Debunking Goop's vaginal steaming trend: Why its dangerous and lacks scientific backing

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Debunking Goop's vaginal steaming trend: Why its dangerous and lacks scientific backing
Vaginal steaming can lead to yeast infections and burns.Elva Etienne/ Getty Images
  • Vaginal steaming is a trendy treatment where herbal steam is used as a "facial" for your vulva.
  • It is not recommended by doctors and can lead to yeast infections and burns.
  • It's best not to use anything to clean your vagina except warm water and a gentle, pH-balanced soap.

    You may have seen celebrities or influencers practice something called "vaginal steaming," which involves sitting over a tub of hot water steeped with herbs. While it is an ancient custom in several parts of the world, including Asia, Africa and South America, today you can find it in many spas and wellness centers worldwide.

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    Vaginal steaming is often referred to as a "facial" for the vagina, since it is purported to cleanse the vagina, relieve period cramps, and improve fertility. However, according to Harvard Medical School, there is no scientific evidence that it works.

    "There is no doubt an herbal steam on the outside of the vagina can have a relaxing and calming effect," says Sherry Ross, MD, an OB/GYN with her own private practice. Most of the steam will probably be to the outside of the vagina, referred to as the vulva, although some of it may make its way into the vagina as well. This could do more harm than good, however.

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    Ross says that the inside of the vagina doesn't require any cleaning because it produces discharge that helps it self-clean. Moreover, practices like steaming and douching that attempt to clean the inside of the vagina could introduce harmful pathogens into the vagina that could lead to bacterial or yeast infections. If the steam is too hot, you could also burn yourself as the vulvar and vaginal tissues are quite sensitive.

    Instead, Ross recommends using a gentle, unscented cleanser to wash only the outside genitalia, i.e., the vulva.

    Here's what you need to know about vaginal steaming and what women's health experts have to say about taking care of your vagina.

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    How does vaginal steaming work?

    Some people do vaginal steaming at home or in spas. The process involves:

    • Boiling hot water and adding herbs: People use herbs like mugwort, wormwood, basil, rosemary, chamomile, or calendula. The herbs are steeped in the water for a few minutes before you apply the steam to your vulva.
    • Disrobing: People need to take off their clothes from the waist down or wear a robe that allows access to their vulva.
    • Sitting over the hot water: People who do vaginal steaming at home stand or squat over the tub of hot water; some place a bucket in the toilet to make it easier, whereas others stand over a basin of hot water with a towel wrapped around their lower body to keep the steam from escaping. Spas usually have special chairs with holes in the seat, which can make this process easier.
    • Steaming for up to an hour: Depending on their preferences and how hot the water is, people may do this for up to an hour.

    While vaginal steaming may be relaxing to some and may help clean the vulva (the outside of the vagina), it could cause problems inside the vagina, says Ross. The vagina is an acidic environment with a delicate pH balance - aka acidity level - between 3.8 and 4.5, comparable to the acidity of tomato juice.

    This environment protects the vagina from infections and inflammation; anything that disrupts this balance can result in bacterial or yeast infections, says Ross.

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    Related Article Module: A woman got second-degree burns after steaming her vagina with boiling water, a practice gynecologists say can also lead to yeast infections

    Another risk of vaginal steaming is burns; vaginal tissue is extremely sensitive and exposing it to high heat could result in burns. In fact, a 2019 case study reports that a woman who steamed her vagina for 20 minutes on two consecutive days got second degree burns on her cervix and vaginal membranes.

    According to Ross, these are some substances and practices that could irritate your vagina:

    • Fragrant soaps, bubble bath liquids, bath salts, and talcum powder
    • Detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets
    • Sanitary wipes, pads, and tampons
    • Warming gels and scented lubricants
    • Nylon underwear or bathing suits
    • Rubber products such as diaphragms and condoms
    • Saliva or semen
    • Spermicides such as foams, creams, and jellies
    • Feminine hygiene sprays and deodorant pads
    • Creams or ointments applied to the vulva
    • Douching

    Insider's takeaway

    There are several myths and misguided trends when it comes to vaginal care and health, vaginal steaming among them.

    A clean vagina doesn't need steaming to stay healthy. All you need is some soap and warm water applied outside, to the vulva. The inside cleans itself and is better left alone.

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    Vaginal steaming could be a relaxing treatment for the vulva; however, you should approach it cautiously since the benefits associated with it have not been scientifically proven and it could result in vaginal infections or burns.

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