Vaginal steaming is a popular but controversial trend that has gained in popularity over recent years. So much so that gynecologists are now urging people to stop after a woman in Canada burned herself while trying it.
The 62-year-old Canadian patient had been suffering from a prolapsed vagina, which is when the vagina stretches and protrudes into other organs. It’s a common occurrence in menopause and sometimes results in discomfort around the pelvic area, backaches, and urinary frequency. It can be treated with pelvic exercises, but if these conservative measures fail, surgery is the next best option. 
The patient wanted to avoid this route and tried vaginal steaming, hoping it would heal the prolapse naturally, but the treatment went horribly wrong.
What is Vaginal Steaming?
Vaginal steaming — also known as V-steaming — is an age-old remedy that claims to cleanse the vaginal and uterus. Some people consider it a ‘facial’ for the vagina.
V-steaming is available at certain spas or can be done at home. Often users mix herbs like wormwood, chamomile, basil, oregano, and calendula in a container filled with hot water and sit over it. Spas have a special seat, with a hole for the steam to come through. At-home steaming is more challenging and is generally not recommended.
The supposed benefits include:
- Reducing menstrual symptoms like bloating, cramps, exhaustion, and heavy flows
- Boosting fertility
- Treating hemorrhoids
- Reducing stress
- Increases energy levels
- Treats headaches
This unusual practice was first reported by the LA Times in 2010 and later gained traction when Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand promoted it.
Spas that sell it claim it has been used throughout history in Asia and Africa. They say it “detoxes” the vagina. 
The Dangers of Vaginal Steaming
However, there are no scientific studies to back these supposed benefits. Experts warn women against this practice entirely.
Dr. Vanessa Mackay, a consultant, and spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains the belief that the vagina requires extensive cleaning or treatment is a myth.
“The vagina contains good bacteria, which are there to protect it,” she states. “Steaming the vagina could affect this healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels and cause irritation, infection (such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush) and inflammation. It could also burn the delicate skin around the vagina.”
The 62-year-old Canadian was advised by a traditional Chinese doctor to try vaginal steaming to heal her prolapsed vagina. She prepared the herbal mixture and placed the pan of boiling water under her toilet seat. She sat over the pan for 20 minutes for two days in a row before seeking medical attention with bloody discharge coming from her vagina.
She had second-degree burns on the lining of her cervix and vagina. Besides the blood, she did not feel any pain and may have continued the treatment for longer had she not noticed the unhealthy discharge. She has to delay reconstructive surgery until she’s fully healed. In the meantime, she was told to apply antibiotic lotion to the area and, of course, cease the V-steaming immediately. 
Dr. Magali Robert, who works in pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery in Calgary, states that unconventional therapies like steaming can spread through the internet and word-of-mouth.
“Health care providers need to be aware of alternative therapies so that they can help women make informed choices and avoid potential harm,” she says. 
Does the Vagina Need Cleansing?
“Generally, good vaginal health is maintained by making sure you’re in good general health,” explains Dr. Suzy Elneil, a consultant in urogynecology at University College Hospital, London, and spokesperson for Wellbeing of Women. “This includes a healthy diet and exercise.”
“Normal exercise helps maintain good vaginal function, as walking and running help the pelvic floor tone up and ensure good general health.”
Vaginal discharge is the body’s natural way of keeping the vagina clean and healthy. Often the secretion is a result of hormones; the type and amount vary throughout the menstrual cycle.
The vagina is full of bacteria — and that’s a good thing.
The bacteria provide protection from harmful particles that might enter the vagina. It keeps the vagina’s pH (acidic) levels balanced. It even produces antibiotics to kill alien particles, and prevent them from sticking the vaginal walls.
Without this proper balance of bacteria, the vagina may become infected or inflamed.
There is no need to wash the vagina (the canal that connects the uterus to the outside world), but the hygiene of both the vulva and labia can be addressed. It’s recommended to avoid scented soaps, gels, and antiseptics. These can upset the balance of bacteria and acid levels, and irritate the area. Use plain soaps to wash these areas. Avoid douches and similar products, as these are marketed to address the vagina, which will clean itself.
“I can’t think of any circumstances where douches are helpful, because all they do is wash out everything that’s in the vagina, including all the healthy bacteria,” says Professor Ronnie Lamont, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 
Vaginas are self-cleaning. Companies that tell you otherwise are trying to sell you something.
Many of these ‘healthy’ treatments and products often use the magic word: “detox.” A good way to differentiate reliable holistic advice to a scam is to ask, “detox from what?” If the answer is vague, like “the toxins,” walk away.
A healthy, functioning body is equipped to fight bacteria and particles, especially the vagina. There’s no need to waste any time or money to “cleanse” an organ that already does a good job of cleansing itself.
- Cleveland Clinic. Vaginal Prolapse. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17597-vaginal-prolapse
- Annette McDermott. Everything You Need to Know About Vaginal Steaming https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/vaginal-steaming November 7, 2017
- Bruce Y. Lee. Vaginal Steaming Could Burn You, What Happened To This Woman https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2019/08/10/vaginal-steaming-could-burn-you-what-happened-to-this-woman/#50bba82417b0 Aug 10, 2019
- Rachel Nall. What to know about vaginal steaming https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322657.php Aug 1, 2008
- NHS. Keeping your vagina clean and healthy https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/keeping-your-vagina-clean-and-healthy/?tabname=sex-facts Oct 18, 2018
- Harvard Women’s Health Watch. The dubious practice of detox. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-dubious-practice-of-detox May 2008 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). “Detoxes” and “Cleanses” https://nccih.nih.gov/health/detoxes-cleanses
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