There’s a new treatment that’s gaining popularity at spas across the country, even while it’s the butt of many jokes.
Anal bleaching is mocked in the movie Bridesmaids when Kristen Wiig’s character disses a fellow wedding-party member by accusing her of paying someone to achieve a perfectly uniform skin tone down there. Maya Rudolph’s Lillian fires back, saying that not only did she and pal Helen go for the treatment but they love their new assholes. And Sacha Baron Cohen’s flamboyant fashionista had anal bleaching done in the 2009 mockumentary Brüno.
The topic seems right up Amy Schumer’s alley too. But despite all the wisecracks, don’t expect anal bleaching to fade away anytime soon. In fact, Luba Sasowski, founder and chair of Wax Hair Removal Bar, with locations in Kitsilano and on Commercial Drive as well as in Nevada, says demand for the treatment has been increasing steadily since the company started offering it seven years ago.
“As a company, we’re doing something that’s been kind of unheard-of, but I predict in the next five to 10 years, anal bleaching is going to be like a Brazilian wax,” Sasowski says in a phone interview. “When the Brazilian wax came out, people were protesting it; it was the worst thing ever. It’s going to be the same thing with anal bleaching. Brazilians are our number one service; ‘Boyzilian’—or the ‘sac and crack’—is number two, and anal bleaching is our third-most-popular service.
“We try to have fun with it, because it’s a really intimate service and can be a very embarrassing service,” she adds. “We talk about anal bleaching like we talk about the weather. There’s no shy factor. Ask us anything.”
The term anal bleaching is somewhat misleading. Sometimes called anal or skin brightening, the procedure isn’t aimed at turning the nether regions white. Rather, it’s all about producing an even skin tone. The skin around the anus tends to be darker than surrounding skin because of larger, more developed melanocytes—skin cells that produce melanin, the dark pigment of skin. As full-on wax jobs around people’s private parts have become more popular, men and women alike have started to notice this variation in skin tone, hence the desire to even out hues.
Sasowski says skin discoloration can become more apparent with the hormonal changes that accompany aging or pregnancy. As well, she says members of some ethnic groups have darker skin in certain areas of the body, such as knees, elbows, nipples, and underarms as well as the vaginal, anal, and penile areas.
“When you remove all the hair from the pubic area, skin becomes much more apparent to the naked eye, and people just want it to look younger and healthier and more uniform,” Sasowski says.
Wax Hair Removal Bar uses South Beach Skin Solutions, which Sasowski says is the only natural skin-lightening product on the market. One of its key active ingredients is licorice root.
“We never want to hypo-lighten the skin,” Sasowski says. “A lot of these anal-bleaching products contain hydroquinone and kojic acid, which can cause massive damage to the skin. We have seen people that have bought things online and that were not approved by Health Canada and they’ve hypo-lightened their skin, and there’s no turning back from that.”
Dr. Shannon Humphrey, cosmetic dermatologist at Carruthers & Humphrey and clinical assistant professor in the department of dermatology and skin science at UBC, says that people considering anal bleaching need to approach the service with caution.
“This type of skin is very thin, and it’s prone to increased irritation because of its location,” Humphrey tells the Straight. “There’s often a lot of friction—rubbing of one skin surface against the other—and a phenomenon called occlusion, so the skin is always pressed up against other skin, meaning anything applied topically is going to penetrate and absorb more deeply.
“A second consideration, obviously, being immediately around the anus is that when solid waste is eliminated, there’s an increased risk for contamination,” she says. “So the bacterial count, bacterial load, of the perianal skin even in someone with great personal hygiene is going to be higher than on cutaneous surfaces, so there would be a slightly higher risk for infection or secondary infection in that skin.”
There’s a wide variety of anal-bleaching products used in Vancouver spas. There’s the potential for irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis when applying any topical ointments to the perianal area, Humphrey adds. Symptoms of irritant dermatitis include redness, itching, burning, peeling, or even skin breakdown. “When that [skin breakdown] happens, we start to worry about infection because of the risk for contamination in the perianal skin,” she says.
Allergic contact dermatitis is when a true allergy to a topical product develops over time, which has been reported with hydroquinone and kojic acid, she notes.
Some spas claim to use chemical peels in the perianal area, an approach Humphrey finds alarming because of ingredients such as trichloroacetic acid (or TCA), salicylic acid, and phenol.
“These are strong peeling agents that would be strictly contraindicated in the perianal skin,” Humphrey says. “Anytime you’re applying something new onto the skin there’s going to be a low incidence of side effects, probably a little higher in perianal skin. Make sure you’re informed. Make sure you know what’s being applied to your skin, and make sure you know the risks. I think any of these, regardless of topical preparation being applied, would carry a risk of irritation, even allergy, and if those develop it can become complicated by infection in perianal skin.”
As for who’s seeking the service, Sasowski says it’s not just porn stars.
“People have a misconception that it is for adult-film stars or the gay community, which is so not true,” she says. “Do those clients come to us for the service? Absolutely, 100 percent. Are they the majority? No. We have everyone from construction workers to politicians to famous A-list celebrities you see on the big screen to housewives to admin assistants. It really is a wide range of people.”
Or, as one of her company’s T-shirts puts it, “Some assholes need to lighten up.”