DOCTORS have warned women not to put tobacco in their vagina - after the practice was dangerously claimed to boost sex drive.
Medics warn the trend has no real effect on libido or fertility but can cause scarring and the vaginal opening to "close up".
This is believed to raise the risk of cancer and stillbirth and cause difficulties with periods.
"Vaginal tobacco", a popular practice in West Africa, is said to shrink the genitals, increase sexual pleasure and raise the odds of getting pregnant.
But gynaecologist Dr Abdoulaye Diop believes it only gives women the sensation their genitals are shrinking because the chemicals cause vaginal muscles to retract.
He added: “This feeling is transient and misleading, because the vaginal mucosa that is attacked will eventually develop changes that are the gateway to cancer."
Transient and misleading
Prof Pascal Foumane said: "These products often create ulcers which, by scarring, shrink the vagina, make it hard and can go so far as to close it completely.
"It can even make the normal flow of menstruation impossible."
The practice is particularly common in Senegal, where the “miracle" substance for “increasing sexual pleasure tenfold” or “sending your man into seventh heaven” is sold for 13p a sachet.
But its sale is so discreet that it is sold under code names, such as "Secret" or "Jumbo", with each trader using a different name.
The product is made from dried tobacco leaves and the roots of a tree called “tangora” or native plants such as “kankouran mano” or “koundinding”.
Some manufacturers add soda and shea butter, SciDev.Net reports.
Many of the women who have used the product say they felt burning sensations followed by severe dizziness, vomiting and even loss of consciousness.
These products often create ulcers which, by scarring, shrink the vaginaProf Pascal Foumane
Neyba, a Senegalese woman of at least 50 years old, said: "I told an aunt about my difficulty getting pregnant and she recommended this product.
"After using it I was able to have a child. Even the doctors were surprised.
"I feel heartache and unbearable pain every time I apply the product.
"But once the effect has passed, I feel really good."
8 things you should NOT put near your vagina
- Wet wipes - wipes cause skin irritation including contact dermatitis.
- Feminine washes and sprays - your vulva skin is more sensitive to irritation, and fragrance is a very common trigger for irritation.
- CBD oil - it could potentially impact the sugar in the cells in the vagina, and this is super important, because sugar in the cells in the vagina is the source of food that feeds the good bacteria/
- Cider vinegar - any tightening effect from cider vinegar is likely to be due to localised irritation and inflammation, and as such will not cause a long lasting benefit and may potentially damage the delicate vaginal skin.
- Glitter - this may lead to infection, such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush, and inflammation.
- Jade eggs - these may re-introduce bacteria into the vagina and risk toxic shock syndrome.
- Parsley - there is a risk that introducing parsley to the vagina can cause infections and even lead to toxic shock syndrome if left inside, which can be deadly.
- Cucumber - could trigger infections and inflammation.
Gnima Ndiaye, a reproductive health coordinator in Senegal, said there are countless cases of women admitted to A&E in her area after losing consciousness following the use of "vaginal tobacco".
The majority of these patients seek medical attention for inflammation of the cervix or vagina, or recurrent sexually transmitted infections.
The health worker said she once saw a 36-year-old woman who had a stage three cervical cancer which is “very rare for someone of her age”.
She added: "The same year, I received a 25-year-old girl who had vaginal lesions and who bled on contact with the speculum [a medical tool used for vaginal examinations].
"In both cases, they said they used tobacco."
This area is very sensitive and attacking it with tobacco is completely suicidalDr Abdoulaye Diop
Midwife Aminata Seck said she has seen complications during childbirth due to this use of tobacco.
She added: "They had too great an increase in the rate of uterine contractions, which sometimes caused a decrease in oxygenation in the fetus, resulting in stillbirth or, in other cases, neonatal death."
A previous study in Scientific Reports found smoking changes vaginal flora and this puts women who smoke at a higFdioph risk of vaginal infections.
Dr Diop, from Senegal, called for more research and added: "These risks should be higher in women who put tobacco directly in contact with their vaginal and cervical mucosa.
"This area is very sensitive and attacking it with a product made of tobacco and soda is completely suicidal."
More on women's health
Prof Foumane, from the University of Yaoundé, in Cameroon, said: "Tobacco is indeed a well-documented carcinogen.
"The risk of cervical cancer seems to us all the more increased in the case of the administration of tobacco in direct contact with the cervix."
Ndiaye admits no scientific studies have yet established a direct link between vaginal tobacco and cancer or childbirth complications but she believes there is "certainly a connection".