The intimate health and beauty market is growing, but is the rebranding of traditional feminine hygiene products a step towards normalising female genitals, or just another way for brands to capitalise on women’s body insecurities?
When it comes to vaginal grooming, women’s options have previously been fairly limited: aside from various hair removal techniques and a short-lived vajazzling hype, until now vaginas have been fairly low maintenance. Now, for the first time ever, vulvas are having their time in the beauty industry spotlight, with more vagina-focused beauty products at our disposal than ever before.
The new wave of intimate care is less Vagisil and more vanity, with the arrival of high end vaginal serums, oils, and even highlighters to cleanse, exfoliate and hydrate your bikini area.They come gift wrapped in millennial pink or organic looking packaging, and are sold as luxury items that are meant to make women feel good. Using words like “empowered” and “liberated,” the strong feminist messaging behind intimate skincare brands and their products is unavoidable.
“The vagina is big business right now,” says Emma Grace Bailey, Beauty Editor at global trend forecasting agency WGSN. “Consideration for its well being, function and overall health are becoming just another part of many women’s beauty routines.” Indeed, it seems as though the beauty industry has finally realised the consumer potential of vaginas, a previously untapped market.
"Unless they’re being sexualised, vaginas, along with their byproducts, are still considered somewhat offensive" – Olivia Cassano
“New products are emerging that are both informative about sexual care as well as aesthetically appealing, attempting to eradicate the awkwardness often associated with buying feminine care products,” says Bailey. “To be honest, it’s been a long time coming, and represents a long overdue focus on female healthcare that goes beyond that of maternity.” According to Bailey, by 2024 the intimate health industry - which includes everything from daily feminine hygiene washes to this new wave of luxury vaginal skincare - is set to grow by 7.2% to a value of $35.3 billion.
Unless they’re being sexualised, vaginas, along with their byproducts, are still considered somewhat offensive. Pubic hair and period stains are still being censored on Instagram, and “corrective” labiaplasty is the world’s quickest-growing cosmetic surgery. In this sense, normalising vaginal skincare, making it seem “trendy” even could potentially be a positive shift. Sure, it might seem excessive and unnecessary to spend £50 on an anti-aging serum for your crotch, but on the other hand why shouldn’t you be able to?
Furthermore, it’s refreshing to see luxury vaginalcare being referenced with no mention of itching, discharge or any other medical ailment. Until recently, intimate care was purely about hygiene, but this recent shift into beauty and luxury changes the conversation around female genitals to something less gross and much more palatable.
“I feel like wellness and beauty are becoming more synonymous,” says Therese Clark, founder of Lady Suite, an independent beauty and wellness brand of intimate skincare products. “It shows me that women can actually care about their bodies in a way that’s healthier, more complete and are not as nervous, scared or live in shame around paying attention to their vaginas. I like seeing education around vaginas and vulvas that doesn’t feel like “I have a problem” and is more positive and communal. I think education in a way that’s not cold or sterile and more conversational can help undo the taboos around vaginas.”
At the forefront of the pubic skincare trend is Fur, a natural care brand that offers an oil and cream to hydrate skin, soften pubes, and eradicate ingrowns hairs. “While there is a distinct difference between using an oil to keep your skin ingrown hair free and undergoing a surgical procedure, above all what women choose to do with their bodies is a personal decision,” co-founder Lillian Tung tells Dazed Beauty. “When we formulated our products we focused on how they would make the consumer feel, not how it would make them look. The conversation around women’s body hair can often seem taboo, so we knew it was important that, as a brand, we come from a place of respect and create a product that works for every body, skin, and hair type.”
In doing so, Fur seemingly caters to a market that mainstream beauty brands neglect. “I think women have always wanted these types of products, but there wasn't anything out there that met the right standards. Big brands considered it a taboo subject and continued to push out removal-centric, artificial based products, which has allowed the indie beauty space and brands like Fur to fulfill that need.”
