In an interview with The Cut non gynecologist, Gwyneth Paltrow extolled the virtues of “vagina” steaming for wellness or something called “swellness.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 7.12.09 AM


It’s this abuse of the term wellness that bothers just as much as the idea of “vagina” steaming. That wellness is about trying unproven yet expensive mystical therapies that must be healthy because they have been around for centuries marketed under the guise of offering medical benefits but have no hope of helping you. That wellness is about promoting the incorrect and harmful health “ideas” that one finds on GOOP, such as  vaginal steaming has health benefits or that bras cause cancer or that thyroid disease is due to Epstein Barr Virus (one of her latest and absolutely evidence baseless claims) or that astrology can inform psychology.

Gwyneth Paltrow has become the post factual high priestess of pricey snake oil and she knows it gets page clicks. She says so right at the end of the interview, “Then I start to do research, and it’s been in Korean medicine for thousands of years and there are real healing properties. If I find benefit to it and it’s getting a lot of page views, it’s a win-win [Smiles].”

Almost everything Paltrow claims in the interview about medicine (when I say that I mean the use of science to advance health) is wrong. Lawsuits about talcum powder don’t prove there is a connection with cancer, in fact there is no proof at all that there is a connection. “Healing properties” isn’t really a medical term unless she means promoting granulation tissue, but as she’s not talking about open wounds I suspect she means $something else. There is no alternative medicine, there’s medicine and things that can’t help you. If a therapy has been around for thousands of years and it works medicine notices and it becomes, well, medicine. For example, willow bark to Aspirin. For the record many different traditional Chinese medicine therapies have been put to the test and they come up short again and again. I could care less if the medicine I offer a patient comes from a tree in the Amazon or a lab, I just want it to work and to do no harm, but unlike Paltrow I’m a brand with no product to sell.

She mentioned her father’s terrible experience with cancer as a motivator to do better and live healthier. A worthy goal. Except it leads her to homeopathy, with a carefree afterthought that you can try it and “cross your fingers.” I don’t want any part of any therapy that involves crossing my fingers, especially not one that is expensive tap water. Like Paltrow, my foray into speaking about health care publicly is based on family tragedy. The premature birth of my sons, one of whom has had multiple intensive care unit admissions, has severe lung disease, and two heart surgeries and needs a third. I don’t want any finger crossing or just trying stuff in his health care, I want to know what works and what doesn’t and what is unknown so I can make educated choices to give him his best chance. I don’t want the creep of post factual health care to contaminate him in any way. People deserve more than made up therapies and finger crossing. They also don’t deserve to be scared with false claims about bras or viruses.

If what Paltrow publishes on her blog is the result of her “research” then she doesn’t understand the meaning of the word. She also doesn’t know what a vagina is because what she has described is of course vulva steaming. If she is so interested in “health” she should at least get her anatomy right. I even have a handy Venn diagram she can consult. For steam to get into the vagina she would have to have her fingers inserted into her vagina and pull the vaginal walls apart (like a speculum) and be sitting very close to the steam or be using a high pressure device. Neither are recommended. There is no possible way how Paltrow has described her experience that steam from the vulva can reach the uterus (and even if it did there could not be any health benefit). Squatting over a pot of steam will not access the vagina.

As a gynecologist I can recommend neither vulva nor vagina steaming. At best vulva steaming will do nothing but make make you feel good because you spent a lot of money (the placebo effect increases the more you spend), at worst it will cause rashes and burns.

When I eat a Snickers bar I feel good because it’s tasty, that is not wellness. If spending lots of money to squat over a pot of steam makes you feel good, that’s also not wellness. It’s something you like to do and confusing that with health care is wrong.

Marketing quasi therapies and harmful ideas is dangerous and potentially hurtful. And cruel. How great does Paltrow feel scaring women unnecessarily about hidden toxins in their bras? If it gets page clicks is that okay?

The only thing I can agree with Paltrow on is that the beauty industry is unregulated and that should change, but we also disagree because she thinks that profiting off of that lack of regulation by stoking fears and selling unproven and mostly quack therapies is fine while I’m just trying to set the record straight one crack pot idea at a time.

$well indeed.




Join the Conversation


Leave a Reply to Lina Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Thank you Dr. Gunter. My friends and I are in our early 30’s and several of them recently started “yoni steaming.” I never read the GOOP article but I did read many other articles online about the benefits of the steaming. I’m glad I found your article to give a different perspective.

    I have a couple questions that I think relate to this post because they fall in the category of “alternative medicine.” I am interested in balancing hormones naturally and much of what I’ve found points to using food and herbs. Do you think using food to balance hormones is possible? Or is the research on that not evidence based? Do you have any thoughts on laboratory saliva tests to determine hormone levels?

    Thank you so much, I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  2. Holy crap…steaming your nether regions…what’s wrong with people?
    Apart from burns, won’t warm mist (can’t be steam, for heaven’s sake) mess with the natural ecosystem (flora) of the region and actually cause more harm?

