We spoke to aesthetician and owner of Toronto’s award-winning Allure Body Bar, Alaa Abbassi to discuss the politics of skin discolouration and why natural intimate area skin lightening is better for you than using products containing bleach
From the individuals extracting earwax from your eardrum, to the quiet crusaders shaving skin off your feet, in our monthly series The Professionals we meet the people taking pride in the nitty gritty side of beauty.
Full disclosure: I never really knew what anal bleaching was. I must have read about it online, something about someone from Geordie Shore getting it done. I also associated it vaguely with porn stars. Other than that, I saw it as one of those things that women were being conditioned into getting in order to fit this unrealistic idea of what men thought of as sexy. But if that was the case, how come there was no Dove advert about it, or viral campaign calling us to #freetheasshole?
I also mistakenly always thought it involved bleaching your bumhole hair. Like Jolen but for your bum. The more I thought about it, the more I realised I actually knew nothing about it, so I decided I would ask an expert. Then I thought, ‘Wait, what kind of person bleaches butt cracks for a living?’ So I decided to go and find out.
Alaa Abbassi has been lightening intimate areas for five years now. On average, she and her team at Allure Body Bar see about two to three bottoms each, per shift, per day. In 2011, Abbassi founded the Toronto-based body bar alongside her partner Frank, where she specialised in various intimate procedures, including the award-winning Quickzillian, and the equally popular Manzilian – quick and easy waxing procedures for both women and men.
Of Southeast Asian descent, Abbassi tells me she’s always had a problem with skin discolouration: under the arms, between the thighs and around the intimate area. While discolouration can occur in anyone (more on that later), it is more likely to be experienced by people of colour, which is why Abbassi feels so strongly about challenging the stigma surrounding it. For years she’d been experimenting with dangerous and painful home bleaching procedures, until she finally found a natural alternative, with no trace of bleach in it at all. Five years ago she decided to share it with her clients.
"People are too embarrassed to ask questions about whether there is even a treatment out there for it" – Alaa Abbassi
Hi Alaa, let’s start with talking a bit about your background. What made you want to be an aesthetician?
Alaa Abbassi: I’ve been a medical aesthetician for 14 years. Professionally I’ve wanted nothing more than to perfect waxing techniques and make it the most relaxing, quick, pain-free and easy process for everyone. The idea of making other people feel as beautiful as they could was what made me feel happy and beautiful from within.
How does anal bleaching fit into that?
Alaa Abbassi: A lot of people from all walks of life have intimate area discolouration. But it’s a topic that’s been hushed because it’s seen as shameful. People are too embarrassed to ask questions about whether there is even a treatment out there for it. We’ve had clients too ashamed to wear bikinis because the discolouration is so bad it goes down their legs.
What causes discolouration?
Alaa Abbassi: Childbirth, age, hormone imbalance, birth control, medication, weight gain, chemical burn, reaction to hair removal creams. Friction from dark clothing and the skin rubbing against the area. A lot of people are allergic to nickel or aluminium which is in their deodorant. And it’s in razors - it’s what makes the blade.
What’s the biggest misconception about anal bleaching?
Alaa Abbassi: People think that it’s only for escorts or porn stars. Not at all. It’s for anyone looking remove discolouration so that they can feel more confident in their body. And it’s not just butt cracks, anyone who is Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, or African will get discolouration under our arms, in our bikini area, inner thighs and around the butt crack. In the Caucasian demographic there is a very low chance that somebody would have discolouration. For us, it’s maybe 1/7 clients.
"Not everybody’s bumhole is meant to be shiny pink" – Alaa Abbassi
Have you ever experienced discolouration?
Alaa Abbassi: Not everybody’s bumhole is meant to be shiny pink. I’m Southeast Asian, so mine could never go pink no matter what I try. It would only go a light brown. Growing up I tried lots of different bleaching products with Hydroquinone and Kojic acid which cause a burning sensation. One day I was just like, “At what cost do I want to lighten my inner thigh and bikini area? Because this is hurting me.” It didn’t feel safe either. After some research I found South Beach – the company we are certified with and that we use. As a service provider we wanted something that was ethical, that we could stand by, that didn’t have chemicals in it and only used natural products. We call it anal bleaching but it’s actually intimate area skin lightening.
Why call it anal bleaching then?
Alaa Abbassi: Because not everyone is going to type ‘intimate area skin lightening’ in, but that’s what they want done. Once people come to our website, we tell them it’s lightening and we warn against bleaching products that can cause long term damage to your organs and skin. Our intimate area skin lightening products are all safe and FDA approved. They’re infused with liquorice root and bearberry extract which cause brightening effects naturally.
Do you ever worry that by offering a service that corrects discolouration, you might be reinforcing the stigma surrounding it in the first place?
Alaa Abbassi: We are not changing the colour of the skin you are born with, we’re dealing with environmental or hormonal discolouration that happened later in life. Growing up, my family and I all had experience with discolouration. We were brought up thinking, “What can we do about this?” I don’t want people to think that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with it. I just wanted to offer a service for people who are already suffering. We want to move away from Youtube tutorials that show homemade remedies using lemon or other products that can be really dangerous and cause burns. Believe me I’ve tried that. The service isn’t for everyone, if someone came in asking for it and we thought they didn’t need it we would tell them. You might also have discolouration and be completely comfortable and confident with it, which is great. The main idea was to create a space where it is safe to discuss it. Because no-one is really walking into a cafe and saying “Oh hey I just got my bum hole bleached”, right? It’s still hush hushed. It’s about letting people know that there are options if you’re interested.
"To finally have something that I can use to help my clients with was exciting" – Alaa Abbassi
So, how does it actually work?
Alaa Abbassi: It slows down and stops the hormone that causes hyperpigmentation. We use a sonic wand to penetrate the product deep into the dermis and to help exfoliate all the dead cells that have caused the discolouration of the top layer. Before we brought the line in we asked our clients whether it would be something the would be interested in. And they were like honestly we’ve been searching online for something like this, we’ve been making home remedies with lemon juice. Which can be very dangerous.
So how did it actually feel to carry out the first procedure?
Alaa Abbassi: To finally have something that I can use to help my clients with was exciting. Just the reaction of sheer happiness, that smile as they walk out, they’re more confident and I feel like I’ve done a good job. One of my clients even started crying because she had such bad discolouration, and the treatment totally erased it.
It’s a very intimate procedure, for both client and service provider, how do you navigate that?
Alaa Abbassi: You’re rubbing the area for around 15-20 minutes at a time. But there’s nothing weird about it. It’s done with a glove, it’s done in a discrete manner. Honestly I recognise clients by looking at their bums better than their faces. You’re staring at it the whole time.
How can we change the stigma around bumhole bleaching? How can we get to a point where talking about anal bleaching is normal?
Alaa Abbassi: By doing more articles like this. The body positive movement has grown, but no one really called it out for discolouration. But these are topics that I can see eventually being discussed. Five years ago we probably saw one client a day and now we’re doing a couple of people per shift per day in all three stores. Today people have access to more resources where they can find out about these treatments. A lot more people are becoming more open about getting into self care. So I think it’s definitely growing.