Is boric acid the homeopathic vag treatment of your dreams, or too good to be true?

By Korin Miller
January 12, 2021
Advertisement
Credit: Getty Images / Adobe Stock

If you've had a yeast infection in the past, you know the drill. As soon as you develop symptoms such as itching and burning down there, you head to your local drugstore, grab an OTC yeast infection treatment, use it, and go about your life. But there's a growing number of women who swear by using boric acid suppositories rather than traditional antifungals to combat yeast infections.

In fact, some women are even talking about them on social media. TikTok user Michelle DeShazo (@_mishazo) says in a now-viral post that she started using pH-D Feminine Health boric acid suppositories to try to combat recurrent yeast infections. "I'm using boric acid suppositories in my hoo-ha to try help with yeast infections," she says. "After a day of using them, it was still really itchy. But by the second morning it was…not that bad." DeShazo says that she felt "amazing" on subsequent days. "I do think it helped treat this last infection because I felt great," she says.

Fellow TikTok user @sarathomass21 hyped up a different brand of boric acid suppositories called Boric Life for treating bacterial vaginosis (BV), a condition when there's too much of a certain bacteria in the vagina, writing, "These work so good!!!"

Turns out, there are plenty of others who swear by using boric acid suppositories to treat both yeast infections and BV. And it's not just a fringe TikTok trend: Love Wellness, a wellness company started by Lo Bosworth (yes, from The Hills), has a trendy boric acid suppository called The Killer with almost 2,500 reviews (and a 4.8-star rating) on the brand's website.

But while some boric acid fans claim this is a more "natural" way to treat yeast infections, it's definitely not the standard way to go. So, are these safe and effective? Here's what doctors have to say.

What is boric acid, exactly?

Boric acid is a compound that has mild antiseptic, antifungal, and antiviral properties, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). FWIW, the exact way boric acid works on your cells isn't known.

Boric acid suppositories work a lot like miconazole (antifungal) creams and suppositories you'd get over-the-counter or from your doctor to treat a vaginal yeast infection. You simply insert the suppository into your vagina with an applicator or your finger and let it go to work. "Vaginal boric acid is a homeopathic medicine," explains Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an ob-gyn in Texas. It's thought to be more "natural" than other medications because it's generally used as part of alternative medicine vs. something you might get at the doctor.

Does boric acid work to treat yeast infections and BV?

Yes, boric acid can help treat yeast infections and BV. "In general, acid in the vagina is good to keep away funky bacteria and yeast," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School. "Using boric acid suppositories is indeed one way that can help — they dissolve in the vagina and can help acidify the vagina."

FYI, your vagina has its own microbiome — including a balance of naturally occurring yeasts and good bacteria — and a pH of about 3.6-4.5 (which is moderately acidic). If the pH rises above that (thus becoming less acidic), it creates an environment ideal for bacterial growth. The acidic environment that boric acid creates is "hostile" for the growth of bacteria and yeast, explains Dr. Minkin. So, boric acid "actually can help for both types of infections," she adds.

But boric acid isn't the first or even second line of defense that ob-gyns would typically recommend. "It's definitely not the preferred approach," says Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. "If I see a patient for yeast infection or BV symptoms, I will not prescribe boric acid suppositories."

It's not that boric acid suppositories can't work — it's just that they're not typically as effective as other medications, such as antibiotics for BV or miconazole or fluconazole (antifungal treatments) for yeast infections.

Boric acid is also a treatment that was used before these newer, more efficient medications became available, says Dr. Shepherd. Basically, treating your yeast infection with boric acid is kind of like using a washboard and tub to clean your clothes instead of tossing them in the washing machine. The end result may be similar, but it can take more time and effort with the older method. (Related: What Is Integrative Gynecology?)

Sometimes doctors will prescribe boric acid supplements to treat these conditions when other treatments have failed. "If there are recurrent infections and we've tried other modalities, we might look into it," says Dr. Greves. A review of 14 studies published in the Journal of Women's Health did find that boric acid seems to be "a safe, alternative, economic option for women with recurrent and chronic symptoms of vaginitis when conventional treatment fails."

Is there any risk to trying boric acid suppositories?

"If the infection is mild, it is quite reasonable to try a product that acidifies the vagina," says Dr. Minkin. But if the symptoms don't go away, you need to call your doctor, she says. Both untreated bacterial vaginosis and untreated yeast infections have the potential to cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), so it's important to seek treatment if the boric acid suppositories don't work.

Something else to consider? Boric acid can be irritating to the delicate skin in your vagina, so you run the risk of causing even more discomfort in an area that's already struggling if you go this route, says Dr. Greves. (Worth noting: That's a very possible side effect of other yeast infection treatments as well.)

Finally, while doctors do sometimes use boric acid as a treatment for yeast infections and BV, they're also monitoring patients in the process. So, boric acid "should be used with guidance," says Dr. Shepherd. (Related: How to Test for a Yeast Infection)

So, you may be OK to try boric acid supplements here and there for minor symptoms of an infection or bacterial overgrowth. But, if it persists or you're really uncomfortable, it's time to rope in a medical professional. "If you have a recurrent issue, you should see your doctor to make sure you know what you're dealing with — and get the proper treatment," says Dr. Greves.

Comments

Be the first to comment!