A plastic surgery clinic in Bangkok has made headlines in Thailand after it reportedly shared a video on Facebook of an unconventional new “beauty” treatment: penis bleaching.

“These days a lot of people are asking about it. We get around 100 clients a month, three to four clients a day,” Bunthita Wattanasiri, a manager for the Skin and Laser department at Lelax Hospital told the AFP.

According to the German news agency dpa, a Facebook entry on Wednesday from one of the clinic’s representatives that advertised the procedure had received over 6,800 reactions and 22,500 comments as of Thursday. At time of writing, the Facebook post couldn’t be found, but this picture was still circulating from credible news sources:

A photo of the penis-whitening process, via Lelux hospital.

According to the AFP, the process employs a laser to whiten the skin over five sessions for $20,000 Thai Bah ($621 US).

Skin whitening is big business. The BBC Thai Service reports that the whitening industry in the Asia-Pacific region measures up to about $ 2 billion a year. Advertisements for skin lightening treatments are shown widely on billboards and in newspapers, while pharmacies stock over-the-counter skin lightening products.

The cultural trend is attributed to an old-fashioned perception that darker skin implies being part of the working class, while lighter skin implies never having worked in the fields.

The BBC interviewed one patient, called ‘X’, who claimed that the treatment made him feel more confident, inexplicably say, “I wanted to feel more confident in my swimming briefs.”

On Thursday, the viral news of the Lelax treatment prompted Thailand’s public health ministry to issue a warning about penis whitening, saying it was dangerous, not worth the pain, and a waste of money.

Laser treatments break up the skin’s pigmentation, and the process can definitely be dangerous. The BBC Thai Service reports that if the power of the laser is high, it can cause redness, bloody sores, and subsequently possible infection. If the lasers are less intense, it could cause a freckling effect. For one of the body’s most sensitive areas, it seems especially not worth the risk.

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