  3. I came to this article from a link on Medicare entitled “High Priestess of Snake Oil” and assumed it was another Theranos expose. I’m not a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow or her Goop magazine. However, I found it a bit disconcerting that a physician is promoting her book using the fame and apparent general dislike of society towards another woman. You can kid yourself and believe this article is a public service (this is third anti Gwyneth article I have seen). But you are really using her fame to promote yourself. Also, as a physician, you should know that clinical trials do not guarantee the efficacy of any drug. In addition, there have been recent studies linking Epstein Barr with autoimmune conditions.

    1. There are no studies linking EBV and thyroid disease. In addition, I fact checked that with 3 board certified endocrinologists. The horribly misinformed and frankly dangerous information on GOOP about thyroid disease it at best insulting, but it could lead people to have unnecessary tests and therapies. I think educating people about the fact that much of her health advice is actually unhealthy is a service. If you don’t like that service you can simply not bother to read and move on.

      I see women every week who have followed dangerous advice they receive online. It breaks my heart to hear about the money they spent and about the dashed hopes.

      I think it is cruel to tell women that bras cause breast cancer or spend $100 to get a vulva steam that has no hope of doing anything and is potentially harmful. Do you really think mental health practitioners should use astrology to help guide their care?

      I write about GOOP and Paltrow because they are a frequent source of medical misinformation. Peddling lies for traffic is what she does. I also write about a lot of other things.

      Clinical trials have absolutely nothing to do with this, mostly because Paltrow doesn’t every reference any. But if you read anything else that I write you would see that I also write about various studies and try to point out the good and the bad. A good clinical trial can tell us a lot, sadly many aren’t very good.

      Most of the medical information that appears on Paltrow’s web site isn’t even biologically plausible. It’s so off base it’s beyond ridiculous.

      So it you think scaring women about bras and promoting therapies with no hope of helping and may actually delay appropriate care is a service then you should of course be reading GOOP.

      As for doing this to promote my book? That’s hilarious. Really.

      I dislike anyone who promotes lies, I don’t care if they are female or male.


  4. Stupidity sells, particularly when peddled by celebrities. How good to hear the voice of reason so clearly expressed in Jen’s words. I’m hopeful that women can learn that body image including “the nether regions” is based in their own minds not their partner/friends or peers. So love yourself as you are (and if you think you -not your sexual partner- want to feel tighter inside then see your specialist physio to learn how to do pelvic floor muscle training effectively. You don’t want to waste money on futile and risky operations. Charities like Amnesty international or Oxfam can do much better things with your money (and leave you feeling happier, not painful or scarred).

    a fellow (uro-)gynae doctor

  5. Hmmm. It’s not like gynecologists have the Evidence Market cornered. They continue to confuse Progesterone with Progestins even though their “bible”, Speroff ~ page 69 tells them (correctly) that small changes in molecular structure of hormones can vastly change their function yet they continue to use MPA with all it’s “anti-progesterone” effects [e.g. anxiety, negative efx on lipids, insomnia, increased risk of BCA, water retention, hypertension, etc. … basically the opposite of what progesterone does].
    The doses of Premarin have been excessive for decades … ever since they were “sold” to gyns. Doses as high as 2,500 mcgm [a woman makes, maybe 20-30 mcgm of estradiol on a normal day and estrone is a known carcinogen] by mouth daily were used all in the name of extending “femininity” for the sake of “your husband”. The doses were not established scientifically and gynecologists believed the lies of Pharma that they couldn’t divulge the estrone, estradiol, estriol, equinone, the product because it was a Trade Secret. Now Wulf Uttian sits on his high horse decreeing what works and what doesn’t work (e.g. estriol … he’s against it because his buddies in Pharma sell something different here in the US .. they sell in in Europe to great advantage for women there.
    Y’all demand Evidence (for which there is plenty, by the way) for Korean remedies, vaginal estriol, etc. but you’ll push the latest “female libido enhancer” flibanseride though it has to be taken daily, is hardly efficacious, can’t be taken with alcohol, causes hypotension, affects vagal function (!!!) [big red flag if know anything about vagal tone].
    Lastly, realize that your organizations ACOG and NAMS are highly dependent on Pharma for $$$$ and your “thought leaders” have multiple conflicts of interest. So take it easy on Gwyneth and get your own house in order.

    1. So why don’t you read a few of my posts and then get back to me.

      And yes estrogen is a carcinogen when given unopposed, but it’s not like we recommend that! The sun’s a carcinogen too so be careful with how you use the word.

      And please try to stay on topic if you comment again or they just won’t appear.

  6. If it was actual steam that was contacting the vulva or the vagina, there would be severe burns and damage to the tissue. What is making contact is the cooled vapor from the steam, a mist. Thank you Dr. Jen for demystifying this puzzling procedure.

  7. For the record, more than a few Traditional Chinese Medicine products have been shown to be effective in placebo-controlled trials.