But while vaginal skincare might make individual women feel more comfortable with their vaginas, and remove the “ick” factor many still have towards female genitalia, they don’t exactly fight the cultural message that vulvas that don’t resemble those of porn stars are gross and unattractive - rather, they risk perpetuating it. Intimate skincare promises to alleviate female bodily issues by smoothing, plumping and tightening your vulva, but it doesn’t seem to be questioning why there’s even an issue to begin with. “In some ways it feels like the rise in this market is exploiting insecurity about normal female genitals. A market has been created and products are being sold where there is actually no real need,” says Dr Jane Ashby, Consultant Physician in Sexual Medicine at the Havelock Clinic. Being made to feel like our bodies aren’t good enough is an unfortunate byproduct of being a woman, but when girls as young as 15 are having labiaplasty without any medical justification, anything that promotes vaginal beautification will do little to help young women’s body image.
“In some ways it feels like the rise in this market is exploiting insecurity about normal female genitals" – Dr Jane Ashby
“Self-care can be any way of spending time which reconnects us with our self [and] it’s not for us to dictate what constitutes as self care for another person, but it is interesting to reflect on how societal discourses about women’s genitals might be negatively influencing a focus on the self in this way,” adds Dr Karen Gurney, Psychosexologist and Director of the Havelock Clinic. “Ultimately it’s about choice, but as a psychologist I’m always keen to work with someone on improving their comfort or confidence with their genitals as they are, rather than striving to modify them in someway.”
In this light, the feminist rhetoric used to actually sell these luxury products seems somewhat cynical. Are these expensive washes and high end oils really making us feel empowered? Are they making us feel beautiful? Italian model Naima Bossi thinks they do. “We all love to have our little beauty routines,” she says, “there is something about grooming your vagina that gives you a sense of womanly power. It makes you feel sexy, it’s kind of empowering.”
For Bossi, that power comes courtesy of luxury skincare brand The Perfect V, whose most popular Vanicure Essentials set includes a wash, an exfoliator, moisturisers and even a beauty mist all formulated to “rejuvenate, enhance and beautify the V.” Founder Avonda Urben created the brand to offer women an alternative solution to traditional intimate care. “Women want to feel beautiful all over, The Perfect V is all about beauty for the V and helping women feel confident,” she says.
To beauty junkies, vaginal skincare is no different than any other form of day-to-day maintenance. “I like to think of my vaginal skincare routine the same way I think of my under eye,” adds blogger Delanique Millwood. “It's very delicate, and fragile but people tend to forget to treat it a little more special than the rest of the body. I’ve noticed that now I have this sense of pride whenever I use my Vanicure products. It feels good to know that I care a lot about my V area, other than just what it smells like.”
"Perhaps if brands launched a skincare range for penises, complete with smoothing scrotum serums, this obsession for aesthetically pleasing vulvas wouldn’t feel as problematic" – Olivia Cassano
There are clearly arguments for both sides. It’s hard to tell whether vaginal skincare is just that, skincare, a positive means of normalising female genitals while supposedly allowing women to feel good about their bodies. But it could just as easily be seen as perpetuating the myth that women’s genitals are ugly and unsanitary, feeding into the patriarchal need to police and sanitise women’s bodies while simultaneously profiting from our insecurities. Perhaps if brands launched a skincare range for penises, complete with smoothing scrotum serums, this obsession for aesthetically pleasing vulvas wouldn’t feel as problematic.
But the issue isn’t with brands providing these products, or even with women using them, because the bottom line is that you’re entitled to do whatever you want with your genitals, whether that entails getting them surgically altered or slathering them in Fenty Body Lava. “It’s important to me that this brand isn’t about achieving a “perfect vulva” as there is no such thing,” agrees Clark of Lady Suite. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves so I didn’t want women to feel this is just one more marketing spin on achieving perfection.”
And Clark suggests another reason that all of this vagina pampering might be positive: that it helps us get to know our bodies better: “Progress is giving your entire body, including your vulva, what it needs to be healthy,” says the CEO, acknowledging that in order to eradicate the taboos around female genitals, intimate skincare needs to be accompanied with education, conversation and empathy. “We’ve found that even in a very simple intimate skincare routine, you automatically become more aware of your vulva and vagina, which to me is progress. Women just want to feel good – healthy, balanced and taken care of. They don’t want to feel like something is wrong with them. Who does?”