Image: Antti T. Nissinen (Flickr (CC BY 2.0))

A 62-year-old Canadian woman ended up with painful second-degree burns on her genitals after she attempted an at-home vaginal steaming, according to a case report. Ultimately, it delayed the reconstructive surgery she needed to treat an earlier vaginal injury.

The women’s tale was detailed by her doctor in a report published online last October in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada (the study later appeared in the June print issue of the journal).

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Typically, vaginal steaming treatments, which have been praised by some celeb health gurus (aka Gwyneth Paltrow), are advertised as a way to “detox” the vagina. Oftentimes, the steam will include vaporized herbal remedies said to increase the body’s healing potential.

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In this case, a traditional Chinese doctor reportedly told the woman that the treatment would also help repair her vaginal prolapse—a condition where a portion of the vagina falls out of position and can lead to complications like constipation, pain, and chronic urinary tract infections. Though there are nonsurgical options for vaginal prolapse, such as rubber devices inserted inside the vagina as support, it often worsens over time and surgery is considered the only fully effective treatment.

Following the typical v-steaming procedure, the woman sat over boiling water for 20 minutes a day for two days. But after the second session, the woman was in enough pain that she rushed to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with second-degree burns. The burns were specifically found on the prolapsed vaginal tissue that had fallen out.

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The woman wasn’t more seriously hurt, thankfully. But she did need to heal up before doctors were able to perform the surgery that actually treated her vaginal prolapse. And the woman’s doctor hopes that her story can remind other doctors that they need to help steer their patients away from all sorts of woo and fad remedies.

“Clinicians need to be aware of alternative treatments available to women so that counselling may mitigate any potential harm,” study author Magali Robert, a urogynecologist at the University of Calgary in Canada, wrote.

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The woman’s specific condition likely increased the chances of serious injury while v-steaming. But even if vaginal steaming won’t burn the average woman’s vagina, it won’t do anything to improve health either. For one, the heat and herbal fumes probably can’t reach the vaginal canal. And as this woman’s case shows, you shouldn’t try to find a way to get scalding vapor closer to your vagina. Most importantly, as actual women’s health experts like Jen Gunter have explained time and again, the vagina is already a self-cleaning organ—no extra “detoxifying” is required.