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Practising Self-Care Down There

By Bianca Husodo

 
Fur
 

When Emma Watson unabashedly applauded the wide-ranging multipurpose application of New York-based Fur’s pube oil — “I’ll use that anywhere from the ends of my hair to my eyebrows to my pubic hair,” — the internet lurched into a giddy uproar. The pubic skincare label has since dubbed it “The Emma Watson Effect”: A year after the English actress’s shoutout, Google searches for “Fur Oil” reportedly increased by 600 percent, winning the company over 100 new retailers.

A celebrity, willingly extending her regimen of vaginal grooming for public scrutiny, is perhaps nothing new. But if Gwyneth Paltrow was on the receiving end of massive backlash for introducing jade eggs that her lifestyle company Goop claimed would “balance hormones”, the revelatory candour of Watson — a feminist advocate and a goodwill ambassador of UN Women — marked a watershed chapter for the female genitalia. 

A vulva, bereft of hair is now so popular as to be accepted as the cultural norm. The practice of shearing or entirely stripping off pubic hair first gained traction in the mid-’90s. In its heyday, the Brazilian wax — a “technique” named after its Brazilian purveyors — incited lengthy features in beauty glossies, even earning a dedicated episode of ‘Sex and the City’. 

Studio Eva ZarAppealing to the pube-nurturing demographic, Fur’s cult oil claims to soften the nether hair, preventing ingrowns and inflammation.
Appealing to the pube-nurturing demographic, Fur’s cult oil claims to soften the nether hair, preventing ingrowns and inflammation.

Now, in the evolving post-#MeToo topography, more women, the likes of Watson, are dismissing patriarchal notions. And the exterior visage of the vagina is no longer pinned to the hairless archetype. 

While back then women endured hair-removing agony to facilitate the male gaze’s preferences for prepubescent crotches, a recent survey showed regular shavers and waxers admitting they did so in hopes of improving hygiene.

This perception is troubling. The pervading normality of hair removal has culminated into a misconception that the presence of vulva mane equates to uncleanliness.

Pubic hair, in fact, functions as a protective cushion against friction, says Dr. Janice Tung, an obstetrician-gynaecologist at O&G Specialist Clinic. It blocks certain bacteria from entering the vagina and helps maintain an optimal temperature in the nether region. Eliminating the pubic hair reduces the vagina’s natural defence mechanisms, leaving it prone to ingrown hairs and larger risks of sexually transmitted infections. 

Doctors agree that, more often than not, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. After all, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ.

Pampering the nether region

When it comes to intimate care, the options have been fairly limited. Until recently, products that are easily available in drug stores are catered to cleansing, of which is unnecessary, as opposed to nurturing; let alone pampering. 

FurFur’s range of vulva-centric offerings.
Fur’s range of vulva-centric offerings.

Coming into the realisation of a largely untapped market, the beauty industry is harnessing its consumer potential. Consideration for the vagina’s well-being, function and overall health is becoming just another part of many women’s beauty routines. Now, a long-overdue focus on female healthcare that goes beyond that of maternity has arrived: In a time when “self-care” has become an established sociocultural obsession with a fluid working definition, a new wave of high-end products targeting the vulva has aptly surged, parking their oils and serums under the novel category of luxury intimate care. 

In Singapore, Cynthia Chua — the founder of the Spa Esprit Group of which lists beauty parlours Strip and Browhaus in its portfolio — is one of such frontrunners. Having been in what she calls the “vulva care business” for more than 20 years, Chua is all too familiar with the gripes her customers face.

“I’ve met many women, customers and friends, who shared their concerns about their vulvas — dry skin, itchy skin,” says Chua. Just like the skin on other parts of the body, the skin around the vulva can be affected by hair removal, hormonal fluctuations and other common skin conditions. “And there really wasn’t a comprehensive range of vulva care products to address these needs,” she says. 

Late last year, Chua launched Two Lips, a line of intimate care offerings. And its first release? A mask for the vulva. 

Two LipsTwo Lips’s Blackout Mask is a charcoal mask for the vulva.
Two Lips’s Blackout Mask is a charcoal mask for the vulva.

Dubbed the Blackout Mask, the charcoal-activated sheet is designed to be left between the thighs, covering the vulva region, whether hairless or with hair, for some 15 to 20 minutes. It’s meant to soothe, detoxify and moisturise the vulva skin. On their site, an accompanying playlist for these self-care minutes is provided.

Two Lips has since added a flank of products. Serums and creams arrive housed in aesthetically appealing millennial pink bottles and packaging; a considerable shift away from the clinical approach of traditional intimate care products. It’s refreshing to see no mention of itching, discharge or any other medical ailment attached. This trendy normalising of vaginal skincare is rapidly abolishing the awkwardness that is too often associated with purchasing feminine care products. 

But are these products really helping or at all necessary?

At the end of the day, it is not about working towards achieving a “flawless vulva”, as there is no such thing. “There is a great variation in the natural appearance of the vulva among individuals,” says Dr. Tung. “And normal healthy vulva does not require such products, as long as good vulva hygiene and care habits are maintained.” 

Sure, it’s unnecessary to spend S$180 on a hydrating hyaluronic acid serum for the crotch, but, then again, why shouldn’t we be able to?

Two LipsTwo Lips’s Diamond serum is designed to reduce pigmentation and dullness of the skin.
Two Lips’s Diamond serum is designed to reduce pigmentation and dullness of the skin.

Luxuriating the vagina might just be a good thing: It helps women to get to know their bodies better. It is perhaps important to note that while vaginal skincare can be easily perceived as a bolster to women’s insecurities, it might just be a positive means of normalising the female genitalia, while at the same time, allowing women to feel great about their bodies. 

“One of the first things I learned is that the vulva is something that’s seldom talked about and is often misunderstood. I’ve met many young ladies who didn’t know the difference between the vulva and vagina and, to me, the first step to vulva care is understanding your body,” says Chua. “But ultimately, it’s really all about the freedom to choose how you want to take care and pamper yourself. Your body, your choice.” 

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