The NHS guide to cosmetic procedures

Labiaplasty (vulval surgery)

A labiaplasty is surgery to reduce the size of the labia minora – the flaps of skin either side of the vaginal opening.

Some women consider having a labiaplasty because they don't like the look of their labia, or because the labia cause discomfort. This is a major decision you should weigh up carefully.

It's natural and normal for a woman to have noticeable skin folds around her vaginal opening and, in most cases, this shouldn't cause any problems. 

A labiaplasty can be expensive and the operation carries a number of risks. There's also no guarantee you'll get the result you expected, and it won't necessarily make you feel better about your body.

If you’re thinking of going ahead, it’s a good idea to discuss your plans with your GP first. There might be a medical condition causing your labial discomfort, or a reason why the operation isn't appropriate for you.

If your GP feels that your labia are perfectly normal after examining them, they may want to have a chat with you about your reasons for wanting surgery. You may be advised to speak to a counsellor or psychologist before you commit to any surgery. You can also read "Is cosmetic surgery right for me?".

Read on to find out the following:

How much does it cost?

In the UK, a labiaplasty costs about £1,000-£3,000, plus the cost of any consultations or follow-up care that may not be included in the price.

Occasionally, a labiaplasty may be carried out on the NHS if the vaginal lips are obviously abnormal and causing the woman distress or harming her health. However, the NHS doesn't routinely provide this operation. 

Where do I go?

If you're looking in England, check the Care Quality Commission (CQC) website for treatment centres that can perform a labiaplasty. All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery in England must be registered with the CQC, which publishes inspection reports and performance ratings to help people choose care.

You should also research the surgeon who is going to carry out the operation. All doctors must, as a minimum, be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). Check the register to see the doctor’s fitness to practise history. You may also want to find out:

  • how many operations they've performed where there have been complications
  • what sort of follow-up you should expect if things go wrong
  • the doctor's patient satisfaction rates

Read more about choosing a cosmetic surgeon.

What does it involve?

A labiaplasty can be carried out using either a general anaesthetic or a local anaesthetic with sedation.

The procedure involves shortening or reshaping the vaginal lips. The unwanted tissue is cut away with a scalpel or possibly a laser, and the loose edge may be stitched up with fine, dissolvable stitches.

The whole procedure takes about one to two hours.

Some patients are able to go home the same day.

Recovery

You may need to take some time off work to recover. It can take a couple of months for the skin to fully heal.

During this time you need to:

  • keep the area clean and free from infection
  • wear loose underwear and clothes to prevent rubbing
  • avoid sex for a few weeks
  • use sanitary towels instead of tampons for a few weeks

Your surgeon would give you more specific advice that you should also follow.

Side effects to expect

It’s typical after a labiaplasty to have soreness, bruising and swelling for up to two weeks.

Peeing and sitting during this period would probably be uncomfortable, although you'd be given painkillers to help with this.

What could go wrong

A labiaplasty can occasionally result in:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • scarring of tissue
  • reduced sensitivity of the genitals

Any type of operation also carries a small risk of:

  • developing a blood clot in a vein
  • an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic

The surgeon should explain how likely these risks and complications are, and how they would be treated if they occurred.

Occasionally, patients find the desired effect wasn’t achieved and feel they need another operation.

What to do if you have a problem

Cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected.

If you have a labiaplasty and you experience complications or are unhappy with the results, you should take up the matter with the surgeon who treated you.

If you have concerns about your care, you should contact the CQC.

If necessary, you can make a complaint about a doctor to the GMC.

Who shouldn't have it?

A labiaplasty should not be performed on girls younger than 18. Their labia may continue to grow and develop well beyond puberty, into early adulthood.

How is it different to female genital mutilation?

A labiaplasty is offered as cosmetic surgery or as treatment for a medical problem, with the full consent of the patient.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is nearly always carried out on children without their consent, and in these cases is ethically and morally wrong. FGM is illegal in the UK.

More information

BAAPS: aesthetic genital surgery 

BAPRAS: female genital tract surgery 

Royal College of Surgeons: cosmetic surgery FAQs

Page last reviewed: 19/05/2016

Next review due: 19/05/2019

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