The vagina is often referred to as a “self-cleaning oven.” While it can’t (perhaps contrary to some men’s beliefs) whip up a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies on demand, it is an impressive organ that can help deliver new life into this world—and it does a remarkably good job of keep itself clean and balanced. So why, pray, do people keep telling us to shove things up there in the name of hygiene?
Khloe Kardashian, of the sisters Kardashian, is the most recent proponent of an erroneous vaginal rejuvenation method. In a recent post on her app, she reportedly gushed: “No joke: Vitamin E may strengthen vaginal lining! Moisturize your labia and vagina with Vitamin E oil to combat dryness and soothe irritation.”
Back in May, Gwyneth Paltrow, patron saint of expensive natural remedies, published a Q&A on her site GOOP with Maggie Ney, ND, who also suggested vitamin E as a solution to vaginal dryness, as well as coconut oil or aloe vera gel. But Ney added a qualifier: “Oils, however, do compromise the integrity of latex, so don’t use oils with a latex condom. It is also important to note that lubricants can affect sperm motility, so I advise against lubrication while trying to conceive.”
But an accidental pregnancy could be the least of your worries about using vitamin E down there.
“I would not recommend this nor is there any study that looks at this for healthy, premenopausal women,” Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an OBGYN, recently told The Daily Beast. While reputable health organizations including the American Cancer Society do recommend the use of vitamin E for vaginal dryness as women age and go through menopause, Gunter recommended younger women “see your doctor and try a silicone-based lube” if they experience the same.
While we’re on the subject of things to keep away from your vagina, here are some other substances that have no business going up in there, despite what so-called experts may say.
Chances are, you’ve probably called someone a douchebag—but the colloquial insult is just as bad as the actual effects of the pharmaceutical product. Douching involves putting a cleansing solution into a plastic applicator and inserting it into the vagina to stay "fresh." As Fusion reported last year, douche ads were ubiquitous in 1970s women’s magazines; while you’re far less likely to come across a Summer’s Eve ad these days, the Department of Health and Human Services reports that almost one in four women between the ages of 15 and 44 still douche.
While having a vagina that smells like a mossy fern or a fresh-picked daisy sounds like a dream, it comes with a price—like an “overgrowth of harmful bacteria” in the vagina, according to the HHS. “The bacterial imbalance can lead to yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, which can in turn lead to more serious health conditions,” as Fusion reported.
Anyone who’s ever had a yeast infection knows that the condition can be at the very least uncomfortable and at the very worst, incredibly gross. Another way to steer clear of a goopy mess is to avoid bath bombs. For the unfamiliar, bath bombs are those cylindrical soaps that, when dropped in water, produce an intense scent. Unfortunately, they can also cause intense health issues.
Dr. Carolyn DeLucia, a gynecologist at VSPOT MediSpa and founder of the ViVa Rejuvenation center in Hillsborough, New Jersey, told Fusion a few months back that scented bath bombs and bubble baths can disrupt the acid base balance of the vagina. “Generally our bodies keep this balance favoring our healthy bacteria, lactobacilli, but other bacteria and yeast are ever-present in small quantities in our vagina,” she said. “When the pH changes to favor yeast, and if an environment is created that kills the healthy bacteria, yeast will jump in and grow and take over.” No, thank you.
This next one seems like it should go without saying—but think twice before putting herbs in your vagina. Yes, there are some people who think that’s a good idea. Back in January, we caught wind of a company out of Florida selling “herbal womb detox pearls,” small satchels that users were instructed to insert into the vagina for 72 hours.
According to the website of the company, Embrace Pangea, the pearls were meant to “cleanse the womb and return it to a balance state.” It also claimed to treat vaginal health issues including bacterial vaginosis, foul odor, yeast infections, endometriosis, and fibroids. This all sounds well and good until you discover there’s no scientific basis for this claim—and it could actually be harmful.
The satchels contain motherwort, osthol, angelica, borneol, and rhizome, all combined by the company’s 24-year-old founder. The founder completed independent research on natural products good for reproductive health, and, voila! the pearls were born. But Dr. Rebecca Brotman, an assistant professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told Fusion in January, “I can’t imagine it would be a good thing…Self-treating is not the optimal way to go. Usually when people use these [herbal] products, they’re chasing down symptoms, so we don’t know if the condition is BV, or a yeast infection, or trichomoniasis.”
And for people really serious about a beautiful vagina, you can even get a vagina facial—a vagacial, if you will. The only reason to do this would be if you have too much time and too much money. As a writer for Cosmopolitan reported after getting one, “the difference was minimal—non-existent, really.”
The moral of the story is that your vagina is a perfectly lovely cavern, just as it is. And if you’re experiencing symptoms out of the ordinary, do not consult Gwyneth, definitely don’t consult Khloe, and do consult your doctor.
Marisa Kabas is a Sex + Life reporter based in New York City. She loves baseball, bunnies and bagels.