Let’s face it — between menstruation, sexual intercourse, and childbirth, the vagina withstands a lot. When you add changing hormones and pelvic floor issues to the mix, sometimes the vaginal area is anything but comfortable.
Vaginal steaming is an age-old natural remedy said to cleanse the vagina and uterus, regulate menstruation, and ease period cramps and bloating. After receiving high praise on Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop, the practice has surged in popularity.
But other than offering a soothing warmth down below, does it work? And is it even safe? Keep reading to find out.
How is it supposed to work?
Vaginal steaming directs herb-infused steam into your vagina. For a hefty fee, some upscale spas offer the process. You can also do it at home, although most doctors don’t recommend it. The process is pretty simple — you just sit or squat over a container of herbal-infused steam.
Herbs often used alone or in combination include:
Most spas have a special seat (Paltrow called it a “throne”) with a hole for the steam to come through. It’s a little more challenging to do at home.
Following is a suggested method of doing a vaginal steam at home. However, before you try it yourself, you’ll want to consider its supposed benefits and possible safety issues, as discussed below.
- Add about a cup of your chosen herbs to a basin of hot water.
- Let the herbs steep for at least a minute.
- Remove your clothes from the waist down.
- Stand or squat directly over the basin. Some people prefer to place the basin in the toilet and then sit on the toilet.
- Wrap a towel around your waist and legs to prevent the steam from escaping.
The average steam session lasts between 20 and 60 minutes. Depending on how hot the water is, the steam may cool sooner.
What are the purported benefits?
Vaginal steaming is used as a natural remedy for cleaning the vagina, uterus, and the entire reproductive tract. But the purported claims don’t stop there.
It also allegedly relieves:
- hormone imbalances
- digestive issues
- generalized pain
Does it really work?
There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that vaginal steaming helps any condition. According to OB-GYN Dr. Jen Gunter’s website, it’s clear as mud how steaming herbs are supposed to gain access to your uterus through a tightly closed cervix at the end of your vagina.
The herb used on Paltrow’s vagina was mugwort. In traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion is the process of burning mugwort on or over a problematic area of the body or pressure point.
Moxibustion is used as an alternative therapy to treat a range of reproductive system problems. A 2010 look at several systematic reviews found that except for correcting breech presentation in pregnancy, research on mugwort is contradictory and inconclusive. There’s no research vaginal moxibustion is helpful.
Does vaginal steaming really work?
There is no scientific evidence that vaginal steaming works. According to Dr. Manny Alvarez, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, vaginal steaming may help you relax but little else. He claims there’s little chance herbal steam would penetrate vaginal tissues, let alone regulate hormones and improve fertility. One benefit may be that the moist heat from the steam increases blood flow to the vaginal area, though this isn’t well-studied. Considering this, a sitz bath or simply soaking in a warm tub might have the same effect. Another view is that the reason for this being promoted is cultural, not physical. One study found that the reasons for this practice focused on “women’s bodies as deficient and disgusting” and propagated a negative female self-image.Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA.
Is it safe?
There’s no scientific research to prove whether vaginal steaming is safe. But your vagina isn’t meant to be steam-cleaned. An overheated vagina may provide the perfect environment for bacteria that cause yeast infections and other vaginal infections to thrive.
Vaginal skin is delicate, sensitive, and easily traumatized. Using it as target practice for a plume of warm steam may cause vaginal burns or scalding.
There aren’t any accepted medical guidelines for steaming your vagina. This means unless you consult an alternative health practitioner, you’re on your own to figure out which herbs to use and how often.
As with most natural remedies, searching the internet for how to do a vaginal steam provides contradictory information. Most advice comes with a disclaimer that it isn’t proven or meant to diagnose or treat any condition. This makes you wonder how anyone can recommend it for healing almost all that ails you in the first place.
It’s true some alternative therapies are helpful and well-studied, but vaginal steaming is not. When it’s used to treat a medical condition, you may end up skipping mainstream medical evaluation and treatment, and your condition could worsen as a result.
It’s unknown how vaginal steam impacts you or your developing baby if you’re pregnant. Some herbs may cause miscarriage. So you shouldn’t use steam or herbs on your vagina if you’re pregnant.
The bottom line
Your vagina is a self-cleaning machine and doesn’t need help from an herbal steam session. It’s possible vaginal steaming may make you relax and ease cramping like a heating pad does, but evidence it cleanses your vagina or uterus, improves fertility, and balances hormones is purely anecdotal.
Vaginal steaming may increase your risk of vaginal infection by altering the vaginal bacteria ecosystem. That’s not to say some herbs can’t improve reproductive health, but there’s no evidence steaming them into your vagina does so.
Herbs may be natural, but they’re also potent. Used topically, they may cause allergic reaction. And the last place you want an allergic reaction is your vagina.
There are safer ways to use heat and herbs for period relief. Try using a hot water bottle on your pelvic area and sip a warm cup of herbal tea.
If you want to try vaginal steaming, talk to your doctor or a qualified alternative health practitioner to weigh the pros and cons for your situation.