Yes — you read that correctly. There’s a facial for your vagina. For those of you new to the concept, the vajacial is a spa offering that’s taken vulvas by storm over the past few years. After all, we devote time and money to our face and hair. Shouldn’t we do the same for the most intimate area of the body?
Actually, should we?
There are plenty of articles explaining what vajacials are and their benefits. But there isn’t much discussion around whether the procedure is a true essential, a splurge-worthy indulgence, or just a health hype with a particularly catchy name.
In addition to breaking down vajacial basics, we asked Dr. Leah Millheiser, an OB-GYN, professor at Stanford University Medical Center, and women’s health expert, to weigh in on the trend’s necessity and safety.
We must admit, “vajacial” is much more memorable than “vulvacial,” but the vajacial is technically a facial for the vulva, not the vagina. (Anatomically, vajacials don’t involve your vagina, which is the internal canal.)
“Women need to understand that vajacials are performed on your vulva, not your vagina,” Dr. Millheiser emphasizes. Vajacials focus on the bikini line, pubic mound (the V-shaped area where pubic hair grows), and outer labia.
Vajacials are typically offered in conjunction with or after hair removal processes like lasering, waxing, sugaring, or shaving. “Women are grooming this area of the body, and hair removal habits like waxing and shaving won’t go away,” says Dr. Millheiser. “Ingrown hairs, inflammation, and blackheads are bound to happen. Many women are very aware of their vulva’s appearance, and these conditions can be bothersome.”
Because of this, Dr. Millheiser admits that she understands the rationale behind the vajacial, which aims to reduce ingrown hairs, clogged pores, acne, dry skin, or irritation in the vulvar area with processes like steaming, extractions, exfoliation, masking, and moisturizing. Some vajacialists (yep, we went there) even use treatments like red light therapy to get rid of bacteria and skin-brightening treatments to lessen discoloration and hyperpigmentation.
“I do not recommend vajacials,” advises Dr. Millheiser. “They are not medically necessary and women should not feel like they need to get them done.”
In fact, they may do more potential harm than good. Dr. Millheiser offers the following medical reasons for not indulging in this latest spa menu item.
1. Estheticians may not be knowledgeable of vulvar skin and hormones
“Most estheticians who perform vajacials are not trained in vulvar skin and how it shifts with hormones,” says Dr. Millheiser.
“Vulvar skin is much thinner and more sensitive than skin on our face. For example, vulvar skin thins out as we approach, experience, and conclude menopause. If an esthetician is doing rigorous vulva exfoliation, they can cause harm to a menopausal woman’s skin, even causing abrasions,” she explains.
Dr. Millheiser strongly suggests that if you do choose to get a vajacial, ask the specialist about their knowledge of hormones and vulvar skin tissue.
2. Vajacials put you at a heightened risk for infection
“It can be difficult to determine if a spa or salon is taking necessary health precautions by not reusing tools,” says Dr. Millheiser. “Any place offering vajacials should feel like a doctor’s office, complete with a disposal for sharp tools, like needles or lancets used for extractions. If you decide to get a vajacial, ask the practitioner where the sharps’ disposal is located.”
Not reusing tools is critical, as it helps prevent infection. However, even if the spa is abiding by this practice, vajacials always leave you prone to infection — period. When an extraction is performed, you’re essentially left with an open wound.
“As estheticians unroof blackheads or pop whiteheads on the vulva, these areas are now set up for vulvar infection,” says Dr. Millheiser. She adds that if someone with an open vulvar wound proceeds to have sex, they also put themselves at risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
3. Vajacials can cause irritation or inflammation
“If a vajacial includes the use of lightening or whitening creams, these can be an irritant to the vulva,” says Dr. Millheiser. “The vulva is very prone to allergic reactions from products because it’s not as tough as the skin on our face, which leaves it more susceptible to contact dermatitis — a skin rash caused by irritants. Plus, many of these products have not been tested.”
It’s completely reasonable and normal for women to want to feel confident about their vulva, though.
“The vulva is prone to lumps, bumps, and changes,” says Dr. Millheiser. “I understand that women want to feel good about this area, but vajacials aren’t the way to go about it.” Not to mention, they can be an expensive endeavor.
Instead, Dr. Millheiser recommends using a gentle exfoliator on the vulva — not the vagina — in between waxing or shaving. “Doing this three times per week will remove dead skin cells and help prevent ingrown hairs,” she says.
However, some people will experience ingrown hairs regardless. If this is the case, Dr. Millheiser suggests speaking with a gynecologist or dermatologist about laser hair removal, which won’t continually irritate the vulva like waxing or shaving may.
Turns out, vajacials can actually be the culprit of inflammation, irritation, and ingrown hairs (not to mention infection) — the very conditions women want to get rid of by seeking a vajacial.
Rather than heading to the spa or salon for a vajacial, it’s best to stay at home, head to the bathroom, and give Dr. Millheiser’s exfoliation techniques a try. Perhaps we can accurately coin this safer, less expensive, and doctor-recommended treatment “the vulvacial.”
English Taylor is a women’s health and wellness writer based in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Refinery29, NYLON, Apartment Therapy, LOLA, and THINX. She covers everything from tampons to taxes (and why the former should be free of the latter).