Thailand’s public health ministry has issued a warning over a new and bizarre trend of penis whitening, which has been linked to the country’s assocation of paleness with success.
Skin whitening is popular across south east asia as darker skin is associated with outdoor labour and being poorer, with a wide range of bleaching products on the market.
In Thailand the phallic fad has unexpectedly extended to men who believe a paler penis and groin area looks more attractive.
But health officials have urged people to rethink undergoing the procedure, which can lead to scarring, inflammation and “nasty looking spots.”
“Penis laser whitening is not necessary, wastes money and may give more negative effects than positive ones,” the health ministry’s Dr Thongchai Keeratihuttayakorn said in a statement.
The warning was issued after video footage of a clinic carrying out the unusual procedure went viral online.
Internet users were shocked and amused in equal measure by the video, which has been shared more than 19,000 times, with one of them commenting under the clip: “It can be used as a torch light. Let it shine!”
A spokesman for the clinic told the BBC that the procedure, which breaks down melanin in the skin using lasers, cost around $480 for five sessions.
“Patients started to ask about penis whitening, and so we started the treatment a month later,” said Popol Tansakul, the marketing manager of Lelux Hospital.
“They are popular among gay men and transvestites who take good care of their private parts. They want to look good in all areas.”
Around 100 men visit Lelux Hospital each month for the procesure, Mr Popol added.
“I wanted to feel more confident in my swimming briefs,” one patient who had his penis whitened told the BBC’s Thai service.
Skin bleaching is controversial in Thailand and has been linked to racism, with one cosmetics firm withdrawing an advert which linked success with fairer skin.
“In my world there is tough competition. If I don’t take care of myself, everything I have built, the whiteness I have invested in, could be gone,” Thai actress Cris Horwang said in the advert.
Her skin then turns black and another, paler woman walks into view of the camera, at which point the actress says: “If I were white, I would win.”
Seoul Secret withdrew the advert quickly and issued an apology, saying they only wished to promote self-improvement of “personality, appearance, skills, and professionalism.”