health

Cosmetic vagina surgery that can be done on your lunch break.

Image: iStock

After her first child was born six years ago, Kirsten Fagan found exercising a little trickier than usual.

“I found that when I used to jump or do skipping or the treadmill, I needed to pee all the time. It was like, I can’t do this for longer than two minutes, I’ve gotta go,” the 36-year-old mum of two recalls. “I remember thinking, well, I’ll never run like I did before.”

Being a former professional athlete, this was incredibly frustrating for Kirsten – but it’s also a situation lots of us can relate to. The hormonal changes that pregnancy and menopause cause in a woman’s body can trigger a range of side-effects, particularly in the vagina. Stress incontinence, dryness, laxity and irritation are just a few symptoms of vaginal atrophy – the thinning of the vaginal walls as a result of the ovaries releasing less oestrogen.

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Around half of Australian women will suffer from these symptoms in their lifetime, although not all of them will bring up the topic with their doctors. And until recently, treatments have been limited to topical creams and hormone replacement therapy, which aren’t always suitable.

However, Australian clinics are starting to offer a procedure called Mona Lisa Touch, which has been touted as a major step forward for women’s health. Despite what the name suggests it doesn’t mean a vagina follows you around the room. No. It’s a laser treatment that rejuvenates the vagina walls, without using hormones or surgery.

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Cosmetic Surgery for Women is the first practice in Melbourne to offer the Mona Lisa Touch. Dr Malcolm Linsell, the clinic’s plastic surgeon, has already treated about 15 patients ranging in age from 36 to 66. While he was sceptical at first, Dr Linsell says he’s been surprised by how well the procedure works. “The feedback we’ve had from several patients is really truly been quite amazing,” he tells The Glow.

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Mona Lisa Touch works by directing beams of laser light into the walls of the vagina, using a specially designed fractionated carbon dioxide laser that’s inserted inside.

“In the past when laser was used to treat an area, it was really like a little burn. However, now they’ve fractionated the laser, it means the tiny pinpoints of laser go into the area that’s being treated,” Dr Linsell explains. “What that means is that the area heals much more quickly and at the same time gives the benefit that you’re looking for.”

The machine used for Mona Lisa Touch

When the laser beam hits the wall, it promotes blood flow into the region and encourages the cells to produce more collagen. The result is more lubrication, tightness and elasticity in the vagina, which is what can relieve symptoms like stress incontinence or dryness.

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Although mothers and women of menopause age benefit greatly from the treatment, it's not restricted to them. Younger, pre-motherhood women can also suffer from lack of lubrication, minor stress incontinence and pain during sex. Dr Linsell says Mona Lisa Touch is especially helpful for women who encounter the latter, because it can gradually treat the constricted areas of their vagina wall which are problematic.

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"After two or three treatments we've been able to reach the full length of the wall so the laser beam can access the full areas of the vagina, which means when they've been having intercourse they can have full penetration whereas beforehand they couldn't," he says.

"I had one of my patients say, 'This has just changed our lives – previously we couldn't have sexual intercourse and now we can'. I love that. It's incredibly fulfilling."

Dr Malcolm Linsell

Although this process sounds like it could be really time consuming, the treatment only takes around 10-15 minutes each time, with no anaesthetic needed. Even better, it's basically pain-free and requires no downtime.

"I was pretty nervous the first time I went. I was like, oh my gosh, how much people will be looking? What do I do? Have I shaved?" recall Kirsten Fagan, who took part in a trial of the procedure at Dr Linsell's recommendation.

"It was fine. There was no pain. It sounds crazy, but it felt like if you put your hand against a microwave – that vibration ... [Afterwards] it was almost as if you'd been to a waxer – you knew something had occurred but it wasn't uncomfortable."

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Kirsten says her results were immediate – she no longer struggles with urgently needing a bathroom only minutes into exercise. "It's been fantastic – I'm back up to running for 30 minutes. I've found it great for my general well being and feeling good about myself."

Treatment varies from one patient to another, but generally women will undergo three treatments of Mona Lisa Touch, each a month apart – although Dr Linsell says having follow-up treatments every six to 12 months can produce even better results. Each treatment costs around $1000.

Although the treatment is relatively new in Australia, it could really take off in coming months if the growing interest around it is anything to go by.

"I genuinely believe this is going to be enormous," Dr Linsell says. "I see an increasing demographic of women who are post-pregnancy, and say, 'I want to be back to where I was before I had my children. I love my kids dearly but I want me back and now's the time for me'."

Do you suffer from vaginal atrophy? Have you ever undergone treatment for it?

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