This article was originally written by Amber Brezna and repurposed with permission from our partners at Prevention.
If your vagina were a song, she'd be Destiny's Child "Independent Women, Part 1"—she can take care of herself. Despite that universal truth, though, some ladies still insist on messing around or tidying up down there in the most, ah, creative of ways. Here are four common moves that can go very, very wrong.
1. Stay far away from steaming (aka don't get vagina advice from Gwyneth).
We're all for the Goop-y philosophy of living your very best, healthiest life. But when Gwyneth Paltrow starts doling out patently bad advice, we've got to draw the line. Your vagina isn't a carpet—you should not steam clean it. According to our partners at Women's Health (and because Goop took down the post due to justifiable backlash), Paltrow defined steaming for V as when 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—not just a steam douche—that balances female hormone levels."
Raquel Dardik, MD, clinical associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center's department of obstetrics and gynecology, has a slightly different opinion. "Steaming would be a definite no because you would burn your vagina," she says.
2. Self-medicating is always a bad call.
Those over-the-counter vaginal creams or suppositories for yeast infections have their place; this is about the more homespun approach people sometimes try. "You should never try to self-medicate with homemade remedies like garlic or tea tree oil," says Dardik. At the very least, they won't make a dent in your misery. At the very worst? Well, it's not pretty. "I've seen chemical burns from some of these Internet suggestions, and a chemical burn inside of your vagina is not something I'd wish on anyone," says Dardik.
3. Inserting UFOs (unsanitary foreign objects) seems like a good idea...until it doesn't.
You already know what's allowed to go into your vagina: tampons, fingers, sex toys, a penis, lube, birth control, menstrual cups—and that's about it. Give everything else the Monty Python treatment: None shall pass. "Essentially, it comes down to common sense and personal habits. Sex toys, diaphragms, menstrual cups should all be cleaned and washed in-between uses," says Young. Everything else—cucumbers, bananas, that phallic-looking device in your kitchen—should stay far, far away from your lady parts. Even if you sanitize the heck out of them, their textures alone can cause some serious irritation.
4. The douching really needs to stop.
Pretty sure you know this already, but just in case: Your downstairs isn't supposed to smell like a tropical breeze. "These products do exactly the wrong thing to the vaginal microbiome, making it more susceptible to infection," says Constance Young, MD, assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center's department of obstetrics and gynecology.
We're not going to give you some spiel about the vagina being a "self-cleaning oven"—you've heard it before, and frankly, we like to keep our cooking metaphors separate from our genital care. Buuuut, it's totally true. Your hoo-ha maintains its own special pH-balanced environment, thanks to the lactobacillus bacteria present in it. When you squirt a douching mixture up there, you're changing the normally acidic environment to a neutralized one—and inhibiting your vagina from protecting itself.
We know what you're thinking: If it's so bad for you, why are there so many products on the market? "It's all about marketing that's not based on any science—it's the equivalent to Febreze, but for a more intimate setting," says Young. If you absolutely, positively feel the need to freshen things up, stick to the tried-and-true method of (surprise!) unscented soap and water—but only on the outside.