A woman has suffered second-degree burns from vaginal steaming, prompting experts to renew warnings about potential dangers of the treatment.
Vaginal steaming – which involves targeting steam (sometimes infused with herbs) towards your vagina – has long garnered controversy.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop famously recommended the treatment back in 2015 and was subsequently mocked by gynaecologists on both sides of the pond. But the trend refuses to disappear, with a vagina spa currently offering vaginal steaming in the US, with plans to expand the service to the UK.
“Vaginal steaming has gained increased popularity as a method to achieve empowerment by providing vaginal tightening and to ‘freshen’ the vagina,” authors wrote in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.
The researchers shared details of an anonymous case study, who suffered the second-degree burns after attempting the treatment. The 62-year-old tried it “in an attempt to reduce vaginal prolapse”, they said.
A prolapse is when one or more of the organs in the pelvis slip down from their normal position and bulge into the vagina, according to the NHS. This can include the womb (uterus), bowel, bladder or top of the vagina.
Vaginal steaming is not a medically recognised treatment for vaginal prolapse. If a vaginal prolapse is not causing you pain, you may not need treatment. But options that may be recommended include: lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and pelvic floor exercises; hormone treatment; vaginal pessaries; or surgery.
Dr Vanessa Mackay, a spokesperson for Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), previously told HuffPost UK she does not recommend vaginal steaming because it can “burn the delicate skin around the vagina (the vulva)”.
“Steaming the vagina could affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels and cause irritation.”
The vagina contains good bacteria which are there to protect it, she added, and vaginal steaming can disturb this. “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,” she added.
Dr Mackay also emphasised that it’s a myth the vagina needs “extensive cleaning” – it is designed to clean itself. “Women are advised to use plain, un-perfumed soaps to wash the area around the vulva gently every day,” she said.
Commenting on the 62-year-old’s burn after vaginal steaming, author Dr Magali Robert from the University of Calgary said: “Clinicians need to be aware of alternative treatments available to women so that counselling may mitigate any potential harm.”