Less is certainly more when it comes to vagina health. Flawed as all humans are, women need no add-ons for their feminine garden.
Yet, retailers continue to entice women with a plethora of products that promise to rejuvenate their most prized possession—and many have rushed to insert wasp nests, magical pearls or smear perfumed oils—in their pursuit of tighter and younger vaginas.
Meanwhile, gynaecologists have cautioned against having such bizarre herbal remedies on the vagina, as complications to reproductive health can arise.
Here, we look at five popular – but unhealthy trends.
#1 Wasp Nests
Also known as oak galls, wasp nests are sold as an all-natural vaginal tightening home remedy (short of the wasps)—but Canadian gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter advised women against inserting these galls into their vaginas, as it dries them out.
Explaining that it is both medically and sexually undesirable, Dr Gunter warned that drying the vaginal mucosa increases the risk of abrasions during sex, destroys the protective mucous layer, and risks contracting HIV.
Oak galls are created when a female wasp inserts her eggs into part of an oak tree. When the wasp hatches, the legless grubs begin secreting chemicals that reorganise the oak’s normal growth processes – thus, forming an oak gall around it, the Royal Horticultural Society explains.
While some natural ingredients may help alleviate health problems, the Dr Gunter says, “This is a dangerous practice with real potential to harm. Here’s a pro-tip – if something burns when you apply it to the vagina, it is generally bad for the vagina.” (Keep that in mind now, ladies.)
#2 Womb Detoxing Pearls
Detox is the buzz word today – and this fad is extending from the liver down to the vagina as many women advocate that placing three balls of herbs (or pearl), wrapped in a piece of gauze into the vagina for 72 hours will “detox your womb”.
Proponents claim it can reset the natural balance by increasing elasticity, regulating the menstrual cycle, killing parasites and (bad) bacteria, improving fertility, reducing discharge, and removing toxins. These unspecified toxins are reportedly responsible for “major imbalances” like bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, endometriosis, infertility, vagina pain, excess bleeding, vaginal dryness, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and fibroids.
But Bekki Burbidge, head of communications for FPA, a leading sexual health charity in London, expressed that “the vagina is very good at cleaning itself and using perfumed products can upset the balance of the normal bacteria, rather than help. Perfumed products have been linked to bacterial vaginosis, which is the most common cause of unusual vaginal discharge, and can also increase the risk of developing thrush.”
Essentially, the vagina is self-cleaning and self-regulating. Hence, there is no need to stuff herb balls to restore its balance. Even if there is a need, a healthcare professional would be the best person to consult.
#3 Tightening Sticks
Call it the magic wand that vows to tighten – these sticks are made to help women “feel tight and wanted again” (as stated in one retailer’s website).
Made from natural ingredients including oak galls, pearl powder and aloe vera, these sticks are said to “stimulate the body’s natural cleansing system and regenerate the vagina’s skin tissue in a totally natural way” and “reduce or completely eliminate vaginal discharge”.
According to Dr Gunter, this is all kinds of wrong. She says, just like oak galls, the chemicals in the sticks dry out the vagina, increasing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and making sex painful for women.
Dr Gunter explains that the chemicals in these sticks work to temporarily dry out the vagina.
“The lack of wetness and pain from the resulting abrasions may also cause the pelvic floor to spasm during sex (not in a good way) and this will tighten the vaginal opening (which can make insertion painful),” she elaborated.
If tightness is a concern, then Kegels may be a better option. The bottom line is the vagina can be left alone to do its business.
#4 Perfumed Products and Oils
Oils can evoke exotic feelings and many women are using natural oils, such as yoni oil or pubic hair oil on the vagina to transform them into an “anti-fungal, antibacterial and pH balanced environment”.
Celebrity Emma Watson is reported to use Fur oil on her ends, eyebrows and pubic hair. The claim by retailers is that if used daily, this oil can soften pubic hair and clear pores for fewer ingrown hair.
The oil, warmed in the hands, is rubbed onto the vulva (externally). However some even insert the oil into the vagina to clear minor infections. Ironically, these oils can actually cause more harm than good. It carries the risk of infection.
Aly Dilks, a sexual health expert at The Women’s Health Clinic, London, says, “The vagina’s PH is very specific and it is self-cleaning. Be aware of creams and potions as they can cause infections easily. A bit of water and a little soap is all it needs.”
Dr. Lauren Streicher, clinical associate professor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, says, “Pubic hair, like any other hair, produces oil.”
#5 Vaginal Steaming
This treatment has been practised for centuries; but since 2015, actress cum lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow has been actively advocating its benefits, making it mainstream.
“You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne, and a combination of infrared and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus, et al. It is an energetic release – not just a steam douche – that balances female hormone levels,” she explains.
Consultant gynaecologist, Dr Eskander, from The Gynae Centre, London, believes there are treatments that can help with hormonal imbalances, but “they do not include a bowl full of steam and herbs”.
“The vagina and the uterus have their own “good” bacteria that actually help to protect against infection. I would not advise trying to mess around with your vaginal pH,” Dr Eskander adds. “Plus, with steaming, there is a risk of intravaginal burns.”
The claim that steaming, somewhat like a sauna, can clean and balance hormones does sound irrational and perhaps, it is best to rethink heating up the kettle for this purpose.