Putting satchels of herbs in your vagina: not a great idea. (Photo: Embrace Pangaea)
Updated 12:15 p.m., Jan. 13
Up next in the line of “things you should never do to your vagina”: vaginal detoxing … with herbal tampons. As in, baggies of herbs. That you stick up your vagina. For three days.
The supposed reasoning behind it: The right blend of herbs can control yeast overgrowth, tighten your vagina, and help relieve conditions such as fibroids, bacterial vaginosis, and endometriosis. The practice is slowly making its way to beauty and lifestyle blogs.
But health experts point out that it’s a bad idea. Jen Gunter, MD, an OB/GYN at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center, recently published a blog post setting the record straight: “Your uterus isn’t tired or depressed or dirty and your vagina has not misplaced its chakra,” writes Gunter, who also serves as director of Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Center for Pelvic Pain and Vulvovaginal Disorders. “None of your organs want the kind of help that comes with a ‘detox’ because they have evolved to take care of themselves in partnership with the rest of your body.”
Gunter tells Yahoo Health that she first heard of the products when she received a link to a lifestyle blogger’s post. “I was horrified and felt I had to do something about it,” she says.
Not only do these products not do what they claim, they may be downright harmful. “The vaginal ecosystem is pretty delicate,” Gunter tells Yahoo Health. “It functions in a very particular way, and the good bacteria in the vagina are very susceptible to products and antibiotics.”
When that ecosystem is out of whack, that’s when women develop infections, such as yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. The good bacteria maintain the pH of the vagina and prevent harmful bacteria from sticking to the cells of the vaginal wall.
“That ball of herbs is a nidus for bacteria and allows bad bacteria to grow,” Gunter explains. Her blog post elaborates: “Many plant products and extracts are irritating and certainly none of the claimed contents have been tested for vaginal use. God knows what is in the ‘vaginal tightening’ pearls, but I imagine something caustic or drying — both really bad.”
Some of the potential problems caused by these herb satchels include:
- Damaging the good bacteria in your vagina, and encouraging the growth of bad bacteria. “Studies tell us that when women are deficient in good bacteria, they’re not only more likely to get infections such as yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis, but they’re also more likely to get gonorrhea or HIV if they’re exposed to it,” Gunter tells Yahoo Health.
- Irritating the lining of your vagina, which increases the risk of infection.
- Contributing to toxic shock syndrome, since you’re supposed to leave them in for 72 hours — far longer than any tampon or similar product should stay in the vagina.
You also don’t know what’s really in the satchels, Gunter says. Case in point: You can buy them on Etsy. Yes, the website known for its homemade crafts of wildly varying quality. (Because when you want to buy something that goes up your vagina, the first person you think of is the guy who made that super-cool necklace for your aunt.)
“Leave [your vagina] alone; it’s not exactly sentient but it can cope very well without any meddling,” she writes.
Her final advice: “If you have a medical condition that you think needs treatment, don’t go to Etsy,” Gunter says. “And don’t self-diagnose,” she adds, “Self diagnosis for a vaginal infection is inaccurate 50 to 70 percent of the time.”