Gynaecologists are warning of the potential risks of vaginal steaming after it emerged a Canadian woman burned herself attempting one.
A case study, involving a 62-year-old, was published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.
The woman had been suffering from a prolapsed vagina and believed the treatment could help avoid surgery.
Vaginal steaming, which involves sitting over a hot water and herb mix, has seen a growth in popularity.
It and other treatments for intimate areas, including vulva facials, are now available at some salons and spas.
The LA Times first reported on the steaming trend in 2010, and it later gained widespread attention when Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand recommended it.
Last year, US model Chrissy Teigen also shared a photograph of herself undergoing the treatment.
Spas advertising “v-steaming” claim it has been used throughout history in countries in Asia and Africa. They say the practice, which is sometimes called Yoni steaming, acts to “detox” the vagina.
Experts, however, warn it can be dangerous and say there is no proven medical evidence for the health claims being made, including that steaming can ease period pains or help with fertility.
Dr Vanessa Mackay, a consultant and spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says it is a “myth” that the vagina requires extensive cleaning or treatment. She recommends using plain, unperfumed soaps on the external vulva area only.
“The vagina contains good bacteria, which are there to protect it,” she said in a statement.
“Steaming the vagina could affect this healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels and cause irritation, infection (such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush) and inflammation. It could also burn the delicate skin around the vagina (the vulva).”
A number of doctors have been sharing the injured woman’s story in recent days in order to highlight the potential dangers from steaming.
Dr Magali Robert, who authored the article, said the injured woman attempted to steam her vagina on the advice of a traditional Chinese doctor.
The woman, who gave permission for her case to be shared, sat over the boiling water for 20 minutes on two consecutive days before presenting at an emergency department with injuries.
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She sustained second-degree burns and had to delay reconstructive surgery while she healed.
Dr Robert, who works in pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery in Calgary, said word of unconventional therapies like steaming can spread through channels like the internet and word-of-mouth.
“Health care providers need to be aware of alternative therapies so that they can help women make informed choices and avoid potential harm,” she says in the article.