More and more of us are comfortable incorporating the zap of a laser gun in our beauty routine, from facials to hair removal, but how about below the belt? A collagen stimulating, hydrating laser treatment for your vagina might seem the height of beauty ludicrousness, but far from being a frou-frou prettifying endeavour, vaginal laser treatments are medical procedures that, while helping to tighten and repair vaginal tissue, can ease common symptoms of the menopause, prevent the recurrence of UTIs and alleviate pain and discomfort after childbirth. Curious? We booked a consultation with Mr Pandelis Athanasias, Consultant Gynaecologist at Twenty-Five Harley Street and Honorary Senior Lecturer at St George's University of London, to discover the ins and outs of lasers for your lady bits.
Sorry, you want to put what where?!
Don’t be alarmed- we’re not talking laser quest downstairs. We promise there’s no pain (just the small possibility of mild discomfort) and a single treatment lasts all of three minutes. Dr Athanasias explains the who, when, what and where for reassurance:
“A vaginal laser is a probe- similar to when you have a transvaginal ultrasound scan- which is inserted into the vagina. The CO2 laser gently acts on the vaginal walls through a special scanner. The probe is inserted into the vagina and the interaction with the laser stimulates the collagen contained in the vaginal walls, resulting in rehydration and functional tissue restoration.”
Now that that’s cleared up, here’s why Dr Athanasias got into this vaginal lasering business in the first place:
“Many of my patients with severe vaginal symptoms after the menopause (burning, soreness, painful sex, recurrent water infections) were not eligible for hormonal treatment for their vulvo-vaginal atrophy, or they were not willing to take the risks of the treatment.”
“Other women tried vaginal oestrogen treatment but it failed to improve the symptoms. This is when I started looking into other options for my patients. I travelled to the United States and Italy where the CO2 laser has been used with outstanding results. After talking to the clinicians and the patients I realised that MonaLisa touch ( a type of vaginal laser treatment machine) could be a reliable option for my patients. Iit is something I now offer at 25 Harley Street. The procedure is currently available at selected clinics in the UK.”
Who are you aiming this laser at?
Not just any Mary, Martha or Margaret I can tell you. You should only ever undergo a vaginal laser treatment on the advice of a gynecologist, and if it’s not medically necessary, said doc should refuse you. Facelift for your vajuju this is not. Dr Athanasias explains who a vaginal laser treatment could serve:
“The procedure will benefit menopausal women experiencing:
• Vulval or vaginal burning or itching
• Vaginal dryness
• Pain during intercourse
Additionally Mona Lisa Touch has shown to be helpful for many other disorders and symptoms such as mild urinary incontinence, vaginal laxity, lichens sclerosis and vulvodynia.”
I’ve just had a baby and things are not as they were...can a vaginal laser help?
If you’ve ever tried to do a star jump or even look at a trampoline post-kids, you’ll know the very real issues that can arise following vaginal births (unpredictable leakage for one). Gynaecologist to the rescue:
“After childbirth many women will have to deal with issues as vaginal discomfort due to injury or dryness, mild urinary incontinence, pain during intercourse and loss of vaginal elasticity. Those problems can lead to a loss in libido and self-confidence. The prompt management of those problems is crucial in preventing long term consequences.”
“Pelvic floor exercises and the use of vaginal moisturisers or hormonal creams can help but an assessment by a gynaecologist is essential when the above measures prove of limited efficacy.”
“A vaginal laser can provide a gentle and non-invasive treatment. It's proved to reshape, tone and stimulate vaginal tissues and regenerate collagen with a dramatic improvement in the quality of life. Patients report a reduction in the urge to urinate when stressed or rushed, fewer urinary infections, increased libido and less pain during intercourse (after birth trauma).”
“I would recommend investigating laser treatment if the first-line measures described above fail, after an assessment by a specialist to rule out other conditions and assess suitability.”
“In terms of treatment timing, the procedure should be performed at least three months post childbirth. It’s worth bearing in mind that women can opt for the treatment even if they haven't completed their family yet."
Who should dodge the laser?
This should be assessed on a case by case basis, but while a vaginal laser treatment can have side-effects including tightening and the improvement of skin around the vagina, Mr Athanasias emphasises that cosmetic gain isn’t the aim here:
“If your vagina has “loosened” a laser treatment could help, but there are contraindications. Vaginal looseness refers to a condition where the diameter of the vagina has increased. This is usually caused by natural yet traumatic events, such as giving birth or tissue relaxation due to a natural ageing process. It is essential for a consultant gynaecologist to evaluate the cause of vaginal laxity and exclude a prolapse or other conditions. The MonaLisa Touch can treat cases where the "loose vagina" is due to a mucosal tone loss, but it can’t address conditions such as prolapse, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for cosmetic purposes.”
