Are Vaginal Steam Baths Effective And Safe?
The vaginal steam bath catapulted into mainstream media a few years ago. Believers said it could help cleanse the uterus, improve hormonal balance, ease period cramps. Yet many of these claims remain unproven beyond anecdotal evidence. And with downsides that include allergic reactions, burns - vaginal steaming may not be all it is cracked up to be!
Vaginal steam baths may seem like an odd thing to do, but with some high profile celebs recommending the treatment, you’re probably understandably curious! At about 50 to 100 dollars a session, is it something you should consider?
What’s A Vaginal Steam Bath?
V-steams as they are often referred to, some say originated in Korea where it’s called chai-yok. This kind of steaming is done in Central America where they are called bajos, and Indonesia where they go by the name ganggang. You may also have heard of them being offered by spas as a “yoni steam”. Those who back this practice variously claim it is useful for helping ease menstrual cramps, clearing yeast infections, preventing uterine ulcers and infections, and tightening the vagina, as well as cleansing it, among other things.
In general, regardless of which kind of vaginal steaming you’re doing, the traditional way is for you to perch on an open-seated stool below which a bucket or vessel filled with steaming hot water is placed. Medicinal herbs with special properties are added to it and the treatment may last as long as half an hour to 45 minutes. Chai-yok, a 45-minute treatment usually uses rosemary, wormwood, basil, and mugwort. The mix of 15–20 herbs is supposed to work wonders for your reproductive system, helping do everything from sort out your hormones to maintaining uterine health. Proponents of the therapy say it can help soothe the nervous system and fix digestive disorders.1
The herbs used have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, which is what is said to help with the cleansing and keeping you infection-free in the region, according to a report in Time.2 And while the herbs may have these healing or protective properties, what’s not been firmly established by way of clinical studies or research, is the actual effectiveness of the vaginal steaming to administer these herbs.
Vaginal steaming may also be done to “dry” and “tighten” the vagina, a practice prevalent in a number of African nations. In these cultures, it is believed that this treatment can help a woman to cleanse her uterus after menstruation as well as childbirth.3 They’re said to help with getting rid of any blood clots in the uterus and eliminating any unpleasant smells. Traditionally, it has also been suggested as a way to help the uterus bounce back to its original shape after childbirth.
The spa that Hollywood A-lister Gwyneth Paltrow (a backer of vaginal steaming) visited says that, among other things, the therapy can help hemorrhoids, fighting infections, regulating periods, and keeping your uterus protected from tumors and ulcers.4
If all these sound like potentially tall claims, that’s because they may well be. As a BBC article on the treatment points out, spas themselves carry disclaimers that the treatment is not Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved.
The Risks From V-Steams
- If you’re trying to in some way cleanse the area and keep it infection-free, there are better ways to do it. Experts warn against trying to wash or cleanse the area, including by vaginal douching. By extension, steaming would be a no-no too. The practice can irritate the sensitive skin of the genital region. A simple plain water wash of the external genital region will suffice.5 Sore or irritated skin that’s dry after the herbal steam too may end up becoming a breeding ground for bad bacteria.
- The other issue with steaming or douching is that it could even kill off the good bacteria in the region, upsetting the balance of healthy bacteria. The NHS explains that the pH balance of the vagina is important and needs to remain low(at levels under 4.5). Remedies to “clean” the vagina can tip the balance making it less acidic and allowing bad bacteria and fungal infections to thrive bringing on bouts of thrush or bacterial vaginosis.6
- Unfortunately, this practice could well damage the tissue of your vagina. It may also cause sexually transmitted diseases to spread more easily. A tight or dry vagina increases the risk of contracting an STI or STD because of the increased inflammation and irritation in the area, that makes it more susceptible, according to research.7
- The other issue with this herb-based steaming is that you could potentially even have an allergic reaction to the many herbs used in the treatment. And with so many different herbs used (as many as 20!), it may be hard to pin down what’s causing the problem. If you have a severe allergic reaction in this delicate region, things could, quite literally, go south really fast.
- You also run the risk of burning your vagina, or the surrounding tissue in the rectum and bladder, if the steam is too hot or the vessel is placed too close to your delicate vaginal region.
What’s The Verdict?
Those who are for this practice have plenty of good things to say and claim it has helped improve their uterine health and sexual life. But several doctors and experts have weighed in on other forums and in the press cautioning against trying any kind of “cleansing” or steaming of the vagina, which they say is a self-cleansing body part. In fact, some experts have said it is a worrying trend because it reinforces old beliefs in some cultures that suggest a woman’s body is in some way even “deficient and disgusting”, and needs constant improvement or cleansing.8
The NHS explains that the vaginal secretions your body produces on its own are the best cleanse you could ask for. However, to keep the area clean and germ-free from the outside, wash the perineal area and vulva well during your bath with plain water or an unperfumed soap.9
First-hand accounts and anecdotal evidence of people who have experimented with a session of vaginal steaming say that regardless of what else it can or cannot do, it left them feeling relaxed or even a little stimulated. That’s because the warmth stimulates blood flow to the pelvic region. You could see it as not unlike a sauna or facial steam with those attendant benefits for the region being steamed. Other claims of hormonal balancing, improving fertility, fixing the nervous system, and cleansing your uterus remain largely unproven by way of scientific evidence and studies.
If you do decide to try out this treatment, do it at your own peril. Remember, you run the risk of potentially burning yourself or having an allergic reaction to the herbs used. So be sure to go to a proper establishment with a solid track record if you absolutely must try it. Remember, health authorities like the NHS or FDA do not back it. Ideally, just have a nice hot bath or head to the sauna for a full body steam instead!
For vaginal, reproductive, and digestive health, and to ward off yeast infections, consuming probiotic foods is a better bet.10 In fact, you’re better off using diet and a holistic lifestyle approach to digestive health, reproductive health, and hormone balancing rather than experimenting with such a delicate body part.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Jhin, Marie M.D.Asian Beauty Secrets: Ancient and Modern Tips from the Far East.2011.|
|2.||↑||The New-Old Practice of Vaginal Steam Baths. Time.|
|3, 7.||↑||van Andel, Tinde, Sanne de Korte, Daphne Koopmans, Joelaika Behari-Ramdas, and Sofie Ruysschaert. “Dry sex in Suriname.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 116, no. 1 (2008): 84-88.|
|4.||↑||Steam-cleaning your vagina like Gwyneth Paltrow is not recommended. BBC.|
|5.||↑||Yeast infection. The Center for Young Women’s Health Boston Children’s Hospital.|
|6, 9.||↑||Keeping your vagina clean and healthy. NHS.|
|8.||↑||Vandenburg, Tycho, and Virginia Braun. “‘Basically, it’s sorcery for your vagina’: unpacking Western representations of vaginal steaming.” Culture, Health & Sexuality (2016): 1-16.|
|10.||↑||de Vrese, Michael. “Health benefits of probiotics and prebiotics in women.” Menopause International 15, no. 1 (2009): 35-40.|