Don’t Put Roach Killer In Your Vagina Without A Doctor’s Prescription

Approximately 75% of all adult women in the United States suffer from a yeast infection in their lifetime and about 30% of women of childbearing age struggle with bacterial vaginosis (BV). It’s fair to assume that these stats apply to everyone with a vagina, regardless of gender.

Yet despite the frequency of these infections, there remains something shameful about talking about them, and the stigma surrounding vaginal health only adds to the difficulty of finding cost-effective — yet efficacious — treatment, especially for those who don’t have easy access to a gynecologist or primary care physician. Plus, the over-the-counter (OTC) remedies for these issues available in pharmacies typically aren’t any more pleasant than the infections themselves. Most of them are messy and inconvenient — behold the much-dreaded plunger of white cream — while providing limited relief.

These are the alternatively painful, awkward, and costly gaps in vaginal health care that Love Wellness hopes to fill. Love Wellness is a new hygiene company with a line of products designed to address common vaginal afflictions, but it’s packaged for the Instagram generation in a variety of oh-so-pleasing, Pantone-inspired hues so they’re less intimidating. (You can also get a carrying case that’s shaped like a little kitty, called Pia the Pussy Cat. Get it?)

According to the company’s website, their goal is to dismantle the stigma around these vaginal dilemmas while empowering women to treat themselves with “issue-specific, high-quality formulations” forged “from natural ingredients,”

These products claim to treat infections; cleanse and balance the acidity, or pH, of the vagina; and help prevent future issues from cropping up. There are probiotics that can be ingested orally or inserted vaginally to help “maintain pH levels,” as well as vitamins that are described as “a magical supplement that destroys yeast at the cellular level and maintains a balanced vaginal environment.”

There are vaginal cleansing tissues, called the Do It All Wipes, proffered in a pretty, pastel pink package; they’re pH-balanced and can be used to freshen up anywhere. The keyword here — regardless of the offered cure — is “natural,” a word that’s repeated across the company’s promotional materials. (Oh, and did I mention that the company also happens to be founded and owned by Lauren “Lo” Bosworth, whose name you might recognize if you were a fan of the early aughts MTV series Laguna Beach or The Hills?)

The most revolutionary product of the line also has to be the most aggressively named — despite the chic, minimalist label design. The Killer is an over-the-counter boric acid suppository that “works by bringing your vaginal pH back to its normal state, killing off all the bad guys that are so tricky to get rid of!” It claims to relieve either vaginal yeast or BV infections, either over the course of seven days or as a spot treatment for a minor flare-up.

Love Wellness describes boric acid as “a naturally occurring mineral found in sea water [that] gently yet effectively relieves oneself of pesky female infections (especially chronic ones).” There’s that word “natural” again. It’s true in the most technical sense: boric acid is found in nature. It’s also a very popular insecticide, most commonly used to get rid of roaches — which is definitely does not sound like something you want to put into your vagina.

But boric acid has legitimate medical use as an antiseptic and is often prescribed by gynecologists to treat BV. That’s actually how Bosworth first heard of the ingredient, according to an article in New York Magazine’s The Cut. “Gynecologists use it to spot-treat women when they’re just a little off down there, and it’s incredible. A gynecologist prescribed it to me years ago, but you have to go to a compounding pharmacy and have it made for you, and it’s really expensive,” she explained to writer Allie Jones. “So we thought, well, we can make this ourselves. We work with an excellent manufacturer who makes the highest-quality products.”

And again, Bosworth isn’t necessarily wrong. The scientific literature has found that boric acid is an effective way to treat chronic BV. For example, a review of 14 scientific studies that was published in the Journal of Women’s Health in August 2011 found that “boric acid is a safe, alternative, economic option for women with recurrent and chronic symptoms of vaginitis when conventional treatment fails.”

Bosworth is also right about the difficulty of accessing boric acid suppositories. There are several forums, filled with women asking where they can buy boric acid suppositories online and tips on how to make boric acid suppositories at home, often using roach killer as a substitute for medical-grade boric acid, because the good stuff is so expensive and difficult to source.

Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising article on the topic was published by Vice in 2014 by writer Sophie Weiner with the stomach-churning headline, “I Used Roach Killer to Cure My Yeast Infection.” That roach killer was, of course, boric acid. “I don’t have health insurance, so the idea of paying hundreds of dollars to go back to this doctor and have her tell me what I already know seemed aimless,” she wrote. “So, I began researching boric acid.”