Why do hormonal changes and the menopause commonly havoc in *that* area?
“Vaginal atrophy, also known as vulvo-vaginal atrophy (VVA) or atrophic vaginitis, relates to the thinning and drying of the vaginal walls, and this often happens as we age”
“It is a condition that affects many women, particularly post menopause, after the removal of both ovaries (surgical menopause), or following chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormonal treatments for breast cancer.”
“Vaginal atrophy occurs due to a woman’s body failing to produce enough oestrogen.
Many women may not be suitable for HRT or other hormonal treatments, so a vaginal laser treatment could be an excellent option.”
*No one* is talking about this. Is this a case of ‘suffering in silence’?
Given the stats, it certainly seems so. Mr Athanasias gives us some background:
“It is estimated that almost half of postmenopausal women experience vaginal atrophy, however the condition is not widely discussed due to embarrassment and as such, few seek treatment. Many women believe that it is a normal consequence of menopause and resign themselves to suffering in silence.”
“According to a new campaign launched by MonaLisa Touch, 1 in 4 women state that vaginal atrophy is putting a stop to their sex life and half of women say it negatively affects their body confidence, with a quarter of women claiming it leaves them feeling less attractive.”
In short, if you’re experiencing any kind of mental of physical turmoil due to vaginal changes, you are certainly, definitely, conclusively not alone. Here’s what can be done sans laser…
The laser-free fixers
Vaginal soreness and dryness has typically been treated thus…
“Women can try a vaginal moisturiser to restore moisture in the vaginal area. The effects of a moisturiser generally last a little longer than those of a lubricant. However, these measures only provide temporary relief and do not treat the underlying condition.”
“Oestrogen treatment has traditionally been considered as the gold standard therapy for vaginal atrophy, but many women not allowed or not willing to try hormonal treatment.”
Which is where the humble laser comes in…
What happens during a laser treatment? How does it feel? Will I be walking like a cowboy afterwards?!
John Wayne doesn’t feature, thankfully. Speed and minimal downtime are of the essence.
“One simple treatment lasts only a few minutes, with no pain, side effects or recovery time.”
“For the best chance of giving the tissue the tone and elasticity it previously had, we recommended a minimum of three treatments, 30-60 days apart, followed by an annual maintenance treatment.”
“Many women report symptom relief after the very first treatment and even greater improvement after treatments two and three. In order for the symptom relief to remain effective for around 12 months all three treatments would needed to be carried out.”
What type of laser are we talking?
“MonaLisa Touch is a CO2 fractional laser which actually treats the atrophic vagina and improves the tissue, thereby relieving vaginal dryness and painful sex. This treatment is supported by at least 17 peer reviewed studies. The laser pulse of energy (known as the DEKA pulse) is the only CO2 fractional laser specifically designed for vaginal atrophy.”
Can I go for laser peri-menopause, or only post? Can I take HRT at the same time?
The laser world is your oyster according to Mr Athanasias, although under medical supervision only.
“Laser treatments can be done either around or after the menopause depending on the severity of the symptoms. An assessment by a gynaecologist is essential to confirm suitability for the procedure.”
“As for systemic HRT, it’s not very effective for the treatment of vulvo-vaginal atrophy. If it is taken to control other menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes or night sweat, then you can carry on with the treatment.”
How quickly can I see improvements?
You don’t have to sit this one out- instant gratification is possible.
“The tissue regeneration process will last several weeks but stimulation occurs immediately and significant improvements can be seen even after the first treatment.”
“For vaginal atrophy three treatments are recommended four to six weeks apart and then yearly. One study has shown improvements of 90% in vaginal laxity, 85% in vaginal itching, 84% in vaginal burning, 76% in dryness and 72% in pain during sex, after three sessions of MonaLisa Touch.”
Talk me through the name...MonaLisa Touch is creeping me out a bit.
“At the time of the launch of the laser vaginal procedure, the manufacturers were looking for a name that didn’t sound too medical. A neutral name wouldn’t embarrass the patients requesting the procedure, or when you check in at reception for example.”
Book in to see Mr Athanasias here