But Teigen's overshare is served up with a healthy dose of skepticism. Rather than urging her followers to hurry up and put the kettle on, she captioned her pic, "No I don't know if any of this works but it can't hurt right? [sic]" Well, can it?
Gwyneth Paltrow has been touting the practice (and getting flack for it, TBH) since 2015, when she recommended a therapy offered at Los Angeles' Tikkun Spa, the Mugwort V-Steam. The spa, on its website, says the therapy "stimulates the production of hormones to maintain uterine health, aids regular menstrual cycles, clears up hormonal acne, promotes circulation, and helps correct digestive disorders."
Of course, many MDs disagree. Three years ago, OB/GYN and science blogger Jen Gunter, M.D. posted a rebuttal to Paltrow's rec that explained, from a scientific perspective, why all of that might be more than a little exaggerated. Namely, she says, the steam will not move from your vagina to your uterus, there's no evidence that mugwort or wormwood balance hormones, and that whole area is a delicate ecosystem that's better off left to its own self-care devices.
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Vaginas are "self-cleaning ovens," Dr. Gunter says. (Unlike the uterus, which is the kind of oven that bakes buns, right?) "Steam is probably not good for your vagina. Herbal steam is no better and quite possibly worse. It is most definitely more expensive," she says. What's more, there is currently no scientific evidence to back up the practice's purported benefits.
But there's more to it. Although it's now being referred to as a trendy Hollywood spa treatment, Nicole Kruck, a massage therapist at the renowned YinOva Center, a center for acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine in New York City, says V-steams have been done all over the world for centuries, particularly in Korea and Central America.
Kruck creates custom herbal blends ("It's kind of like making a pot of tea," she says. If you were to squat over your tea...) and administers them at YinOva, often in conjunction with a type of massage called Maya Abdominal Technique. She says the main benefit of the therapy is that it tends to help women by increasing warmth and circulation to the area.
"A lot of times women have cold uteruses, and their doctors are saying they’re not getting enough circulation to the pelvis," she says. "A lot of women have problems with periods, vaginal dryness, fertility issues...so it can be a really nice, natural way to help with some of those symptoms."
And not all physicians think it's totally bogus. In an article in Whole Living in 2012, director of gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine Charles J. Ascher-Walsh said, “It’s reasonable to think that steam could soften the cervix and cervical mucus to make fertility-related procedures easier,” he said. “And the herbs may even have an aromatherapy-like effect" that de-stresses.
Kruck agrees, explaining that the relaxation effect is key. Dr. Gunter, however, has a different suggestion. "If you want to relax your vagina, have an orgasm," she says. We'll let you decide.
Originally published on January 30, 2015. Updated June 19, 2018.
If you really want to take care of yourself down there, you'd be better served focusing on your vaginal flora. And speaking of healthy vaginas—here’s what your discharge is telling you.
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