The Killer from Love Wellness is notable because this is the first time medical-grade boric acid is available as an OTC remedy for vaginal infections — and in a lot of ways, increasing access to this highly effective treatment by lowering the cost and making it available to order online without a prescription could really minimize the chance that a woman will accidentally harm herself by applying literal roach killer into her vagina.

But there are some potential complications with using a boric acid suppository without a prescription. As Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN told Jones on The Cut, “Boric acid has two very, very specific indications and none of them are for preventative therapy. You can easily damage the mucus in the vagina, if you use it chronically.” And with no doctor to give clear instructions, it would be very easy to overuse the treatment.

Additionally, the unsupervised use of these suppositories increases the chance that someone who does not have an infection that can be treated with boric acid will use one of these, expect to get better, and instead, accidentally incur more harm. Side effects of boric acid suppositories include, “mild and watery discharge, erythema, and a burning sensation,” according to a review of boric acid vaginal suppositories, published in the journal Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1998. (None of these potential side effects seem to be mentioned on Love Wellness, for the record.) And though boric acid great at treating chronic BV, it’s not the best option for a one-off infection or “spot treatment,” as Love Wellness calls it.

There’s a reason boric acid has not been available OTC until now. Though the ingredient appears as an active ingredient on antifungal and antiseptic over-the-counter treatments, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined that, “based on evidence currently available, there is inadequate data to establish general recognition of the safety and effectiveness of these ingredients” as a topical antifungal or antiseptic drug product. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work at all; it’s just not proven to work in products available without a prescription.

The other problem with the Love Wellness model of treatment is the lack of clear diagnostic, especially since self-misdiagnosis of vaginal discomfort is common. According to information published by the National Institutes of Health, for every 100 women who report vaginal discomfort like pain, itching, and discharge, only 20 to 25 have a yeast infection. Between 40 and 45 of women with those symptoms have BV. The only way to know what type of vaginal infection you have, if any, is to get a test from a doctor — and that is the only way the woman will know how to treat it.

If women have easy access to this boric acid suppository, there is a real chance that people will use the treatment without actually suffering from an infection, thereby causing more harm than anything else and basically nuking the mucus in their vaginas. I reached out to Love Wellness to ask if they provided any guidance to women purchasing The Killer to help them determine if they are actually suffering from an infection that could be appropriately treated by boric acid before use, but did not receive a response before publication. They do disclaim in the product description, though, that “this information does not and should not replace treatment from a medical professional.”

Love Wellness also explains in the FAQ section of their website that they worked with an “expert formulator,” and the “foundation of our formulas are based in science with biology in mind” with an emphasis on all-natural ingredients, and that “All of our products are manufactured in FDA registered and approved facilities.” But Love Wellness has not told me if The Killer is approved by the FDA for OTC treatment of vaginal infections.

What’s particularly frustrating about Love Wellness’s messaging is the emphasis on “all-natural” ingredients — and the way in which the treatment of these infections, which is a real medical issue that is best treated by a medical professional, is being rolled in with other “all-natural” vaginal treatments, none of which are really necessary. Take, for example, the soon-to-be-released pH Balancing Cleanser that, according to the description, “is formulated to match the pH of your vagina to cleanse while protecting against infection and irritation like yeast and BV.”

[bctt tweet=”Love Wellness hasn’t told me if The Killer is approved by the FDA for vaginal treatments.

There is, however, significant evidence that products that claim to “balance pH” don’t really keep the vagina clean. Douching is best defined as “the process of intravaginal cleansing with a liquid solution,” and according to the Mayo Clinic, it is a risk factor for BV. “The practice of rinsing out your vagina with water or a cleansing agent (douching) upsets the natural balance of your vagina. This can lead to an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria, and cause bacterial vaginosis.” So to avoid getting BV, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests a very straightforward method: “Not douching.”

All-natural vaginal washes like the pH Balancing Cleanser can still harm the vagina even though they’re all-natural, but because these treatments are billed as “all-natural,” they’re perceived as safe or even necessary. Remember when Gwyneth Paltrow recommended cleaning your vagina by steaming it? That was another all-natural bad idea for your vagina. (I also asked Love Wellness to understand how their all-natural formula differed from a traditional douche but, again, did not hear back.)

You don’t need to douche or wash with anything special to maintain a healthy vagina. If anything, that will exacerbate any chronic infections from which you might suffer. Though Bosworth and Love Wellness are trying to do good by empowering women to make educated choices, their products may encourage the opposite.

If nothing else, please, for the love of your bits, do not put a boric acid suppository in your vagina to self-medicate vaginal infections even if Lo Bosworth from Laguna Beach, California, says it’s a good idea. See a medical professional instead.

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Lead Image: Flickr/ Mike Mozart

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