Recent study conducted by gynaecologists from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, has found that the use of feminine hygiene products can cause eight times increase in a person’s risk of developing a yeast infection, and a higher risk of getting a bacterial infection.
Many people use so-called feminine hygiene products such as intimate cleansers and wipes, douches, and even deodorants hoping to feel clean and fresh.
The so called feminine hygiene products include different types of intimate washes, wipes, shaving gels, and lubricants, but also intimate douches and products for alternative care procedures, such as vaginal steaming are popular in many countries around the world.
Yet in recent years, there is a new campaign, which has become pervasive across medical and wellness websites, which holds that “the vagina is a self-cleaning oven.”
This idea refers to the fact that the vagina naturally produces discharge that eliminates dead cells and bacteria, so there is no need to clean it using soaps, washes, or douches.
The study revealed that the vagina does not require any additional cleaning, also on how different intimate hygiene products affect vulvovaginal health.
Considering we know so little about what a healthy vulvovaginal environment should look like in part, because it can differ so much from person to person, it can be difficult to outline clear guidelines on what products someone should use when it comes to intimate hygiene.
However, studies looking at the connection between feminine hygiene products and the development of vaginal infections have drawn some strong conclusions as to which products and procedures a person should avoid when caring for their vagina and vulva.
The external female genital area is called the vulva
Douching involves “flushing” the vagina with water or various cleansers, including homemade solutions of water and vinegar, sometimes with the help of specially designed implements. This technique is as widespread as it is unhealthful.
Several studies have found that douching can upset the natural bacterial balance in the vagina, rendering it more vulnerable to infections including sexually transmitted infections and increasing a person’s risk of cervical cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease.
The new study also found an association between the use of intimate washes and a 3.5 times higher risk of bacterial infections, and a more than twofold higher risk of having a urinary tract infection (UTI). The scientists noticed a similar association between using intimate cleansing wipes and UTIs.
Lead study author Kieran O’Doherty, explained that these products may be preventing the growth of the healthy bacteria required to fight off infection. Adding to that, she said that the society has constructed female genitalia as unclean, and the marketing of vaginal hygiene products as something women need to attain the ideal is contributing to the problem.
An older study in the journal sexual transmitted disease suggested that people who took bubble baths, applied antiseptic solutions to the vulva or vagina, or used store-bought or homemade solutions and washes to clean the vagina were more likely to have bacterial vaginosis.
Moisturizers and spermicides may also cause harm. According to one 2013 in vitro study, Vagisil feminine moisturizer and a spermicide (Nonoxynol-9) quickly stifled the growth of “good” bacteria (Lactobacillus) usually present in the vagina.
The researchers explained that Nonoxynol-9 “completely killed the bacteria,” while Vagisil significantly suppressed Lactobacillus growth.”
When it comes to keeping the vagina clean and healthy, guidelines from the office on Women’s Health states that it is best to let your vagina clean itself, through the discharge it naturally produces.
If a person is worried about vaginal discharge changing colour or acquiring a particular smell, they should speak to a healthcare provider to check for a potential infection.
Although many people may be concerned about vaginal odour and buy into products that claim to eliminate it, it is normal for vaginas to have a unique, musky scent.
However, if cleaning the vagina is unnecessary and even harmful, what about cleaning the vulva? Evidence regarding whether or not cleaning the vulva is helpful has often been inconclusive.
A 2017 review of specialist literature suggested that washing [the vulva] with water and soap may cause dry skin and make itching worse. Using soap substitutes can be soothing and protective, and will stop the skin from becoming as dry and irritated. Aqueous cream a special type of moisturiser can be used instead of soap.
However, the guidelines also warn that over washing the vulva (cleaning it more than once per day) can irritate it and harm its health, and that in cleaning this part of the body, a person should “[a]void using sponges or flannels” and only pat it gently with a soft towel to dry.
In a nutshell, the consensus among gynaecologists seems to be that vaginas and vulvas are mostly fine by themselves, and that assaulting them with soaps, perfumes, creams, and gels is likely to cause more harm than good.