Worldwide, women use a variety of intimate hygiene products as part of their daily cleansing routine. These practises are impacted by many factors including cultural influence, personal practises, religious practises and commercialization of feminine hygiene products.
Most women out there are curious to know the safety of feminine products to maintain their vaginal health. There has been recent increase in female intimate wash products in the market making this topic timely for discussion in overall feminine intimate health.
What are feminine hygiene products?
Feminine hygiene products include different types of intimate washes, wipes, shaving gels, lubricants, vaginal douche to name a few.
An introduction about the basics of vulvar and vagina will be able to help us understand better on the topic above.
What is vulva and vagina?
The vulva is the external part of the female genital tract which includes the
- The inner and the outer labia
- The clitoris
- The vestibule (around the vaginal opening)
- The urethral opening
The vagina is the muscular part of the female genital tract which extends from the vulva to the cervix.
Studies shows that vulva and vagina is balanced by a certain pH.
The vulva pH is usually between 3.5-4.7 and the vaginal pH in a woman in her reproductive age group is between 3.8-4.4.
The vulva is the first line of defence which protects the vaginal tract from infection and a healthy vaginal flora is dominated by Lactobacillus which is known to kill the multiplication of other harmful bacteria.
When a feminine pH balance is off due to lack of Lactobacilli, they are prone for Bacterial Vaginosis and Yeast infection.
Which products are unsafe?
The consensus among Gynaecologist seems to be that the vagina and vulva are mostly fine by themselves and by assaulting them with soaps, creams and gels are to cause more harm than good.
Here are some commonly used feminine hygiene products which can cause harmful effects.
Douching is washing or cleaning out the inside of the vagina a liquid solution. For at least 100years,there has been conflicting views on the benefits or harm in douching. However, recent studies shows that douching can cause harm as it removes normal vaginal flora and permits the overgrowth or colonization of bacteria which leads to inflammatory scarring like endometritis, salphingitis and peritonitis.
There has also been reported cases of vaginal douching causing early miscarriage and infertility where pathogenic bacteria may then ascend into the upper reproductive tract, leading to inflammatory scarring (endometritis, salpingitis, or peritonitis), the principal cause of ectopic pregnancy, early miscarriage, and infertility. (Rosenberg MJ, Phillips RS, J Reprod Med. 1992 Nov; 37(11):930-8)
Feminine Wash and Gel Sanitizers
In 2018, University of Ontario, Canada, concluded the use of gel sanitizers was linked to an eight-fold increase in a person`s risk of developing a yeast infection, and nearly 20 times the risk of getting bacterial infection.
Scented sanitary pads and Pantyliners
The purpose of panty liners still raises a lot of questions. Panty liners are thin version of sanitary pads to prevent stains and maintain a clean feeling throughout the day.
But if used extensively or excessively it causes infection. So, moderation is key.
Panty liners are known to trap heat and moisture to promote vaginal candidiasis and other bacterial infection.
These days scented sanitary pads are sold commonly in the stores. But caution should be taken when women use scented intimate products as it contains toxic chemicals. It causes allergy, skin irritation and infection in the long run by altering the vaginal Ph.
How to keep the vulva and vagina clean?
It’s important to keep in mind that first things first. Meaning you do not need to clean the vagina which is the internal part of the genitals with any form of harsh intimate care products.
The vagina is self-cleaning keeping the bacteria levels healthy with its own discharge.
Trying to clean internally can upset the balance and cause further irritation.
A healthy vaginal discharge without an unpleasant smell, which is clear or white, slippery and wet is normal to maintain a healthy vagina flora. However, if you experience a unhealthy discharge it is good to consult your doctor.
RCOG guideline on care of vulvar skin
- Avoid using soap, shower gels, scrubs, bubble bath, deodorants on the vulva.
- Avoid using sponges or flannels. Just use your hand. Gently pat dry with soft towel.
- Avoid using panty liners or sanitary towels in a regular basis.
- Avoid fabric conditioners or biologic washing powders.
Gentle vulvar cleaning is desirable and it is important for overall vulvovaginal health. These external washes need to be carefully chosen for mild, gentle cleansing without impacting the natural flora.