If you regularly browse the wellness pages of the internet, it's likely you'll have come across more than a few mentions of essential oils.
Essential oils are lovely. They are the very essence of a plant, its purest scent; they diffuse beautifully in oil burners, go great in baths, and we're at the beginning of some interesting research into whether essential oils can be used to help treat different medical issues.
Please note the 'at the beginning of" part of that sentence. NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) classifies aromatherapy (using oils to improve physical and mental wellbeing) as a complementary medicine, which means that it shouldn't be used as an alternative to traditional medicine, just as a possible addition.
One thing we do know about using essential oils is that you should definitely not be putting them up or in your vagina. This, my friends, is a very bad idea indeed.
To some of you, this may sound like a given: the vagina = not a part of your body to play silly buggers with. In fact, though, there are a huge number of blogposts advocating the use of various oil concoctions for vaginal odour, for yeast infections (thrush), bacterial vaginosis, vaginal dryness... and that's just on the first page of Google. You can even, if you really hate having money, buy this ready-made mixture of oils named Holy Yoni (for topical use only) for $48 (£37). For the non-Goopers out there, "yoni" is Sanskrit for "womb" but has come to mean vagina, vulva or uterus.
"I don't recommend [using] any oils at all!" says Shazia Malik, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist practising in London. She believes the essential oil craze is a side-effect of the digital evolution. "There is an increasing trend to Google and try to self-manage problems, and to look for so-called 'natural' remedies," she tells me. "Unfortunately, there is a lot of unregulated information which can be misleading and even harmful."
The vagina is not a part of your body to play silly buggers with
Sadly, thanks to poor education and other cultural factors, many women feel under pressure to have a 'perfect' vagina. To be clear, such a thing doesn't exist; vaginas are all fine, just as they are. Refinery29 recently reported on the dangers of unregulated vaginal 'rejuvenation' procedures, a demand for which has stemmed from an unrealistic idea of what form, shape and colour the female genitals 'should' take. According to Malik, myths like these may be behind the current interest in vaginal oils. "There has been a cultural shift in what is perceived as normal or beautiful. [This] has meant that what really is normal may sometimes be perceived as otherwise, for example feeling that a normal and natural odour isn't or needs to be masked."
Tea tree oil seems to be a particularly popular choice of vaginal oil across the blogosphere, especially for treating thrush and odours. Malik tells us it's because it's known as an antiseptic (an unnecessary addition as a vagina should have millions of healthy bacteria already in place). Worryingly though, tea tree oil appears to be the reported catalyst for a number of hospital trips, including claims of a woman left with permanent scarring after soaking a tampon in the stuff. It's important to remember that any essential oil should be heavily diluted before it comes into contact with the body anyway but putting it inside yourself can be very dangerous indeed. Malik lists pain, scarring, the killing off of healthy bacteria, burning of the skin and creating a predisposition to infection as just some of the potential dangers.
So it's a no on the essential oils. Even if you think you need it. "The vagina is a self-cleaning and moisturising organ and does not need extra oils, moisturisers or deodorants," states Malik firmly. "The only time moisturisers may be needed is in some sexual disorders, while breastfeeding, when the vagina can be less lubricated, and after the menopause."
"Wear cotton underwear, change daily – more often if exercising or heavy discharge – and don't wear underwear at night," Malik continues. "Do not use vaginal hygiene products and don't douche. Wash with warm water and/or unscented products for the vulva."
Basically, no matter how high maintenance you are, your vagina's the opposite. Leave it alone. It'll thank you.
For more news and reporting on cosmetic and non-cosmetic procedures targeted at women's vaginas, visit our #YourVaginasFine microsite.