Sun, Feb 04, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Thai penis whitening fad worries plastic surgeons


Plastic surgeons this week raised red flags about a penis whitening fad in Thailand, dismissing the procedure as a phallic “fashion” with uncertain benefits and many risks.

Requiring the use of lasers, acid or chemicals, the latest craze in genital beautification can leave men with burns, scars, taut skin or the exact opposite of what they were after in the first place — a darker penis or a spotted one, experts said.

“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.”

Earlier this month, a Bangkok clinic said 100 men a month were making use of its penis whitening service just six months after it started offering the procedure. The clinic charged about US$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” or labia minoria, was in 2016 by far the fastest growing surgery sector, with a 45 percent rise from 2015, the ISAPS said.

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.

“What people see is ... a genital aesthetic that in my view is not realistic,” with sex organs shaved and otherwise manipulated to represent those of very young people — hairless, smooth and pink, he said.

It is normal for the privates to be more darkly colored than the rest of the skin, Boucher said.

“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,” he said.

Another reason for the Thai trend is cultural. The Asia-Pacific region is a major market for skin lighteners.

Boucher said 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” to that of the face or body, for which the existing products were conceived, Boucher said. “It is a thin skin ... and we do not yet fully understand how it will react.”

The Thai Ministry of Public Health has also warned against the procedure, saying it might cause irritation or infection, and even presents a threat to sexual pleasure and reproduction.

“Honestly, I don’t think they should be doing it,” said Boucher, who said he would not 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, 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.

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