Thousands of South Africans use skin lighteners to reduce the appearance of dark pigmentation. But who would have thought that similar products could (or would) be applied to the most intimate areas?
Anal bleaching, or lightening, has become increasingly popular in the last few years, as has its sister trend – vaginal bleaching (lightening the outer vaginal lips). It's possible that the demand for pinker nether regions emerged in response to the Brazilian wax, which removes all hair in the vaginal and anal regions – exposing more than ever before.
Check out this video off YouTube.com on anal bleaching. Warning: it's not for the fainthearted.
How it's done
Generally, a skin lightening cream or gel (specifically formulated for sensitive areas) is applied to the area around the anus each day, gradually lightening the skin until the desired result is achieved. Vaginal bleaching is done in the same way, except that the lightening product is applied to the outer vaginal lips.
Application is usually done at home; although some spas are brave enough to do the first application for you, following a wax. These gels or creams typically contain hydroquinone – a chemical that decreases the formation of melanin (the pigment that gives the skin its colour).
As far as post-bleaching advice goes, cleanliness is apparently key. According to BleachBum.com, a website dedicated to anal bleaching, people hoping to keep up a pinker pout should ditch the 1-ply and invest in flushable "moist wipes" to avoid anal staining.
What are the risks?
“Skin lighteners have been a major problem in South Africa,” cautions Dr Dagmar Whitaker, a Cape Town dermatologist.
“Hydroquinone is well known to be a very effective ingredient to destroy pigment. The problem is that it accumulates in the skin and can cause a condition called ochronosis – which clinically presents as black acne-like bumps. This is irreversible skin damage.”
Because hydroquinone is often to blame when skin lightening goes awry, usage needs to be strictly controlled. Hence, in South Africa, hydroquinone-based products are not currently available over the counter.
Doctors and dermatologists can, however, prescribe products containing less than 2% hydroquinone for conditions such as age spots and melasma (dark stains on the face and chest).
Some manufacturers avoid the chemical altogether, and favour natural ingredients instead. These include aloesin, soy extracts, vitamin C, kojic acid and liquorice extract. Kojic acid in particular is a relatively common active ingredient.
“Kojic acid was developed as a 'safer' alternative,” explains Dr Whitaker. “The problem is that it is not nearly as effective as hydroquinone – so it might be safe – but it’s unlikely to achieve the desired result.”
Because anal bleaching is a fairly new trend, it will take some time before the long-term effects are fully understood.
South Africa’s "best" bums
Apparently South Africans are eager to spruce up their unmentionables.
Luzinda de Meyer is a South African importer and supplier of South Beach Lightening Gel for Sensitive Areas – an American product designed to lighten dark pigmentation around the anus and vagina (as well as other "sensitive" areas such as the underarms).
"Basically it's not a bleach, but a skin-lightening product that goes down to the dermis and works on the tyrosinase enzymes," De Meyer explains. These enzymes are responsible for the synthesis of melanin.
According to De Meyer, the product is hypo-allergenic, and contains all-natural ingredients such as uva ursi leaf extract and liquorice root extract. It apparently does not contain hydroquinone or kojic acid.
De Meyer claims that the product is particularly popular in Durban.
Be on the safe side
If you insist on brightening up your backside, make sure you do it safely. Many cheap, harmful skin lighteners are sold illegally in South Africa, and these can do irreversible damage. It’s best to talk to your dermatologist or doctor before trying any skin-lightening products.
“There is so far no definite safe and effective medication available,” claims Dr Whitaker. “Maybe that’s not exactly what people want to hear – but it is always best to be realistic with any new trend or fashion.”
(Donna Steyn, Health24, February 2009)
(Sources: BleachBum.com; Emedicine.medscape.com; Marie Claire; Mail & Guardian Online)