    1. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is in no way traditional and is based as much on debunked Soviet science as anything Chinese. It was created in the 1950s as internal propaganda and became external propaganda when Nixon visited China. TCM researchers in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) flood western medical journals with hundreds of papers each year which detail supposedly Randomly Controlled Trials of TCM. These papers are not only bad science but entirely in the realm of “small effectology,” results so trivial that only a propagandist and surely no scientist would submit them, and yet by sheer volume of submissions many are published. In the United Nations, the PRC plays on the nationalism of developing countries and encourages the use of traditional medicines world wide. Traditional medicines tend to be any plant or mineral–even industrial chemicals–with a noticeable effect, which is almost always toxic (e.g., purging with deadly nightshade was a standard treatment in western, Hippocratic medicine–do no harm my ass). TCM should be delicensed in this country and the WHO traditional medicine strategy, which is entirely funded by the PRC, should be eliminated as encouraging dangerous pseudo-medical practices.

      1. {saluting} Thanks for defending the great US of A from the propaganda of the PRC and the USSR! However you are off your rocker and know nothing of healing and TCM. Remember: Medicine is the 3rd Leading Cause of Death in America. And pharmacotherapy is a big part of that number. So much for Hippocratic Oaths, eh?
        I will be watching for your references as to the harm that TCM (or any Functional Medicine aka Alternative Medicine approach) has had on the death rate (or ER visits for that matter) here in the good ol’ US of A. Thank you.

      2. Medicine is not the 3rd leading cause of death. That BMJ article contains many flaws.

        Do we over medicalize conditions in the US/ Yes.

        Do we have to give lots of medicine because of the health problems due to obesity. Yes.

        Are there medical errors. Yes.

        None of that is related to this post.

        Do people die of cancer while they pursue complementary care that can’t help? Yes. That is related to the post.

      3. Building a story to spewing hated based misinformation and propaganda to attack a form of medicine you do not understand, at all. Sick and wrong. This, from someone who prescribes Rx medicines and TCM/acupuncture to my patients and have high rates of clinical success and satisfaction.

      4. The studies on acupuncture fail to deliver. Really.

        Patient satisfaction is different from clinical success.

        If you have such great results then perhaps you should publish them.

      5. You are very misinformed. I own Chinese herbal texts which are well over 100 years old and have nothing to do with Russia. If you dig a bit deeper you will find that herbal and plant medicine predated what is considered modern medicine right here in the US and I am a board certified practicing physician.

      6. Well of course people used herbs first because they didn’t have anything.

        Medicine either works or it doesn’t. Study after study is showing very little good news when it comes with “herbal remedies.”

        We also used to bleed people for “health” but now we know blood letting is harmful.

      7. I know you’re going to hate this comment as I’m not in the medical profession and of course everyone who reads anything medical thinks they ‘know something’.

        I swear I just read an article about microbiologists at the University of Chicago found blood letting, – in this case practiced as donating blood -, lowered iron levels and seemed to work on staph infections.

        Not that anyone should just open up a vein at home or anything I sense of that sort. I’m just saying. It’s quite odd that they seem to have found an actual good use for something that sounds so barbaric.

  8. It’s always the women that are the toughest on women. Seriously… All this surgery and strange procedures… Why?! Sorry, no interest in clicking her article. Seems just a ploy for attention.

  9. There’s this unfortunate linkage in human thinking that says ‘if that person is a highly visible *success*, they must know the answer to everything!’. The rest of us, who are less ‘successful’ do not know the answer to everything, therefore faulty logic says tht success is the result of omnipotent! Or maybe vice versa. If we do as Sucessful tells us, maybe we’ll be successful too. If we pay a lot for it, it must be better! Right? Swellness: “causes unpleasant swelling”. Vaginal steaming: since when is the vagina/vulva a vegetable, fish or chinese bun?

  10. Sitting in a bathtub with baking soda and Epsom salt us much healthier. Steaming is as you say impossible; she does not know the difference between her Vulva and Vagina. I also think the new laser vaginal procedure Mona Lisa touch needs research. I had several unfortunate laser procedures done on my vulva and I’ve had multiple reconstructive surgeries which have created more problems. If I want my vagina tightened it’s going to be by a urogynecologist who knows how to work on this area.

  11. Little off subject, but apparently Gwyneth Paltrow (GP) is hated more than Chris Brown. Hard to believe she dislike more than Chis and Wendy Williams has this to say:

    “Wendy claimed that she had several members of her team who could verify that Gwyneth was a pleasure to work with, but the chat show host sharpened her talons as she said: ‘It just doesn’t come off so nice when you teach us how to make $300 grilled cheese sandwiches.’

    Citing her lifestyle website Goop, Wendy referred to a $250 smoothie that was recommended and a super-expensive toothpaste squeezer [$244].

    ‘You appear to be uppity and better than us, and maybe that’s why people don’t like you,’ she said.”



    And … if you can get past the glitchyness of the computerized British voice in the video below, there is a greater explanation while some feel such disdain for GP.

    Gwyneth Paltrow can’t believe she’s the most hated celebrity — ‘More than, like, Chris Brown?’ (JUNE 2016 YouTube):


    PS: In case you want to order that tooth paste squeezer, here’s a link. Ha!

%d bloggers like this: