Fitness and Training

Stuff to know about the @nal bleaching trend

Just because Kourtney Kardashian tried it doesn’t mean you should.

Despite it being completely normal for the skin around the anus to be darker than the surrounding area, 83 percent of readers would consider trying out the anal bleaching trend, according to a recent Cosmopolitan poll.

FWIW: You can blame genetics and/or everyday friction for the darker tones, says gastroenterologist Rabia De Latour, MD.

But even though the color is totally normal, “anal bleaching is the treatment people ask us about the most,” says licensed aesthetician Graceanne Svvendsen, who manages Plastic Surgery and Laser Center in New York City. She says they receive up to 10 anal bleaching inquiries a week.

The trend first gained traction after adult film actress Tabitha Stevens had her anus bleached on the unscripted series Dr. 90210 to look better on camera. This quickly became the norm throughout the porn industry, which made U.S. search volume increase, according to Google Trends data.

Several years later, Kourtney Kardashian revealed she’d tried anal bleaching on her show Kourtney and Kim Take Miami. You can guess what happened next: Online queries for at-home anal bleaching products surged.

Today, the term “anal bleaching” itself has more than 49,500 monthly searches on average, according to SEMrush, making it a mainstream DIY practice and grooming appointment.

But is it safe? Can it cause risk or infection? Is it worth the $$? Here’s everything you need to know.

  1. The cheapest approach to anal bleaching is DIY, but it’s risky.
    You can buy an at-home skin-bleaching serum, cream, or peel online or at a drugstore, salon, spa, or cosmetic surgeon’s office for $6 to $44. Depending on the product, it may contain ingredients such as hydroquinone, azelaic acid, Kojic acid, niacinamide, or other botanical extracts, all of which chemically exfoliate dead skin cells responsible for hyperpigmentation, aka skin darkening caused by excess pigment, according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., New York City dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.

The problem: Some chemicals in skin-lightening products, like kojic acid and hydroquinone, may be considered carcinogenic, as per data from the National Institute of Health. When you DIY, “you’re more likely to apply the product improperly, which can injure the area and increase the chance that the product gets into the rectum and enters the bloodstream,” De Latour says, adding that it’s best to stick to products manufactured in the U.S. to minimize exposure to potentially dangerous ingredients.

  1. Side effects of chemical bleaching products can seriously suck.
    Beware of severe itching, burning, and stinging during and after treatment, Dr. Zeichner says. “Skin irritation is common when you use lightening creams, and it is even more likely to develop when you treat sensitive areas like perianal skin.”

If you experience any adverse effects in response to a product, stop using it right away, thoroughly wash the affected area with a gentle cleanser, then apply a petroleum-based moisturizer, such as Vaseline, to form a protective seal over the skin, he says.

Stuff to know about the anal bleaching trend

  1. Professional anal bleaching can be pricey — but worthwhile, if you must.
    Some spas, salons, and plastic surgeons offer the service for about $125 per session, according to Cindy Barshop, CEO and founder of VSpot Medi-Spa in New York City. Others, like the Unisex Intimate Bleaching Peel, offered at Svendsen’s office, cost up to $1,000 for three 30-minute treatments scheduled two weeks apart. You could see results after one session, but it will likely take several sessions to get the skin color you want, and you often need to apply lightening products at home between sessions. Like DIY bleaching, the results can last up to six months, Svendsen says.

Because professionals typically use more potent lightening products that deliver faster results than DIY options, according to Svendsen, exposure to professional-grade products could increase your chance of post-treatment irritation, Zeichner says.

The biggest benefit of going pro is peace of mind, since products are applied by technicians who can see what they’re doing, Dr. De Latour says.

  1. You need to forgo sex during anal bleaching treatments.
    To prevent skin infections, Svendsen recommends skipping sexual activities for three to five days post-treatment, even if the treated area isn’t irritated. And if the skin in the anal area is open or raw any time after treatment, you should continue to abstain, Zeichner says.

Because heat and friction can irritate your skin and cause hyperpigmentation that makes it harder to maintain anal bleaching results, either you should avoid waxing and laser hair removal, plus activities such as hot yoga, running, bathing, wearing a thong, and soaking in a hot tub — or exercise caution.

  1. If you don’t want beauty products all up in your butt, there’s a laser bleaching alternative.
    The treatment breaks down dark skin pigment into small particles that are later carried away by white blood cells. Although it can cause a hot, prickling sensation, in the area that’s treated, a prophylactic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen can help, as can a topical numbing agent applied by your practitioner. The treatments can cost upwards of $375 per 20-minute session, like at Sherrill’s Los Angeles office. Expect to see results about a week after the first treatment, although you may need up to three sessions for optimal results, with touch ups every six to 12 months, Sherrill says.

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  1. Laser treatments have some uncomfortable side effects, too.
    Afterward, the skin might swell and feel sunburned for a few days. In rare cases, it could irritate the anal canal lining and cause burns, which can result in permanent scarring, Dr. De Latour says.

  2. Anal bleaching could cause anal strictures, which make pooping difficult.
    Any of the bleaching treatments outlined above can lead to scarring (a.k.a. anal strictures), which could prevent the anus from properly stretching during bowel movements, and ultimately lead to constipation and pain while evacuating your bowels, according to Dr. De Latour. “This is a very sensitive area of the body, and there are no studies that show what the real risks of anal bleaching are,” she says.

It’s why, if you spring for pro anal bleaching, it’s extra important to choose a provider with a dermatologist or gynecologist on staff to oversee the procedure, Dr. De Latour says. Alternatively, Dr. Zeichner suggests consulting a dermatologist about DIY products before using them.

The Bottom Line
Ultimately, any approach to anal bleaching can endanger your health for a temporary benefit: “With time the pigment producing cells come back. “If one of my patients told me they were considering doing this,” Dr. De Latour says, “I’d warn them that the cosmetic benefit does not outweigh the health risks.”

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