What Is Vaginal Steaming and Should I Try a Treatment?
We're not going to sugar coat this one: NO.
The words "vaginal steaming" reminds me of two things: that scene in Bridesmaids when Megan hits on Air Marshall John by talking about a "steam heat coming from my undercarriage" or sitting on the subway after someone wearing teeny tiny gym shorts on the hottest day of summer.
Neither is something I want for myself. But since celebrities like Chrissy Teigen are obsessed with the practice, we went straight to the experts to learn more about vaginal steaming.
What Is Vaginal Steaming?
Vaginal steaming, also known as v-steaming or yoni steaming, is an ancient ritual from Africa, Asia, and South America, where a woman squats naked over a pot of boiling water that's mixed with herbs like rosemary, mugwort, or calendula. It was traditionally believed that the steam works by opening clogged pores, removing bacteria, and rejuvenating the skin of the vagina, uterus, and cervix. Applying the same logic of a facial to the skin of the vagina.
In the Western world, vaginal steaming is offered at alternative medicine spas and DIY'd at home. Either way, the process is similar: You add herbs and boiling water to a basin, squat over the bowl with a towel over your hips to prevent steam from escaping, then sit over the steaming pot for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how hot the water is and how quickly it cools down. (Another crazy wellness trend? Putting jade eggs in your vagina. Don't do it.)
Fans of the practice say vaginal steaming can relieve menstrual symptoms like bloating and cramps, reduce discharge, improve your sex drive, and promote healing post-childbirth. "The believed benefit of steaming is to increase blood flow to vaginal tissue," says Asha Bhalwal, M.D., ob-gyn with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and UT Physicians in Houston. (Related: Why Does My Vagina Itch?)
It's a myth that steam would open up pores in the vaginal membrane or have the same benefits of a facial treatment. "It is very doubtful that the steam even enters the vaginal canal at all, because in its natural state the vagina is collapsed, meaning that the walls touch each other," says Peter Rizk, M.D., ob-gyn, and women's health expert with Fairhaven Health.
The vagina contains its own flora of good bacteria, like lactobacillus and streptococcus, which keeps the vagina healthy. Steaming disrupts the delicate balance between helpful and harmful bacteria, causing bad bacteria to flourish, possibly leading to an infection.
"Vaginal tissue, and its unique flora, is sensitive—the steam and herbs could cause a disturbance to the normal pH and increase the risk of yeast infections or bacterial vaginitis," says Dr. Bhalwal. (Check out this step-by-step guide to curing a vaginal yeast infection.)
"When your vaginal pH is in the proper range, cells are triggered to grow, glycogen and amylase (energy sources for the skin) are produced, and good bacteria creates more lactic acid, which balances the vaginal ecosystem yet again," explains Dr. Rizk. Vaginal steaming can disrupt this process. (See also: Why Your Vaginal Bacteria is Important to Your Health.)
So...Is a Vaginal Steaming Treatment Even Safe to Try?
First off: It's possible to get second-degree burns from steam, something you definitely don't want on your vagina.
"The skin in and around the vagina is very sensitive," says Dr. Rizk. "Burns from the steam are a major risk, even if the hot water doesn't touch the skin." And beyond the initial burn, it's possible that steaming could lead to permanent pain and scarring. Yeah, no thanks.
This practice also completely ignores the fact that the vagina is self-cleaning. "The vagina is made to achieve the delicate balance between friendly and unfriendly bacteria on its own," says Dr. Rizk. Steaming won't help and may even cause an imbalanced pH, which can lead to infections or increased irritation and dryness, he adds.
And as for those supposed benefits? There is no research that supports the effectiveness of vaginal steaming treatments. So, there is little chance that steam would be able to cleanse the vaginal tissue at all, let alone regulate hormones, improve fertility, or boost sex drive.
"The vagina is a perfect organ the way it is: there is no need to revamp it, clean it, or refresh it with steaming since that only increases the risk of burns and vaginal infections," says Dr. Bhalwal.
This is one wellness trend where the risk far outweighs the benefits. Let's leave steaming to the post-workout sauna, shall we?