Herbs belong in your pantry and planter, not in your vagina.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what yoni pearls are: herb heaps made for vaginal insertion. And, far from being just a wacky, woo-woo wellness trend, these pearls are dangerous.
Read on for your 911 411 on yoni pearls.
What exactly are yoni pearls?
The short answer: Something you should not be putting inside your body.
The longer answer: Yoni pearls, sometimes called vaginal detox pearls, herbal tampons, cleansing pearls, or vaginal pearls, are basically vaginal tea bags.
Yoni is the Sanskrit word for vagina. It translates to “a sacred space.”
They are bundles of cloth-wrapped herbs marketed as vaginal or uterus cleansers and detoxifiers. You should not be putting them inside your body for 1 minute, let alone the 24 to 72 hours recommended on yoni pearl packaging.
The herbs in these so-called detox products vary from pearl to pearl and producer to producer, but common herbs include:
How are they supposed to work?
Depends on who you ask.
One creator of the product says the herbs in these pearls create a “pulling effect that draws toxins, bad bacteria, dead cells, old blood clots, mucus and more from your yoni, while at the same time tightening your yoni and deterring vaginal dryness and other ailments.”
Another says that the nuggets detox the uterus, cleanse the vagina, quell vaginal inflammation, promote a healthier reproductive system, and even help with endometriosis, irregular periods, fibroids, PCOS, blocked tubes, and ovarian cysts.
While it is true that herbs have been long used in medicine, people who actually know how the vagina works (read: doctors) say there is literally no reason to think herb bundles will support the health of your vagina.
“There’s zero research that any of the vaginal pearls, or the herbs in them, are good for your vagina or uterus — let alone that putting them in your vagina for that amount of time would do anything other than cause harm,” says Lauren Streicher, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and the author of “Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever.”
Felice Gersh, MD, the author of “PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones and Happiness,” offers a similar sentiment.
“Given that there’s zero research, data, or science to back up the use of these pearls, they 100 percent shouldn’t be put inside your vagina,” Gersh says.
Do they work?
The internet is full of testimonials from people who claim they do, but there is no evidence to suggest that any of this is true.
“The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, and as such does not require a ‘detox,’” says Dr. Kecia Gaither, an OB-GYN and specialist in maternal fetal medicine, and director of perineal services at NYC Health and Hospitals/Lincoln.
“Normal vaginal discharge basically consists of water and vaginal cells,” Gaither explains. “Depending on what time course of the menstrual cycle, the color may vary from clear, to white, to off-white, [and] the consistency of the secretions [can vary] from thin and watery to elastic and stringy to thick and gooey.”
All of these colors and consistencies are normal.
Your vagina also goes through a lot of changes when you’re pregnant: The pH changes (so you smell and taste different), and you might experience more vaginal discharge than you usually do.
Whether or not you’re pregnant, when you try to “detox” or “cleanse” your vagina with yoni pearls (or any other remedy, like douches, steaming, or jade eggs), you can kill the natural bacteria inside your vagina that protects it from infections and balances the pH.
That’s why, if you’re concerned about your vaginal discharge or odor, it’s best you talk to your OB. They can tell you if you have a problem and suggest a treatment that will actually work.Why do people use them?
People buy yoni pearls because of that same genital shame.
Spread through marketing, media, and misogynists, “the idea that vaginas are smelly, offensive, and dirty has been going around our culture for a long, long time,” Streicher says.
Unfortunately, combined with lack of education around how the vagina is supposed to look, smell, and function, this shame leads people to buy products that are downright dangerous.
Is there any research to support this?
There is no research to support the safety of putting herbs inside your vagina. There also isn’t research that doing so is going to support vaginal or uterine health.What can you do instead?
Ultimately, it depends on w-h-y you’re reaching for — or researching — these pearls.
Is it because you experience chronic yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, unusual discharge, or other lasting symptoms?
If so, Gersh recommends seeking out the care of an OB-GYN instead.
Your doctor will be able to prescribe any medicine that can clear up the underlying cause.
“A doctor may also be able to recommend a probiotic that supports the health of your vagina, as well as look at the underwear and sports clothes you’re wearing to suggest less irritating options,” Gersh says.
Is it because you’re worried about the cleanliness of your uterus?Don’t be!
“The uterus is a sterile environment that’s free of bacteria,” Streicher says. “Anything you attempt to put in your uterus could be harmful to that very sterility.”Is it because you want to help your vagina detox?
“There’s never a need for your vagina to be detoxed,” Gersh says.
It also doesn’t need your help getting clean. You may have heard that the vagina is a self-cleaning machine, and that’s true!
“Attempting to clean or detox the vagina is just going to kill off the good bacteria in the vagina that helps fight off infection,” she says, adding that this, in itself, increases the risk of infection.Is it because you’re worried about the smell of your vagina?
“In all likelihood, your vagina smells exactly as it should,” Gersh says. “Your vagina isn’t supposed to smell like dandelions and tulips. It’s supposed to smell like vagina.”
The only time to be concerned about the scent of your “vajayjay” is if you’ve noticed a drastic and persistent (read: longer than 3 days) change in smell.
Yoni pearls are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and aren’t considered safe by doctors for a number of reasons.
That’s why, in 2019, the government agency Health Canada banned the sale of yoni pearls, calling them harmful and “very predatory” because they make misleading, false, and deceptive claims.
There is also a Florida class action suit against one major company that makes yoni pearls because they contain “at least one ingredient that has been recognized as toxic.”
