Vagina Facial: What Is the “Vajacial” And Is It Safe?
When you think of getting a facial at a spa, you probably imagine lying back while an esthetician applies creams, toners, and scrubs to your skin — maybe a pair of cooling cucumber slices over your eyes for added dramatic effect. What you’re probably not picturing is exfoliation in your bikini area or an LED light between your legs. But if you’re getting a vagina facial — AKA a “vajacial” — that’s likely what’s going down.
The vagina facial (which is really a treatment on one’s vulva, not the vagina) has been around for several years now, though it seems to resurge in pop culture every so often. Case in point: the season 4 episode of The Bold Type that focused on Jane’s vajacial experience...aaaand subsequent yeast infection, which was exacerbated after using an “intimate perfume” to combat a vaginal odor that made her self-conscious. (Big yikes.) The HBO series Insecure also brought up the treatment, with Molly undergoing a vajacial in the first season. And there are plenty of firsthand accounts of the procedure from folks who have tried a vajacial IRL.
But given how sensitive the vulvar area is, it begs the question: are vagina facials safe? What are the risks? And if you try one, how likely are you to end up with painful, itchy irritation like The Bold Type’s Jane? For those answers, we turned to two experts in the field: Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale University and practicing gynecologist, and Dr. Sherry A. Ross, Women’s Health Expert and Author of She-ology and She-ology, the She-quel: Let’s Continue the Conversation.
First things first: what exactly goes on during a vajacial?
The truth is: it depends. Some salons offer cleansing, exfoliation, ingrown hair treatment and/or removal, while others include abdominal massages, vaginal steaming, and the use of LED lights for antibacterial purposes. A vajacial might also include a “v-mask” (like a mud mask for one’s vulva) or a “high frequency wand” to enhance blood circulation. The procedure, while spa-like in nature, may also be used to treat vulvar acne, and to help add moisture and hydration to the vulva.
That sounds like a whole lot! What do medical experts think about all this?
Dr. Sherry tells Teen Vogue that, like anything else, if you do decide to have a vajacial, you should make sure you’re in experienced hands. “Vajacials are safe in the hands of a trained esthetician who is comfortable and experienced in working in this sensitive area,” she says. “Vajacials being performed by inexperienced or poorly trained estheticians could result in infection, disfigurement, and pain — among other unnecessary side effects.”
In Dr. Minkin’s opinion, the less “mucking around” vagina owners do in that area, the better. “When you're dealing with the most sensitive tissue in the body, and you start putting foreign chemicals and substances on there, you never know what you're going to end up with,” she says.
OK — about those side effects. What are some things to watch out for?
Both Dr. Minkin and Dr. Sherry advise that skin irritation and infection are possible after undergoing a vajacial. “The major things that people might experience are itching or pain,” Dr. Minkin says, explaining that certain topical products used in a vajacial might upset the natural pH balance of one’s vagina. “The key thing that people don't understand is that the vagina is an acidic organ and we want it to be acidic. Acid is good in the vagina. When people start using all of these soaps with deodorants and things like that, it causes irritation.”
Dr. Sherry notes that skin irritation can also occur due to dirty instruments or unclean razor blades during a vajacial. “An old or dirty razor blade carries unwanted bacteria that can cause razor burns, bumps, acne and other irritations to the skin,” she explains, adding that skin in the pubic area is especially sensitive and vulnerable. “Harmful bacteria can get into a hair follicle, which can cause acne or folliculitis.”
Yep, post-vajacial odors are also a possibility.
“Since the vagina is very sensitive to changes in your daily environment, anything that affects its pH balance will also affect the smell and consistency of discharge and odor,” Dr. Sherry explains. If you notice a “strong, foul, fishy vaginal odor with a thin, grayish-white discharge,” Dr. Sherry advises that you should go see your doctor. She says that many vagina owners might be inclined to self-diagnose discharge, itching, and odors as a yeast infection and opt for over-the-counter medicine, but this could delay proper diagnosis and treatment if a patient has another type of infection or condition.
Oh, and PSA: there's no need to spray any “intimate perfumes.” It’s totally normal to have some kind of smell down there at any time. As Jane on The Bold Type ultimately concluded: “Your vagina is supposed to smell like a vagina; not freshly baked cookies.” Dr. Sherry notes that it’s always a good idea to know what your vagina naturally smells like, so that you can properly identify new or concerning odors.
There are other ways to care for your vagina without getting a vajacial.
Dr. Minkin says the number one way to keep your vagina healthy is to keep the tissue “as clean as possible.” She explains that there’s a number of over-the-counter products on the market that are pH-balanced and safe to use on one’s vaginal area, such as moisturizing washes. Dr. Minkin also says probiotics can help boost the “good bacteria” in the vagina, but stresses that such OTC options should never be a replacement for seeing a doctor. “Again, if you think you have a significant odor, then talk to your gynecologist, nurse practitioner, or health care provider to see if there is a bacterial infection,” she says.
According to Dr. Sherry, a vagina needs the same kind of TLC that you’d give to any other part of your body. “Between urine, sweat, and its location so close to the anus, cleaning the outside of the vagina...is critical to prevent dirty bacterial buildup that leads to acne and to avoid odors that develop throughout the day,” she says, emphasizing that cleaning should be done externally. “Using a gentle, unfragranced intimate wash is ideal, especially one that is made specifically for the vagina. The vagina is not ‘dirty,’ but it does need to be cleaned daily like any other part of your body where heat, sweat, and bacterial build-up can occur.”
One thing to keep in mind: all vaginas and vulvas are “normal.”
Many of Dr. Minkin’s patients ask her the same question: “Am I normal down there?” It’s a common concern, especially in a time where porn is easily accessible, creating “idealized” versions in our heads of what vulvas are “supposed” to look like. Such a worry, Dr. Minkin says, might lead a person to seek cosmetic treatment on their vaginal area — like hair removal, brightening, and other procedures, some of which occur during a vajacial.
But it’s important to keep in mind that there’s not one “right” way for a vagina or vulva to look. As Dr. Minkin puts it: “The key thing is that there is not one perfect, ‘normal’ looking vulva; they have many, many, many shapes.” And, it would seem, they don’t really “need” mud masks at all.