Regularly checking your vagina should be an important part of your self-care routine. Anything out of the ordinary can end up being uncomfortable, painful or downright embarrassing, making it vital to talk to your doctor or gynaecologist if you suspect something is wrong.
You might want to ensure things are clean down there, especially during the warmer months. It is, however, important to bear in mind that the vagina is self-cleaning.
A specific pH balance
Why is there then such a huge market for feminine hygiene products such as feminine washes, wipes and gels when it is a misconception that any secretion or discharge from the vagina is “dirty”? It may be because advertisers and marketers of these feminine products have been subtly pushing the need always to be “fresh” for decades.
While it’s normal for the vagina to sometimes have a slight odour, using any scented products as part of your hygiene regiment is a bad idea. The vagina has a specific pH balance, and anything that throws this off can make it prone to infections.
Washing with water and plain soap with a balanced pH level should be all it takes to keep the vagina clean and healthy.
According to Dr Hailey MacNear, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Folsom OBGYN in the USA, less is most certainly more when it comes to vaginal hygiene. “The vagina is a delicate ecosystem and problems can arise if there is a shift in the balance. The vagina is meant to be a self-cleaning system and many organisms already live in the vagina and are kept at healthy levels by coexisting with other organisms.”
A study published in the International Journal of Innovative Research and Development states that anything that upsets the balance of the vaginal environment can cause overgrowth of otherwise normal microbes, such as Candida albicans, to cause vaginal infections.
When the environment of the vagina is disturbed, it can also lead to the growth of potentially pathogenic microbes, which will overshadow the good bacteria.
According to a paper presented at the University of Kent, many studies have pointed out that there is a significant correlation between the use of feminine washes and vaginal infections.
This paper highlights a specific study that showed that the use of scented and antiseptic products was more common in women with bacterial vaginosis. This infection was three times more common in women who regularly used products on their vulvar and vaginal regions.
Not all feminine hygiene products are the same, and many of them are now made without surfactants like ammonium lauryl sulphate and sodium lauryl sulphate.
Brands with milder ingredients and better formulation have been shown to reduce the number of harmful pathogens, decreasing the risk of infection without affecting the surrounding beneficial bacteria.
Some safe practices
Here are some tips for practising safe vaginal hygiene:
- Wash with cool to lukewarm water.
- Don’t use any harsh or fragranced soaps, lotions or bath products.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- If you want to incorporate a feminine wash in your routine, do your research carefully and look at the ingredients first.
- Only use soft, white toilet paper.
- Avoid wearing damp clothing, such swimwear or workout gear, for too long after you’ve finished swimming or exercising.
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