From vaginal steamers to douches, yoni eggs and more, the global vaginal cleaning product industry is huge and only expected to grow over the next coming years.
But here’s the thing: your vagina is a self-cleaning organ. There’s no need to use any vaginal products – in fact, doing so can lead to unwanted side effects, ranging from thrush all the way to fertility problems and ectopic pregnancy.
Dr Kirsty Wallace-Hor, a GP at Kin Fertility, helps us explain why you should steer clear of feminine hygiene products, and what habits you can adopt to keep your bits feeling fresh and healthy.
The dangers of vaginal cleaning products
“First, let’s clarify something: the vagina is on the inside and the vulva is the skin on the outside,” says Dr Kirsty. “I find a lot of people and companies get this confused, but really, the same principle applies: neither your vagina nor vulva need special products to keep them clean.”
The thing about the feminine hygiene industry is that it preys on insecurities around discharge and odour, when in fact, products like washes, powders, and wipes can increase the risk of irritation, rather than help keep your vagina clean, as they promise.
“These products muck around with the vagina’s ecosystem – with its fine balance of good bacteria – and can increase the pH of the vagina,” she explains. “Even excess cleaning with water on its own, like douching, can be problematic. The result is increased infections and irritation, which can ironically lead to increased discharge.”
And according to Dr Kirsty, this doesn’t stop with feminine hygiene products: “Since the Covid pandemic started, I see a lot more people using anti-bacterial or anti-fungal laundry products, which often contain chemicals that can cause significant skin irritation.”
The bottom line is that your vagina can clean itself and doesn’t need any help doing so. In it, there’s microbiota which plays an important role in preventing a number of diseases, including bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, STIs, and UTIs. Add vaginal cleaning products to the equation and you’ll be doing more harm than good.
4 vaginal hygiene tips that *actually* work
It’s clear that vaginal cleaning products are a big no-no. However, not using them may not always be enough to avoid irritation down there. After all, “our genital skin is just like our normal skin and can be irritated by the same sorts of things.”
The good news is that there are a number of super easy habits that can help keep your vulva and vagina feeling fresh and clean every day:
Go to the gynecologist
If you’re over 21, it’s recommended that you visit your gyno once a year for a check-up and every 3 to 5 years for a pap smear. During these appointments, you’ll have the opportunity to address any symptoms you may be experiencing and ensure everything is healthy down there.
Wash with warm water
Washing your vulva with warm water helps to get rid of and avoid unpleasant odours. “It’s best to avoid soaps – particularly anything fragranced,” Dr Kirsty advises. Washing the inside of your vagina isn’t a good idea either as isn’t, of course, using feminine hygiene products.
Pee after sex
Peeing after vaginal sex will flush out any bacteria that may have been pushed into your urethra and, as a result, reduce the risk of a UTI or bladder infection. Cleaning your vulva is also advisable, either with a clean cloth or your (washed) hands.
Keep your vulva dry
Increased moisture can encourage the growth of bacteria, and cause irritation, discharge, and even yeast infections. After you take a shower, make sure your vulva is completely dry before you put your clothes on. “If you have sensitive skin, it also helps to do things like avoid bubble baths and tight clothing, shower straight after swimming, and wear breathable fabrics for your underwear,” Dr Kirsty adds.
Finally, remember to monitor the health of your vagina and “if you do have concerns about symptoms like itching, pain, rashes, abnormal bleeding or changes in discharge or odour, please see your GP,” she recommends. You do, after all, know your vagina better than anyone else.
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