Doctors repeatedly tell people with female reproductive organs that the vagina is self-cleaning — that it already does a great job of keeping itself clean through natural secretions and its own specific pH– healthy acid-producing bacteria. However, social media, particularly Instagram, is flooded with new products and practices that claim to do what the vagina naturally does.
Yoni pearls and powders, which are supposed to be used as a vaginal detox or cleanse, are one of these fads. The pearls are made up of multiple herbs wrapped in small mesh cloth “gems” or “pearls” that people with female reproductive organs use by inserting them into the vagina for up to 24 hours. Many sellers of these pearls claim that they treat a variety of health issues.
The craze has spread to Kenya. Individuals and spas are promoting the detox pearls on Instagram. A set of 9 pearls costs Kshs. 2500 at one spa. The majority of the claims about the benefits of detox pearls and powders are unsubstantiated and can actually have a negative impact on the user’s health. A few ob-gyns interviewed expressed concern about the detox products, and they are generally skeptical of detox products in general, and especially these.
Herbs such as angelica rhizoma (a plant whose roots, leaves, and fruit are used to make medicine), motherwort (an herb similar to min), borneol (an organic compound derived from a tree in the teak family), and Linguisticum wallichii (a flowering plant in the carrot family) are among the main ingredients for the pearls and powders. Those selling detox pearls make unfounded and unsubstantiated claims that these herbs can fight yeast infections, increase fertility, eliminate vaginal odor, regulate menstruation, relieve painful period cramps, and remove toxins, among many other female reproductive organ-related ailments.
According to the instructions shared on the Instagram account of one of the spas advertising the sale of detox pearls, you insert one into your vagina via an applicator and leave it there for 24 hours. After removing the first pearl, insert a second pearl and leave it in for 48 hours. After those two days, you remove the second pearl and wait three to five days for the “purging process,” during which “dead vaginal cells, mucus, yeast, old blood clots,” and “other components” are “expelled” from your vagina.
The powders are similarly inserted into the vagina – 2-3 pinches is the recommended amount, followed by rubbing the powder deep inside the vagina. It should be washed off after 30-40 minutes.
Myth 1: The vagina does not require detoxification, and vaginal pearls and powders cannot assist with this.
“The vagina is self-cleaning and is designed to stay clean without the use of extraneous items such as these so-called detox pearls.” This is creating a problem in order to solve it. “These pearls have the potential to cause even more harm,” said Dr Yoni Biko, a resident in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Nairobi.
“There is no need for a vaginal detox.” “The notion that women require this is offensive,” Dr. Biko says. “This is yet another example of someone taking advantage of the fact that women believe their vagina requires treatment.” They prey on people’s self-esteem. They’ve concocted a scenario to make a woman doubt herself and use these items to solve fictitious problems. They list a slew of issues that they claim the pearls or powders can ‘cure,’ in order to entice as many people as possible. “If you cast a wide enough net, you’ll catch someone,” Dr. Biko says.
Dr. Biko warns against using the pearls and powders because they are likely to cause infection and damage to body tissues, especially if left in for an extended period of time. Symptoms of such damage include abnormal or foul-smelling discharge, bleeding, redness, swelling, or rash, which can lead to infertility.
“They can actually cause issues for women.” “The purging caused by the detox pearls could be an indication that the epithelial tissue—or the top layer of tissue—in the vagina is peeling off,” he warns, cautioning against using the detox pearls.
Martin Onyalo Odhiambo, a herbal practitioner with 28 years of experience and a lecturer on plant medicine at the National Museum of Kenya, advises against inserting herbal concoctions into the vagina, whether as pearls or in any other form.
“There are numerous botanical ingredients that are beneficial. It is not true that something is healthy if it is botanical and organic. “It is not advised to insert them into the vagina,” he says.
Dr Karen Muthembwa, a health blogger and resident Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Nairobi, is concerned about the use of so-called detox powders, which she claims pose a greater risk to those who use them. “The powders are particles that spread inside the body and are difficult to wash off,” she explains.
Myth 2: Vitamins and detoxes in vaginal pearls cannot be absorbed through the vagina.
Some research has suggested that Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant (substances that can prevent or slow cell damage), could be useful as a treatment for infections such as non-specific vaginitis.
However, because vitamin C is an acid, inserting it into the vagina can cause burns. More research is needed to determine whether it will be beneficial in the future. Similarly, no studies have been conducted to investigate the effect of vaginal steaming on vitamin absorption in the vagina.
“Which vitamins are these Instagram accounts talking about?” Dr Muthembwa asked. “In any case, science currently says that vitamins are absorbed in the intestines after you eat food.”
Myth 3: Detox pearls and powders cannot help with reproductive issues.
Some Instagram posts selling detox pearls provide detailed instructions on how women should use the pearls to treat specific ailments.
Rather than curing these conditions, such as tubal blockage, herpes simplex, genital warts, fibroids, and so on, the pearls may cause the infections to worsen or develop if they did not already exist. Scare tactics are used by those selling the products to persuade people to use the pearls and powders.
“It’s the pearls and powders that are causing the clumps to form, not the other way around.” “They’re telling people that they’re curing something when the truth is that they’re causing the problem,” she says.
She explains that the detox pearls and powders, among other things, damage the vaginal mucosa, which is the mucus membrane in the vagina that helps keep it moist. “This membrane protects us against germs and pathogens, and thus infections.” Putting something like these pearls or applying powders to your vagina has the potential to disrupt the natural pH of your vagina. “You could end up with a slew of issues, such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, general discomfort, and even an increased risk of STIs,” Dr Muthembwa warns.
Worryingly, many of those selling detox pearls are unable to explain in detail what ingredients are contained in the powders or pearls. One of the Instagram spa accounts that promoted the detox pearls and powders couldn’t get past the ambiguous language they use with their customers. When asked which “Chinese herbs” they used, they remained silent.
Though traditional herbs can be used by herbal medicine practitioners to treat ailments that affect the vagina and other parts of the female reproductive system, they are not inserted inside the vagina.
Herbal medicine practitioners can use traditional herbs to treat ailments affecting the vagina and other parts of the female reproductive system, but they are not inserted inside the vagina.
Mr. Odhiambo, a plant medicine lecturer, says that while herbs can help with some ailments, they must be used correctly – through teas and inhaling steam.
Dr. Biko recommends that people seek proper diagnosis and treatment rather than purchasing over-the-counter drugs or fads such as detox pearls, powders, or other products that claim to cleanse the vagina.
“You might get the wrong medication from a pharmacist and be given something to treat a yeast infection when what you really have is a UTI” (urinary tract infection). These are relatively common ailments, and people may be compelled to seek alternatives such as pearls or powders. These are not appropriate for use in a healthy vagina. And if you already have issues, these things have the potential to exacerbate them significantly. “The best thing to do is to get a proper diagnosis and manage the infection or disease,” says Dr. Biko.
Finally, doctors advise patients to leave the vagina alone. If you have a recurring problem—any problem—with your vagina, doctors recommend that you see your ob-gyn. “Whatever you do, do not purchase so-called vaginal detoxes.” “They do you no good,” Dr Muthembwa says.
“This article was produced by the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with Article 19, Meedan and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).”