A group of plastic surgeons have warned men in Thailand to desist from joining the trending penis-whitening idea encouraged by their wives and girlfriends, dismissing the procedure as a “fashion” with uncertain benefits and many risks.
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Using lasers, acid or chemicals, the latest craze in genital beautification can leave men with burns, scars, taut skin or a darker or blotchy penis — the exact opposite of what they wanted.
“I think it should not be done in a patient that doesn’t need it,” said Milanese plastic surgeon Massimiliano Brambilla, who specializes in genital procedures. “Most of the substances that are used to whiten … are quite aggressive. Whitening is one of those things that I am very careful of.”
A Bangkok clinic said in January that a hundred men a month were using its penis-whitening service, just six months after it started offering the procedure. The clinic charges about $650 for five laser sessions.
According to global statistics produced by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), Thailand ranked 21st in terms of the number of cosmetic procedures performed in 2016.
The data also showed a massive rise in genital beautification procedures globally.
Labiaplasty, which involves trimming the inner vaginal “lips,” the labia minora, was by far the fastest-growing surgery in 2016, with a 45 percent rise from 2015, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS).
Genital whitening was not listed among the data, but industry experts say demand is growing.
“I think it’s linked to the pornographization of society,” said plastic surgeon Fabien Boucher from Lyon, France, another practitioner of “intimate” procedures.
“What people see is … a genital esthetic that in my view is not realistic,” he explained, with sex organs shaved and otherwise manipulated to represent those of very young people — hairless, smooth and pink.
It is normal for the privates to be more darkly colored than the rest of the skin, said Boucher.
“I do sex-change surgeries, constructing penises for female-to-male transformations, and these patients want exactly the opposite” of genital whitening — many opting for color-in tattoos, he added.
“A key defect of our penile reconstruction procedure is that we end up with white penises, which are visibly not natural.”
Another reason for the Thai trend is cultural. The Asia-Pacific region is a major market for skin lighteners.
Boucher stressed there has been little scientific research into the use of lasers and chemicals for penis whitening, and no bleaching techniques or products have been developed uniquely for use in this sensitive area.
“The skin of the penis is different” from that of the face or body, for which the existing products were conceived, said Boucher. “It is a thin skin … and we do not yet fully understand how it will react.”
The Thai health ministry has also warned against the procedure, saying it may cause irritation or infection and even presents a threat to sexual pleasure and reproduction.
“Honestly, I don’t think they should be doing it,” echoed Boucher, who said he wouldn’t perform the procedure until the science shows it is safe.
Brambilla said he has turned down about three whitening requests in his 15-year career. “If the color is uniform, I really see no need,” he explained.
“But even if there is a reason for intervention, such as an accident, the instruments that we have now to do it, they cannot guarantee, first of all, the satisfaction, secondly a realistic result and thirdly the safety of what you’re doing,” he said.
Penis enlargement, dropped by 28 percent in 2016, according to the ISAPS, likely due to the rise of new, less-invasive booster techniques.