Pearl jewelry is always in style, but pearls for your vagina? Not so much. Unfortunately, vaginal “detox pearls” have been making the rounds as yet another type of questionable gynecological health product.
Vaginal detox pearls, sometimes referred to as yoni pearls, are small suppositories formulated with ingredients such as herbs, like motherwort and wild celery. They are inserted with an applicator and left in the vagina for up to 48 hours. The companies behind these products claim the pearls will purge the vagina of dead skin cells, increase sexual wetness and tightness, and even rid the energy of past partners.
One particular product, Goddess Vaginal Detox Pearls, was barred from sale in Canada in 2019, Vice reported at the time. The ban came after a CBC investigation found the company was marketing the detox as something that could cleanse users of sexual trauma, increase sexual wetness, and encourage blood flow to the vagina without going through any assessment process for safety, quality, or effectiveness. Jen Gunter, M.D., ob-gyn and author of The Vagina Bible, told CBC the claims are “very predatory.” But the product is still available online in the U.S. at Urban Outfitters and the company’s site.
Experts tell SELF that vaginal detox pearls, like so many “vaginal cleansing” products before them, are unnecessary at best and potentially dangerous at worst.
Your vagina doesn’t need a special detox—in fact, trying one could be harmful.
Vaginal detoxes are unnecessary because the vagina can generally clean itself, Kecia Gaither, M.D., an ob-gyn, maternal-fetal medicine specialist, and the director of perinatal services for NYC Health Hospitals/Lincoln, tells SELF. The vagina’s environment contains healthy bacteria and an acidic pH, which help protect it from unhealthy bacteria, viruses, and other sources of infection, she says. The vagina also cleanses itself regularly by producing discharge.
Thanks to this setup, you don’t need detox pearls (or any other special cleansing product) to clean the vagina. What’s more, vaginal detox products tend to contain ingredients and fragrances that can be irritating to that tissue. For instance, Goddess Vaginal Detox Pearls contain several herbal extracts including borneol, an ingredient that is known to cause skin irritation in some people. Using borneol in this particularly sensitive area can irritate the epithelium, the inner lining of the vagina, Dr. Gaither explains. (SELF reached out to both Urban Outfitters and Goddess Detox to respond to various claims in this piece. Neither company responded to multiple requests for comment.)
Beyond that, introducing a product such as detox pearls can actually disrupt the vagina’s delicate pH balance and make infections more likely. (Goddess does acknowledge on its website’s FAQ section that the product can contribute to yeast infections, but recommends using boric acid or another “natural yeast infection remedy.” However, experts typically recommend using an over-the-counter antifungal medication to treat a yeast infection or talking to your doctor about getting a prescription version.)
In the worst-case scenario, disrupting the vaginal ecosystem could lead to toxic shock syndrome, a very rare but serious bacterial infection, Dr. Gaither says. Toxic shock syndrome can cause flu-like symptoms such as a high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, a sunburn-like rash, muscle aches, and headaches. If it’s not treated quickly, the infection can be severe and potentially deadly.
Toxic shock syndrome is specifically caused by some types of staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria that produce toxins, the Mayo Clinic explains. Using certain types of menstrual products, such as tampons and menstrual cups, for prolonged periods of time can make toxic shock syndrome more likely. That’s not because those products directly introduce toxin-producing bacteria to the body, but because they create a type of environment that allows the bacteria to flourish, according to current thinking. The worry with products like detox pearls, which are designed to be left inside the body for up to two days at a time, is that they might also produce a favorable environment for potentially dangerous bacteria.
It’s also not possible for a vaginal product to “cleanse” you of things like sexual trauma.
As for the claim that Goddess Detox’s vaginal pearls can remove “old trauma, past sexual partners, and abusers” from “the womb,” Maria Sophocles, M.D., ob-gyn and medical director at Women’s Healthcare of Princeton, calls this “frighteningly inappropriate” because sexual trauma cannot be healed by any vaginal product. “I have seen many women who are victims of sexual trauma, and there’s no cleanser on the planet that can undo the emotional damage that sexual trauma causes,” she says.
“As far as anything herbal cleansing you of a bad relationship, no,” Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University, tells SELF. If you want help working through that kind of thing, she recommends a resource like a therapist—not a so-called vaginal detox.
Finally, vaginal detox products likely won’t make your vagina wetter or tighter.
There is no evidence that suggests the detox pearls would improve vaginal wetness, according to Dr. Minkin. Instead, using lubricant is a safe and efficient way to help treat vaginal dryness. Here’s how to pick the best lube for you.
And when it comes to marketing claims about improving vaginal tightness, these tend to play into ridiculous tropes about tightness being necessary for good sex and the idea that a person’s worth is defined by their vaginal tightness. In reality, having vaginal sex or giving birth vaginally won’t permanently ‘“stretch out” the vaginal muscles. (Of course, there may be longer-lasting changes to the muscle after a particularly difficult vaginal birth, and there are other common changes, like dryness, that can occur after giving birth that may affect sex.)
Instead of focusing on tightness, Dr. Minkin recommends trying Kegel exercises, which can gradually strengthen the pelvic floor and even contribute to stronger orgasms. “Doing Kegel exercises—so-called vaginal squeezing exercises—are the best way that women can increase their pelvic muscle strength,” she says.
Goddess Detox also claims that eating fast food, food with GMOs, and using birth control can have negative effects on the vagina. Dr. Minkin doesn’t see any scientific basis for these claims. She doesn’t think it will have any effect on the vagina, and she does not know of any link between vaginal health and GMOs.
When it comes to birth control, some people will undoubtedly experience certain side effects depending on which type of birth control they are taking. For instance, hormonal birth control pills can cause breakthrough bleeding in between periods, the Mayo Clinic says, and vaginal dryness. Long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as hormonal IUDs, may cause side effects, such as pelvic pain and irregular periods (especially within the first six months), the Mayo Clinic explains. Even a nonhormonal copper IUD can increase period pain and cause heavier periods in general. But none of these issues is something a “vaginal detox” can “cure.”
If you have any concerns about what your chosen method of birth control may be having on your vaginal health, the best solution is to consult your gynecologist or primary care provider—not try a vaginal detox product.
Here’s the safest way to take care of your vagina.
“The vagina is not a toxic organ,” Dr. Minkin says, and doesn’t really require much care. If you do feel the need to clean your vaginal area, Dr. Sophocles recommends a less-is-more approach: Use plain old water and gentle, unscented soap to clean the labia. You don’t need to ever clean the vagina internally.
For any other concerns about vaginal health, Dr. Minkin recommends speaking with a gynecologist or other health care provider before taking any steps to treat gynecological issues at home. Clearly, in some cases, so-called health products can cause more harm than good to the vagina.
“Leave the vagina alone,” Dr. Gaither says. It can take care of itself “quite readily.”