Non-surgical treatments have taken the aesthetic world by storm. For many patients, this has been a welcome storm, bringing more convenient options to improve their appearance without surgery and the associated recovery time. It also has meant patients can act sooner, instead of waiting for problems to progress to the point where surgery is justified.
One area where we are seeing a particularly strong interest in non-surgical alternatives is with vaginal rejuvenation. Issues such as discomfort with certain clothing, challenges with exercise, urine leakage, and painful intercourse are common among women, especially following childbirth or menopause. Stretched, sagging labia and/or thinning vaginal tissues are at often the root of these problems. Until recently, surgery such as labiaplasty was the only effective treatment option, which, understandably, many women would rather avoid.
So when non-surgical vaginal rejuvenation procedures hit the market a few years ago promising to improve or even solve many of these problems with a 15-minute pass of a heat-inducing wand, I was very interested—and you can bet patients were too!
Even in the best-case scenario, non-surgical vaginal rejuvenation can only moderately tighten tissues—it cannot remove sagging skin or dramatically tighten stretched tissues like labiaplasty can.
Non-surgical devices such as Thermiva, Femilift, etc. use laser or radiofrequency energy to heat internal and external tissues. Treated tissues respond by making new collagen, becoming firmer, and thickening the mucous layer. These effects may improve common issues such as:
Here’s the catch—even in the best case scenario, non-surgical vaginal rejuvenation can only moderately tighten tissues—it cannot remove sagging skin or dramatically tighten a stretched vaginal canal. Moreover, the effects are temporary, and periodic re-treatment is needed to maintain results. Over time, the costs add up and rival that of surgery.
Also, while many patients have reported good results with these devices, most of these devices are actually not FDA approved for vaginal rejuvenation, but to treat specific medical issues such as genital warts or precancerous tissues. Providers who use them for vaginal rejuvenation are doing so “off-label” and manufacturers who advertise their benefits for vaginal rejuvenation have been doing so based on anecdotal evidence and studies that the FDA has yet to approve.
In response, the FDA released a statement warning consumers of the potential risks of energy-based vaginal procedures, which include risk for serious burns, scarring, and pain during intercourse. In the same statement, the FDA urged providers to more accurately communicate the limitations of these procedures as well as the potential benefits.
There are limitations to what non-surgical treatments can achieve—and sometimes the excitement over the possibilities of new technology leads to hyped-up claims.
In short, non-surgical treatments may benefit certain patients with mild tissue laxity in the labia and vagina, but they are not a substitute for surgery, and they are not risk-free. If you are considering one of these treatments, choose a doctor who is highly experienced in energy-based devices and enter treatment with realistic expectations.
While non-surgical vaginal rejuvenation may be a good option for some patients who are experiencing mild discomfort, it does not come close to expertly performed surgery in terms of consistency, predictability, and long-lasting improvements.
A laser can only induce general tissue tightening, while a skilled plastic surgeon has specific control over the changes to be made. They will customize the procedure to achieve an aesthetically pleasing outcome as well as address medical concerns such as pain during intercourse, stress incontinence, or discomfort with exercise.
With labiaplasty, an experienced surgeon can remove excess tissue to improve symmetry, restore a more normal size, and immediately alleviate discomfort caused by large or sagging labia. Surgical tissue removal and reshaping is also more predictable and lasts much longer than non-surgical tightening, with a surprisingly reasonable recovery time—most patients comfortably return to work and daily activities just 2 or 3 days after labiaplasty, a small price to pay for a dramatic improvement in comfort and self-confidence!
I am in favor of helping patients achieve their goals in the least invasive manner possible and offer many non-surgical options in my office. However, there are limitations to what non-surgical treatments can achieve—and sometimes the excitement over the possibilities of new technology leads to hyped-up claims. If you are bothered by pain, discomfort, or aesthetic changes in the vaginal area, I invite you to contact my office to schedule a personal consultation. My staff and I will be glad to help you weigh the pros and cons of labiaplasty vs. non-surgical vaginal rejuvenation.