A woman got second-degree burns after steaming her vagina with boiling water, a practice gynecologists say can also lead to yeast infections

Julia Naftulin
steaming kettle tea pot

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  • A woman sustained second-degree burns after using steam from boiled water in an effort to treat her vaginal prolapse.
  • The practice is ancient but has gained steam from celebrities who say it can freshen and tighten the vagina. 
  • Gynecologists have warned against vaginal steaming because it has no evidence base and can lead to vaginal injury and yeast infections.
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When a 62-year-old woman steamed her vagina using a boiling water and herb mixture, she ended up with second-degree burns, illustrating how dangerous the practice can be.

According to a June 2019 case study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, the woman was trying to reduce symptoms of vaginal prolapse, a condition in which the bladder sags and pushes against the vaginal wall because the muscles that normally hold these organs in place are weakened, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In an attempt to reduce the prolapse symptoms, the woman turned to vaginal steaming, a practice that involves exposing your naked bottom half to a pot of boiling water, sometimes mixed with herbs, and letting the steam get into the vagina in an attempt to cleanse, freshen, and tighten it. The case study authors reported that the woman steamed her vagina with a mix of unknown herbs and water for 20 minutes straight for two days in a row, at the advice of a traditional Chinese medicine doctor.

When the steaming didn't make her prolapse symptoms any better, the woman went to the emergency room. Once there, doctors found her vaginal lining and cervix had second-degree burns because of the steaming. They prescribed the woman an antibiotic ointment to treat the burn, which didn't cause the woman any pain, according to the report.

The doctors on the case said this is the first reported instance of someone injuring themselves while steaming their vagina, but gynecologists have been warning against the practice for years, mainly because it doesn't offer any health benefits.

Vaginal steaming won't make your vagina healthier

Vaginal steaming is an ancient practice that women in China and Africa used to "freshen" and heal the vagina after childbirth. In recent years, it's trended in some wellness circles, with Chrissy Teigen posting about trying it and Gwenyth Paltrow reportedly raving about it as a way to health-ify your uterus. 

But experts say the practice is unfounded at best and dangerous at worst. In fact, in her new book, "The Vagina Bible," OB-GYN Dr. Jen Gunter said the idea that steam can cleanse your reproductive system is "physically impossible, as steam cannot make it through the cervix and into the uterus."

Read more: The benefits of sex in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond

Dr. Gunter added that the vagina doesn't need anything to clean it, anyway. The vagina is self-cleaning, meaning it can regulate itself. Any outside steam or other concoctions, like a vaginal douche or even scented soaps, have the potential to cause vaginal imbalances.

"If air is introduced along with the steam," Dr. Gunter wrote, "that could favor the growth of dangerous bacteria." Indeed, an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria can cause a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, a condition that makes the vagina feel itchy, smell fishy, and develop a thin, gray, white, or green vaginal discharge, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If a woman has vaginal prolapse, pelvic floor-strengthening exercises and surgery are the best treatment options. According to the Cleveland Clinic, vaginal prolapse surgery can tighten the walls of the vagina to prevent organs from falling out of place.

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