We asked Dr. Jen Gunter, a proponent of evidence-based medicine, about the risks involved in the latest "cleansing" trend.
Is stuffing little bags of herbs into your vagina really the latest trend? Are people actually buying into this?
I only heard of vaginal potpourri this week, but some people on Twitter tried to tell me it is a "thing" now, so it seems like a few people at least have bought into it. I don't think it's a true trend yet – that's why we need to nip it in the bud before it gets a celebrity boost from someone like Gwyneth Paltrow [who last year endorsed a steam-clean treatment].
Do our vaginas need a detox?
Nothing needs a detox. Ever. Douching is harmful as it damages good bacteria, which can increase a woman's risk of catching gonorrhea or HIV if she were to be exposed. Douches actually have warning labels, much like cigarettes (in the United States anyway). Vaginas are self-cleaning ovens – they do not need any help with regular maintenance. If you have a medical condition (e.g., vaginal itching, a discharge, pain), it is best to see your doctor and not a crafty person on Etsy.
What about the promise these herb baggies can shrink fibroids, treat vaginosis or even tighten our vaginas?
This is bogus. First, there are no studies, and secondly these products are likely to be harmful, not only damaging good bacteria but causing an overgrowth of bad bacteria. In addition, the bad bacteria are likely to adhere to the mesh baggie, letting them grow even more. This could also potentially increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome.
This sounds like something you'd see on Outlander. Is this some medieval remedy, revived?
No idea, but the idea of medieval gynecologic care sounds horrifying. I imagine wooden and rough iron instruments and no gloves or hand washing! Since we have only very recently (the last 10 years or so) begun to understand the real complexities of vaginal microbiology due to the advent of testing by DNA, I think it is safe to say that no "ancient" culture knew secrets about the vagina that you can now only discover on social media.
What are the risks?
Inserting baggies of herbs – even if they were organic herbs wrapped in GMO-free cotton – is potentially damaging to good bacteria (lactobacilli), thereby increasing a woman's chance of getting bacterial vaginosis and STDs if exposed. And then there's the potential increased risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Dr. Jen Gunter is a San Francisco Bay area OB/GYN and author of a popular health blog. She was raised in Winnipeg and did her residency in London, Ont., at the University of Western Ontario. You can follow her on Twitter @DrJenGunter.