not work.”
Adding that Kegel exercises can improve the muscle health there, Dr Vijayalakshmi says: “After childbirth, it’s only exercise that can help women to strengthen the vaginal muscles. We never advise patients to go for these creams. Sometimes when the estrogen levels come down or there is urinary incontinence, pelvic floor exercises like Kegel exercise is advised. It has not been scientifically proved that these creams work.”
Estrogen creams after menopause
There are, however, certain estrogen creams that are advised for women who have reached menopause.
“There is an emerging field called Aesthetic Gynaecology now that deals with tightening vaginal muscles and other procedures. There are laser treatments too. If these creams contain estrogen, then they might work a bit, but they are not effective without exercises or surgery”, says Dr G Vindya, consutant gynaecologist.
“Estrogen creams are advised for women after they reach menopause as the hormones produced by the body come down. This happens mostly for women who are aged above 50 years and these creams ease itchiness and burning sensation that these women experience. With age, there is also a degeneration of muscles and estrogen creams can address that. But none of these creams has any use for peri-menopausal women who have these hormones naturally produced by their bodies. After childbirth, pelvic floor exercises are advised or the doctors may perform a procedure called perineorrhaphy to fix any damage to the vaginal muscles,” she adds.
Can frequent sex loosen vagina?
“The vagina is a stretchable organ. It is its job to stretch to an extent and it doesn’t get loose with frequent intercourse. When aroused, the muscles of the vagina relax and return to normal position afterwards. There can be no cream to change the natural odour of the vagina, nor there are creams that tighten loose vagina. Most of the time, applying these creams can end up causing irritation, itching and worsen the condition. The only options left are cosmetic procedures and surgeries, which have their own consequences,” says Dr Nupur Gupta, gynaecologist, Paras Hospital.
Another form of body shaming
A few women, however, feel that such products just add to a long list of products which tell women that they need to conform to certain pre-set notions of body image set by the society. Yamini Krishna, a research scholar at English and Foreign Languages University, says:
“The vaginal care products play on the cultural obsession with whiteness and virginity and make women more insecure about their bodies. They add to the long list of dangerous products which torture women’s bodies. Earlier there was a perfect face, a perfect figure, and now there is also a perfect vagina. The beauty industry leaves no part of the body.”
“Any product that tries to change women ‘for the better’ is to be seen with suspicion. The question then to be asked is why should a woman make herself, least of her vagina, whiter and tighter? For whom? For men? Isn’t this just patriarchy trying to set women against each other under an inconsequential category called ‘white vaginas’?” says Mounika K, a software professional.
Dinnaz, a fitness expert, says that Kegel exercises can help in strengthening the pelvic floor. “This exercise can be done anywhere and anytime. Squeeze your vaginal muscles and hold tight for 30 counts. Repeat as often as you can,” she says.