Experts warn women not to use lightening cream on vaginas

Experts warn against trend for women using skin-lightening creams on their intimate parts to please husbands on their wedding night – despite the ‘risk of burning and scarring’

  • Intimate whitening products include £75 cream launched in Birmingham in 2021
  • Cleo Fem ‘intimate whitening serum’ also promises a tightening effect
  • Julie Fokeh, 28, from Cairo told FEMAIL men expect bride to have lighter genitals
  • Gynaecologist Dr Ahmed El Ghazim warned of danger of unregulated products

Experts have warned that women risk scarring and burning their genitals by using creams designed to lighten the vaginal area. 

Products being sold online and in UK pharmacies offer women from non-white backgrounds the opportunity to bleach their intimate areas in a bid to be ‘more attractive in a Western way’.  

Just one such product is offered by Birmingham-based Severina’s Secrets, which charges £75 for its Perfectly Pink Privates Deluxe Whitening Cream.

Meanwhile pharmacies in Edgeware Road, London, where there is a high population of Arabs and Egyptians, have a wide stock of similar whitening products such as the Cleo Fem ‘intimate whitening serum’.

While these are regulated products and there is no suggestion that these particular creams pose any harm, NHS gynaecologist Dr Ahmed El Ghazim has warned that unregulated products ‘may contain corrosive substances such as bleach’. 

‘If a product is not correctly regulated, and produced outside of the UK it may cause burning, scarring and skin problems that will look far worse than a dark vaginal area,’ he said. 

The deluxe cream for men and women retails at £75.99 on Severina's Secrets

The deluxe cream for men and women retails at £75.99 on Severina’s Secrets 

The deluxe cream for men and women retails at £75.99 on Severina's Secrets

The deluxe cream for men and women retails at £75.99 on Severina’s Secrets 

This Cleo 'intimate whitening serum' was found in a London pharmacy

This Cleo ‘intimate whitening serum’ was found in a London pharmacy

‘Women of colour will naturally have a darker vaginal area, and this should not cause any concern. 

‘The products may not necessarily be harmful to use, but are harmful in the sense that they promote fairness.’ 

Skin lightening is a multi-billion-pound global industry with big name brands such as  Elizabeth Arden, Clinique, Garnier and Vaseline offering products. 

However, there is a booming market in illegal creams, soaps and pills, containing highly damaging ingredients such as mercury, bleach and acid.

Egyptian beauty and Egyptology graduate Julie Fokeh,28, has used lighteners on her armpits and sometimes her face - but wants to tell others they are 'beautiful as they are'.

Egyptian beauty and Egyptology graduate Julie Fokeh,28, has used lighteners on her armpits and sometimes her face – but wants to tell others they are ‘beautiful as they are’.

Skin lightening: Practice dating back thousands of years that’s now a multi-billion-pound global industry 

Skin lightening is practiced everywhere from the US to Africa and South East Asia, and dates back thousands of years. 

In ancient Greece, Rome and Mesopotamia, women painted their faces with a paste containing lead and chalk to appear whiter, because a lighter complexion was associated with being wealthy enough to stay out of the sun, while those doing manual labour were darker. 

Evidence has also been found in Ancient Egpyt, according to reports presented to the International Conference of Comparative Mummy Studies in Hildesheim, Germany in 2016, which said: ‘The remains of a young woman from 3,500 years ago was found with evidence of skin bleaching.

‘According to the researchers, this condition possibly points to a skin disorder known as exogenous ochronosis, and the dermatosis is often caused by protracted use of skin bleaching cosmetics.’

Today, clinics in Egypt offer skin whitening as standard for as little as £150 over several sessions to create a more ‘ideal’ look, this can range from the face to the bikini area. 

When the British occupied Egypt in the 50s the fairer skinned look was then adapted into advertising and continues until today, where models are seen with lighter eyes, skin and hair. 

Sudan, just below Egypt has similar attitudes to whitening, and many of the same products are sold there. 

People in Africa have used homemade remedies involving bleach and have suffered horrific burns as a result, because they can not afford a professional treatment, while countries such as Rwanda have banned lightening products. 

Nigeria is the biggest consumer of lightening products in Africa and the WHO estimates that 77 per cent of women use them. 

Skin lightening in Africa exploded in the 50s and 60s as nations gained their independence and people wanted the power and privilege associated with whiter skin.   

Colourism in India began before colonialism in the 1600s, when social hierarchy was based on caste systems.

The wealthy, royals and priests were at the top, while those with manual labour jobs were at the bottom.

