A number of women use so-called feminine hygiene products which include intimate cleansers and wipes, douches, and even deodorants, in the hope to feel clean and fresh. In recent years, many a discussion on vaginal health have seen the rise of the mantra — “the vagina is a self-cleaning oven.” We take a look at these products to find out if they really help maintain genital health.
If the vagina does not require any additional cleaning, does this mean that the same rule applies to the vulva?
Vulva and vagina basics
Firstly, we need to differentiate the two. What is the vagina and what is the vulva? In medical terms, the vagina refers to the internal muscular tract extending from the cervix to the vaginal opening.
The vulva is the external part of the female genital tract, which includes:
- Inner and outer labia
- The glans clitoris (the external part of the clitoris) and clitoral hood (the fold of skin protecting the glans clitoris)
- The vestibule (which surrounds the vaginal opening)
- Urethral opening
For the optimum vulvar and vaginal health, a person must ensure that two important aspects remain balanced: their pH and their bacterial balance.
Research indicates that vulvar pH is usually at 3.5–4.7, while vaginal pH varies per individual and may be influenced by age and the stage of their menstrual cycle.
When it comes to the bacterial balance, specialists have conducted only a few studies with the aim of determining what a normal vulvar bacterial population should look like.
Which products are unsafe?
Considering there’s a considerable amount we don’t know about what a healthy vulvovaginal environment should look like — in part because it can greatly differ from person to person — it can be difficult to outline clear guidelines on what products can be used when it comes to intimate hygiene.
However, studies linking some feminine hygiene products and the development of vaginal infections drawn some strong conclusions as to which products and procedures one should aim to avoid when caring for their vagina and vulva.
Douching involves “flushing” the vagina with water or various cleansers, including homemade concoctions that contain 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.
More research stated that the use of gel sanitizers was linked with an increased risk, up to eightfold, of developing a yeast infection and a nearly 20 times higher risk of getting a bacterial infection.
The same study also found a link between the use of intimate washes and a 3.5 times higher risk of bacterial infections, and a more than twice the risk of contracting a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Where to go for treatment
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