It seems people just can't let vaginas do their natural thing. Even after warnings about the vaginal steam, herbal tampon and jade egg fads, the latest tightening and detoxing therapy has emerged: ground-up wasp nests. These wasp nests, known as oak galls, oak apples or manjakani, are being promoted as natural treatments for vaginal health. But experts say it can do a lot more damage than good.
Oak galls are balls of bark and excretions of wasps. They are formed when a Gall wasp punctures an oak tree and deposits larva, which triggers the tree to secrete tannic and gallic acids. The baby wasp then drills its way through the sphere to escape.
Sites and online stores claim that women can crush and boil oak galls into vaginal washes to tighten and eliminate odor and discharge. The products usually cater to women who have given birth.
"A simple homemade wash made with manjakani will tighten the vaginal muscles, especially if used along with Kegel exercise," writes Ramya Venkateshwaran in her blog, Wild Turmeric.
Dr. Jenn Gunter, an obstetrician-gynecologist and pain medicine physician, noticed Etsy seller HeritageHealthShop claiming oak galls are used in Southeast Asia and are known for their antimicrobial qualities. The seller suggested a few oral or topical methods that can "restore elasticity of the uterine wall," help heal episiotomy cuts or improve sex life. The page has since been removed, but there are still other people selling oak galls and extracts on Etsy, Amazon, Ebay and other online stores.
"Drying the vaginal mucosa increases the risk of abrasions during sex (not good) and destroys the protective mucous layer (not good). It could also wreak havoc with the good bacteria. In addition to causing pain during sex, it can increase the risk of HIV transmission. This is a dangerous practice with real potential to harm," Gunter says. "Here’s a pro tip: If something burns when you apply it to the vagina, it is generally bad for the vagina."
Products like oak gall washes and extracts that promote vagina tightening or drying perpetuate stigmas that vaginas should look and smell a certain way. New moms already have enough postpartum changes to worry about!
"While many women won’t buy this product, it’s just one more bullshit message about vaginal health," Gunter writes.
The vagina is a beautiful, self-cleaning machine and naturally maintains healthy balance of bacteria that help prevent infections. Small amounts of clear to white discharges are normal. Plus, douches and perfumes can make the smell worse. If you're worried, talk to a medical professional. And maybe leave oak galls to the wasps.