Those working agricultural jobs in the fields became darker due to their sun exposure, starting the association that those with darker skin were lower in social hierarchy.

This was further ingrained into society during the colonial times, when European invaders cemented the belief that those with lighter skin were more powerful and therefore had access to more privileges.

The common belief was that those of higher social hierarchy weren’t as exposed to the sun as the lower castes, and could stay indoors.

A Washington University Global Studies Law Review found that invaders including Mughals, Portuguese, and British came to India as early as AD 712.

They note that ‘Arab and Muslim invaders, including the Mughals, came from the Arabic and Persian Belt and had a fairer skin tone than the majority of the local Indian population’, and were seen as more powerful.

The belief became so ingrained into society, that India’s first fairness cream ‘Fair and Lovely’ for women was introduced in the 1970s.

In 2005, India’s first fairness cream for men followed, Fair and Handsome, and was even endorsed by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. 

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The worst of these, a chemical called hydroquinone, is officially banned in the EU, but can still be prescribed by dermatologists for cosmetic reasons — and isn’t hard to find in the UK.

In removing the top layer of skin, which initially results in a ‘brighter’ looking face, it also removes the body’s natural defence against infection and the sun, increasing the risk of skin cancer.

If it enters the bloodstream, it can cause fatal liver and kidney damage.

Skin whitening is common within black, Asian and North communities, where women are led to believe that whiteness is more beautiful.

One Egyptian woman who has used whitening creams, albeit not on her genitals, told Femail that it’s particularly common among brides. 

Julie Fokeh, 28, an Egyptology graduate living in Cairo, said: ‘Men expect women to have a lightened private area on their wedding night. For a lot of women here this is the first time they will have sex, so they want to be perfect.’

‘They will spend money they don’t have on creams and treatments for the wedding night just to make sure they appear as the men want. 

‘This is why those types of creams are used. It’s not only products found in the pharmacy. We can also have laser sessions for whitening. 

‘I think it’s bad when women don’t accept themselves or do this for a man. I am trying to tell people that men also have different colours on their private areas, no one is perfect. We should accept ourselves as beautiful.  

‘We have a culture here that the female should be perfect, but not the man. Men here seem to love foreign girls and because of the sun we obviously just don’t have that type of white skin. So a lot of people use them to counteract the darkening of the skin from the sun.

‘However many men in Egypt are drawn to whiteness because of cultural aspects. In our culture, things that are different or forbidden are seen as attractive.

‘So if a man sees a European woman, he is drawn to her – because it is rare to find that kind of beauty here. 

‘Some Egyptian women would buy these products in an attempt to emulate that type of look.’ 

One woman, 30, who is half-Egyptian and grew up in the UK told Femail she spent most of her life being called ‘half-caste’ and was told to ‘brush her hair’ by teachers. 

‘My natural curlier hair was seen as messy and I would spend all day brushing it but the teachers would say I “looked a mess”.

‘I’ve also been bullied for how I look and my dark hair. When I was 11 my mum introduced me to bleach for my top lip hair. I was also told by my father that white, blonde women are more beautiful. 

‘Surrounded by Western looking girls in class I often felt ugly and ashamed. 

‘Also in the changing rooms, I noticed my vaginal area appeared darker than theirs and even when shaved had a shadow, I felt jealous it wasn’t white. 

‘Last year I bought the skin whitening cream for my bikini area in a shop because I feel it’s too dark. It worked, but I didn’t really research what was in it. I felt more beautiful and confident afterwards.’ 

Some of the products on offer to women looking to lighten their private areas include Severina’s Secrets run by Bulgarian born Severina Radoslavova Baycheva and Romanian born Maria Dinu.

Its range includes Perfectly Pink Privates Deluxe Whitening Cream for women and men, as well as ‘pure spray’ for vaginas.

The whitening cream, made from ‘natural ingredients’ retails at a hefty £75 and claims to ‘turn you into the confident powerful being you’ve always been’. 

It contains Kojic Acid, a by-product created while fermenting malting rice to use for making sake, Japanese rice wine, which inhibits the formation of pigment in plant and animal tissues, hence its use in lightening products. 

Other products contain Citrus Medica Limonum (lemon) extract, which is known for it’s natural bleaching properties.

Cleo Intimate whitening serum, which retails at £10.75 claims to be ‘A hypoallergenic intensive formula that lightens, tightens and tones the vaginal walls, eliminating infection, itchiness & discharge’, as well as lightening the skin.  

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