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Dangerous trends in vaginal cleansing products

Before the 1970s, vaginal hygiene was not recognized as a subject needing cultural or historical research. 

This past societal norm reflected the way American men at the time were uncomfortable with the discussion of women’s and vaginal hygiene. This discomfort can also be seen today in the marketing of vaginal hygiene products.  

Through commercials and local ads such as billboards and magazines, women and people with vaginas are told to use products that change the way that their vagina smells. Using these products would mask their natural smell with a sweet artificial scent. These products range from scented tampons to scented cleansing wash and there is even a circulating rumor that eating pineapple makes a person’s vagina taste sweeter.

This pressure for people to make their vaginas smell like flowers and fruit stems from the discomfort to discuss vaginal hygiene in a healthy way. Even the expression “feminine hygiene products” ignores any reference to anatomy.

According to Office on Women’s Health, doctors have long advised against using soap or any douching methods.  The vagina is self-cleaning and doing so upsets the balance of good bacteria increases the risk of infection.

Vaginas have a natural scent and discharge is normal, although these two factors are what many companies create products to get rid of.

One of the most popular brands for vaginal cleansing products is Summer’s Eve. They offer a scented feminine wash that is labeled with “pH balanced” and “gynecologist-tested,” giving consumers a false sense of credibility.

A doctor may have approved the product, but with their stamp of approval comes something in return. This type of endorsement is a common marketing tool. It is important to know that “gynecologist-tested” does not mean a product is backed with scientific evidence and large clinical trials.

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) protocol for labeling cosmetics, such as body wash, are less strict than its regulations for labeling products that are recognized as medical devices, such as tampons.

Over recent years, there has been a rise in the popularity of products claiming to support vaginal health and aesthetic that are not FDA approved. Most popular are detox pearls, also called yoni eggs. There are several brands that offer these pearls such as Love Stone, Embrace Pangea, and Goddess Detox.

These detox pearls are tiny mesh balls filled with herbs that are advertised to clean the womb, therefore cleansing the consumer’s whole self. They’ve become popular with people looking to cure fibroids, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis.

Gynecologists have spoken out against these vagina detox methods and warn they could lead to toxic shock syndrome. The excessive discharge that occurs after the detox is seen as evidence that the process is causing harm rather than good. Discharge is perfectly normal and a sign that your vagina is healthy and clean.

“The recent propaganda claiming that our Herbal Womb Detox Pearls can lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is purely a unfounded and baseless attack on another holistic product without merit,” reads the FAQ page from Embrace Pangea’s website.

Following are directions on how to use the pearls. After washing your hands, Embrace Pangea instructs the user to lay on their back, deeply insert the pearl inside of them and leave it in for 24 hours. Other brands instruct users to leave the pearl for 3 days. After removal, the amount of discharge represents how much the user has been “cleansed.” First time users are recommended to do two detoxes to achieve the best results.

Users have uploaded photos to social media showing the results of their detox. Many of them experience excessive discharge—which according to Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician-gynecologist and specialist in women’s health, is a sign of irritation, infection, or lack of good bacteria. She also explains that the use of products that are not designed for long-term vaginal use can cause a heightened risk of toxic shock syndrome.

There is a social discomfort of talking about vaginas—sometimes even saying the word vagina—in many communities that perpetuates the ignorance on how to properly care for them. There is also a societal pressure for heterosexual women to sexually please men that encourages excessive cleaning methods, including shaving and waxing, to have vaginas presentable for heteronormative standards. To ensure the safety of  people’s sexual and vaginal health, there needs to be more widespread education on anatomy and hygiene.