Experts say sitting over a mixture of scented leaves and hot water is dangerous for women

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Multiple posts shared more than a thousand times on Facebook claim that women experiencing menstrual pain or fibroids should use a solution of hot water, salt and scented leaves, a method known as “vaginal steaming”. However, an expert told AFP Fact Check that this purported treatment can cause serious harm, and various academic papers over the years have dismissed any reported benefits.

Images of leaves together with an illustration of a woman who appears to be sitting on a steaming bucket have been shared here on Facebook.

The post includes a recipe for a herbal concoction that purports to help ease women's pain during their menstrual cycles. The text recommends that women “sit on it for like 5 minutes”.

It then goes on to list the claimed benefits. “Say bye bye to FIBROID/Cysts ( smaller ones), BALANCE VAGINA PH and MENSTRUAL PAINS.”

A screenshot taken on May 17, 2021 showing the false Facebook post

The same claim and images have also been shared here, here, here and here.

More harm than good

Dr Sesan Oluwasola, an obstetrician at the University College Hospital in southern Nigeria, told AFP Fact Check that vaginal steaming is not something he would recommend.

“There's no scientific evidence that it serves any useful purpose,” he said.

Oluwasola said the practice leads to the “destruction of the normal biological flora” of the vagina and could cause burns and injury. “When the burnt area heals, it can lead to vaginal stenosis (narrowing),” he added.

Vaginal stenosis occurs when scar tissue forms, which narrows and shortens the vaginal tract. The condition is often induced by radiation and cancer treatment. 

Age-old practice

According to Harvard University Medical School, the practice has been around for centuries. Still, Harvard researchers say there is “no scientific evidence to support vaginal steaming, in which a woman sits over a bowl of steaming herb-infused water”. 

Academic papers published by Taylor & Francis (TandFonline) have also found that over time the practice can be harmful to women. An academic paper by experts from University of British Columbia and the University of Guelph suggests that “vaginal practices, such as vaginal steaming ... pose harms to women’s health”. 

The paper cited a case report in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada about a 62-year-old woman who sustained second degree burns from vaginal steaming. The journal stated that women also turn to this method for “vaginal tightening”, but concluded that “clinicians need to be aware of alternative treatments available to women so that counselling may mitigate any potential harm”.