Model and actress Chrissy Teigen is known best for gracing the covers of magazines and making fun appearances on shows like The Mindy Project, but Tuesday, she gained attention for a embracing a bizarre pseudoscientific therapy popularized by Gwyneth Paltrow and her “wellness” site Goop. No, it’s not not coffee enemas or “charcoal detoxification” — this time, it’s vagina steaming.
Vaginal steaming isn’t new, but has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity seemingly due to an endorsement from Gwyneth Paltrow’s alternative-therapies hub Goop. In 2015, the site published a glowing endorsement of the practice, which was being administered at Tikkun Spa in Santa Monica, California.
“[T]he real golden ticket here is the Mugworth V-Steam,” reads the review. “You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne, and a combination of infrared and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus, et al. It is an energetic release. If you’re in LA, you have to do it.”
Paltrow has defended the practice by referring to history. She told Fast Company, “this is a thousands-of-year-old practice in Korean spas… it’s not like we’re urging people to go out and buy AK-47s.”
While the claim doesn’t necessarily legitimize the practice, a World Health Organization study found that a majority of survey subjects in Chonburi, Thailand and over a third of subjects in Tete, Mozambique and KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa reported vaginal steaming for a variety of reasons — including enhancing sexual pleasure and “maintaining wellness.”
Regardless of history, the practice caries some real risks. According to a blog post from OB/GYN Jen Gunter, steam could potentially carry volatile substances that could harm important bacteria in the vaginal microbiome. This microbiome actually keeps the vagina clean and healthy all by itself, so harming it could actually cause the opposite of steaming’s intended effect. Another OB/GYN, Draion Burch, told LiveScience that steaming runs the risk of giving people second-degree burns.
While the Instagram post may suggest that the phenomenon is just a matter of friend’s sharing their weird and potentially dangerous wellness tips with one another, there’s evidence that the practice has staying power. A simple Yelp search returned at least 12 spas in the New York City area that offer “v-steams,” with plenty of glowing reviews. One even serves tea and cookies with the procedure. Perhaps more frightening is a YouTube video showing how to jerryrig an at home setup. The video has over 266,00 views.