We’re not much for jumping on a wellness trend just because the celebrities are doing it, but when we heard about Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog promoting the benefits of a recent V Steam – aka vaginal steaming – our eyebrows did raise … and there may have been a dropped jaw or two.
But then the questions began:
Is there any merit to using herbs and steam in the vaginal area, as described on the holistic Los Angeles spa’s website, for things like helping fight infections and protecting the uterus from tumors?
Does the vagina really need our help? Isn’t it pretty self-sufficient?
To help us answer these questions and a few others, we enlisted the help of Dr. Anna Cabeca, a board certified gynecologist and obstetrician and expert in women’s health.
“My first instinctual response was ‘Oh Lord, what are those crazy Californians doing now?” jokes Cabeca from her home in Georgia. “Then as I thought about it, I thought, ‘Fantastic – that vagina needs a lot of TLC, some attention, it needs really to be recognized, honored. Just treated with a little bit of gentle tender love and care.”
According to Tikkun Skin Care, the LA-area spa offering Mugwort V Steam Therapy, “Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) has been used in Korea for hundred[s] of years and is known for balancing female hormonal levels. Mugwort also contains natural antibiotics and anti-fungal agents which is said to help maintain internal health as well as keep your skin looking young and healthy.”
“It sounds yummy. When you get a steam facial, isn’t that yummy?” Cabeca says.
The goal with this and other related spa-type treatments for the vagina is really to show the area some attention with something nourishing – in this case, steam and herbs. As Cabeca points out, factors like aging, infections, antibiotics, pesticides, etc. decrease the normal flora in the vagina, which can affect its health. For instance, the simple process of aging, including declining hormones, causes the lining of the vagina to thin out, a decrease in muscle, an increase in pH (it becomes more alkaline vs. its healthy acidic ph of 3.5-4.5) and an increase in the susceptibility to yeast infections.
For dryness and normal irritations, Cabeca recommends something like a vaginal steam for its soothing qualities (though you do want to make sure you’re in no danger of getting a steam burn). The steam and herbs can help nourish those delicate tissues; though whether the herbals and steam can get into the uterus for other deeper benefits, she doubts, since the vagina is elastic and the vaginal folds close together and seal things off pretty effectively. Of course, others disagree.
Using coconut oil or even just an Epsom salt bath for cleansing, can also go a long way.
“Taking a simple bath is very cleansing to the vagina and using coconut oil or olive oil or almond oil can be beneficial,” she says.
Since the vagina is indeed self-cleaning, douching is unnecessary, and in fact, not recommended because it can introduce unwanted bacteria and knock that natural flora out of balance. She also recommends strengthening the vaginal muscles through exercises that contract the pelvic floor.
Before jumping on the vaginal steaming bandwagon she cautions to make sure you are working with a healthy vagina. If you’re getting abnormal discharge or signs of irritation, burning, itching, redness, pain with sex, fishy odor, etc., the health of your vagina is off and you need to get it checked out. Other things that can disturb the normal flora and health of the vagina is lubricants and sperm, steroid therapy (even if it’s nasal), diabetes, oral contraceptives, and just plain old tampon trauma. Food sensitivities can also cause problems in the vagina.
“The vagina is an extension of the GI tract,” Cabeca says.
Like the gastrointestinal system, the vagina can also be helped by probiotics – specifically vaginal probiotics. She recommends using coconut oil for its antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties and following that with a vaginal probiotic to support vaginal health.
Other factors to keep in mind when evaluating the health of your vagina are skin disorders – these can also affect the urogenital tract.
“As a gynecologist, we can tell a lot about the health of an individual from the vagina, so a healthy vagina is very crucial,” she says.
As with the rest of our bodies, it’s important to keep the chemicals out – so watch out for those lubricants. Make sure any lubricant you’re considering is tasteless, odorless, without synthetics, parabens, aspartame, etc.
So, bottom line? Take care of your vagina and make sure it’s healthy. For soothing support, show it some love with a spa-like treatment using natural ingredients now and again. If you get some deeper healing out of it, even better!
And remember: “The vagina is essential for life. None of us would be here without it,” she says.