This toxic ingredient is borneolum syntheticum, a synthetic version of borneol. According to CBC/Radio Canada, Health Canada says there’s been at least one report of someone having a serious adverse reaction to it.
Yoni pearls can also increase your chances of developing an infection.
“Yoni pearls are foreign objects,” explains Gaither. “The mesh is an irritant, which can scratch the vagina,” which in turn, can cause injury or chronic irritation.
In addition, she says, yoni pearls “can serve as an industrial for bacterial growth and can increase the risk of infection.”
This is because yoni pearls kill “good” bacteria, like Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacteria that produces lactic acid in the vagina to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
And to “detox,” yoni pearl instructions dictate that they should be left inside the vagina a long time (24 to 48 hours). This is dangerous and can severely increase your risk of dangerous infection.
Tampons, for comparison, aren’t supposed to be worn for more than 8 hours because they can lead to toxic shock syndrome, a serious bacterial infection that can be life threatening if left untreated. Yoni pearls are left in even longer, putting you at even greater risk of this dangerous infection.
Yoni pearls can also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can do a lot of damage to your reproductive system, leading to ectopic pregnancy, long-term pain, and infertility.I’ve had a miscarriage. Did yoni pearls cause it?
It is difficult to say for certain, but you should know that most miscarriages occur because of things outside your control.
In other words, miscarriages are generally not the result of something you did or did not do. So, try not to blame yourself if you have one.
“Most miscarriages are caused by a genetic issue,” says Gaither, such as a chromosomal abnormality in the baby. In fact, estimates suggest that between 50 percent and 70 percent of spontaneous miscarriages occur for this reason, most within the first trimester.
That said, as noted above, infections can increase your chances of a miscarriage. But there are lots of other factors that can lead to miscarriage too, including:
- tobacco, drug, or alcohol use
- high caffeine intake
- maternal age or weight
- hormonal issues
- thyroid disease
- cervical problems
- uterus anatomy
- high blood pressure
- food poisoning
- certain medications
Sometimes, the cause of a miscarriage just is not known.
If you have had a miscarriage, your doctor might be able to do a genetic analysis to see if there was a genetic anomaly. And if you have had multiple miscarriages, Gaither says that you should talk to your doctor to see if something else is going on.What if you really want to try it?
To be noticeably clear: These aren’t doctor recommended.
On the contrary, Streicher says, “From a gynecological health standpoint these pearls are downright scary.”
What are the potential side effects or risks?
Again, yoni pearls have not been researched.
As such, “we cannot say for certain what the side effects are, or long term how bad using these pearls really is,” Gersh says.
Still, there’s reason to believe that yoni pearls can mess with your vaginal microbiome, killing off infection-fighting bacteria and creating a hospitable landing place for yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis, she says.
“In its healthiest state, the vagina is optimized to help you fight off sexually transmitted infections,” Gersh explains. “So, there’s reason to believe that, after killing off healthy vaginal bacteria and altering the environment, risk of transmission is higher.”
Another common side effect is gray and green discharge. In fact, many yoni pearls come with panty liners to “collect” this “what comes after” discharge. Red flag, folks!
“If you put something like this in your vagina and begin to get gray discharge after you take it out, it’s a sign that you’re actually destroying the lining in the vaginal walls,” Streicher says.
So, far from a sign that they worked, funky discharge is a sign that your vagina is irritated and potentially even infected.Other common side effects include:
- vaginal dryness
Nobody should try these under any circumstance.
But they are especially dangerous for anyone who has allergies to specific herbs.
If, for example, you have a rhubarb allergy and put rhubarb-based product inside your vagina, Gersh says you may experience vaginal burning, itching, swelling, peeling, or even blisters. Yikes!
Yoni pearls should also be avoided by anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding. Or those, according to some pearl makers, “with an intact hymen.”
If you do decide to try it, how can you minimize your risk of complications?
“The longer the ingredients are inside you, the more dangerous these pearls are,” Streicher says.
So, if you’re going to use them against doctor recommendations, please, for the love of your vaginal health, do so for as short as possible. Like, really, really, really short!What are the signs of a vaginal infection?
A lot of yoni pearl users post graphic images of their “detox,” including photos of thick grey discharge that smells bad. But this can be a sign of an infection — not that the pearls worked.
Signs of infection to look for include:
- vaginal itching
- more vaginal discharge than usual
- grey, white, or greenish-yellow discharge, especially if it’s frothy or cottage cheese-like
- a strong odor, especially if it smells fishy
- pain or burning during urination and intercourse
- spotting or bleeding (this always warrants a call to your doctor or midwife during pregnancy)
If you experience any of these symptoms after using yoni pearls, contact your doctor for treatment.
In addition, be on the lookout for symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, including:
- muscle aches
- redness around your mouth, eyes, and throat
Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these.
Keep the tea bags in your teacups and out of your vagina.
Yoni pearls do not detox, cleanse, or help medical conditions. In fact, they can cause infections, which can be dangerous to your health and the health of your pregnancy. While yoni pearls may not directly cause a miscarriage, these secondary infections could, at least in theory.
If you’re worried about vaginal odor or discharge, talk to your doctor before trying any at-home or “natural” remedies
Should you feel your vagina needs something a little ~extra, extra~ ring up a gynecologist. They’ll be able to offer actual help, should you need it — as well as reassurance that your genitals smell and function just fine.
Written by Gabrielle Kassel on April 15, 2021
Gersh F. (2021). Personal interview.
Streicher L. (2021). Personal interview
Gaither K. (2021) Personal interview.
Written by Simone M. Scully on January 26, 2021
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Photo Credit: Ava Sol