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Gynaecologists warn against vaginal steaming after woman sustains second-degree burns from treatment

Treatment famously recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop brand

Olivia Petter
Thursday 08 August 2019 16:39 BST
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(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Gynaecologists have warned women against undergoing vaginal steaming treatments after a 62-year-old woman sustained second-degree burns from attempting one.

Vaginal steaming has surged in popularity in recent years thanks to endorsements from celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chrissy Teigen.

The treatment involves sitting over a bowl of boiling hot water infused with herbs and is said to “cleanse” and “freshen” the vagina.

In some spas, such as the one recommended by Paltrow’s Goop brand, the treatment is called “V-Steaming” and is aligned with detoxifying traditions in Asia and Africa.

The case study, published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, details how the woman had attempted the treatment to reduce vaginal prolapse, a condition whereby one or more of the organs in the pelvis, such as the uterus or bladder, slips from its normal position and bulges into the vagina.

The NHS states that the condition isn’t life threatening but can cause pain and discomfort. Among treatments listed, it includes surgery, lifestyle changes and hormone treatment. The organisation does not mention vaginal steaming.

Dr Vanessa Mackay, spokesperson for Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, explains that the vaginal steaming trend feeds into the misguided notion that women must undergo obscure treatments to clean their vaginas.

“It’s a myth that the vagina needs extensive cleaning as it is designed to clean itself with natural secretions,” Mackay explains.

“The vagina contains good bacteria, which are there to protect it. If these bacteria are disturbed it can lead to infection, such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush, and inflammation.”

Steaming the vagina could cause health problems down the line, Mackay adds, because it can affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels, which can lead to irritation, infection (such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush) and inflammation.

“It could also burn the delicate skin around the vagina,” Mackay continues. “Women are advised to use plain, unperfumed soaps to wash the area around the vulva gently every day. During a woman’s period, washing more than once a day may be helpful.”

When it comes to vaginal prolapse, Dr Swati Jha, consultant gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, explains that it is a common condition sometimes caused by childbirth, especially following long and difficult labours with large babies, menopause, hysterectomy, obesity and/or strenuous physical activity.

“Among the symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse are a sensation of a bulge in the vagina, discomfort during sex and/or problems passing urine," Jha explains. Discomfort during sex might also be a sign.

“Vaginal prolapse often does not need treatment but for women whose lives are negatively affected, there are a number of treatment options from weight loss and pelvic floor exercises, to a device inserted into the vagina, called a vaginal pessary, which holds the prolapsed organ in place,” Jha adds.

“For women who fail to respond to conservative measures and severe cases, surgery may be recommended.”

For more information on how to safely wash your vulva without causing irritation or infection, click here.

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