What You Need to Know About the Insane New Health Trend Sweeping Asia

There are a lot of strange health trends out there. Some of them are a waste of money, while others might actually endanger your health. Some, like the latest craze overtaking Thailand — A laster procedure called “penis-whitening” — carry more of a cultural weight — but still aren’t, technically, necessary.

Here’s what’s happening, why it’s so popular, a summary of potential (and terrifying) health risks, and why this procedure is so controversial.

What is it?

Lasers for laser treatments

This is one of the oddest health trends we have ever heard of. | iStock.com

It’s just what it sounds like. A man’s penis is treated with a laser to alter the pigmentation, lightening the skin with — in many cases — few to zero major side effects.

Penis-whitening is similar to many other cosmetic procedures in that there’s a high cost with more psychological than physiological benefits. Skin whitening isn’t anything new, but focusing the trend on this specific body part is a more recent development.

Why are people doing it?

Asian woman smiling, with shopping cart

Skin-whitening products are very popular in Asia. | iStock.com/beer5020

In various parts of Asia, both men and women — especially between the ages of 20 and 50 — strive for whiter skin. Retailers sell all kinds of skin-whitening products, from soaps to lotions to sunscreens. It’s a beauty trend that’s been around for hundreds of years — but is this ambition worth the cost? 

How much does it cost?

moisturizing milk in the big milk splash

You can also find skin-whitening products in the U.S. | iStock.com/katerinchik73

You can buy skin-bleaching lotions and creams in the U.S. for less than $10. For many people, though, this isn’t enough. They want something more permanent — and they’re willing to pay for it.

Five sessions of a penis-whitening treatment typically cost about $650. There’s a chance that the effects of the procedure will fade if a patient stops regular treatments, so this isn’t typically a one-time cost. Someone might pay for treatments continuously for years if they so desire — but for what benefit?

Are there benefits?

Brain lobes in different colors

The benefits are at best psychological. | iStock.com/alex-mit

Physically, no. Psychologically, maybe. If you really want to know why people are paying money for this procedure despite the lack of scientific benefits, you have to instead ask why people opt for purely cosmetic surgeries at all.

Put simply, people undergo these procedures because they want to. Poor self-esteem is one of the greatest predictors that a person will agree to have a physical part of themselves altered in some way, despite the possible associated risks.

What are the health risks?

Doctor fees

More research will need to be done to learn the true health risks of this procedure. | iStock.com/PhotoBylove

The more this trend spreads, the more experts question the overall safety of an elective procedure like this. Setting the laser improperly could always lead to a burned penis, and there’s a chance the irritation and inflammation following the procedure could last. And those are just the mild side effects.

In extreme cases, scarring and disfigurement could occur following a round of laster treatments. That’s probably not great for anyone’s sex life, to be honest.

People also use other skin-whitening methods

Woman holding water and pills

There are also skin-whitening pills available. | iStock/Getty Images

Other than soaps and lotions, and the “bleaching creams” many people use in the United States, women throughout Asia also use skin-whitening pills. Like many other supplements, these are costly and don’t always produce the results they promise to. They’re also becoming controversial for other reasons.

Is skin-whitening racist?

Guy getting Laser Epilation Treatment

Skin-whitening is certainly a controversial topic. | Stock.com

A preference for fairer skin has been around for centuries. That hasn’t made any skin-whitening methods any less controversial — especially when poorly executed advertising turns the seemingly innocent beauty trend into a political disaster.

One video ad for skin-whitening pills implied that whiter skin makes people more successful. The practice itself might not have the same racial implications, but the messaging itself might need some work.

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