We all want to feel clean and fresh down there. Personal-care product companies know this, which is why there is a whole industry dedicated to feminine care: Think feminine washes, deodorants, wipes and sprays, and douching kits and other types of internal cleansers. According to a report published by Allied Market Research (“World Feminine Hygiene Products Market-Opportunities and Forecasts”, 2015-2022), the global feminine hygiene product market is predicted to be worth US$42.7 billion between 2016 and 2022, with the biggest growth expected to take place in the Asia-Pacific region. This market includes other feminine care products, such as sanitary pads, panty liners and tampons.
So what’s the deal with feminine care products? Do we really need them? And, more importantly, do they harm instead of help? Costliness aside, here are three reasons why we think you’re probably better off just washing with good ol’ soap and water:
They may increase your risk of infections: Your vagina contains a natural balance of healthy bacteria, collectively referred to as vaginal flora. These bacteria help to maintain an acidic environment, which is important in protecting your vagina from infections. However, if you use an internal cleanser, like a douching kit which is designed to wash or flush your vagina with water or other fluids, you risk upsetting this delicate balance of bacteria. In fact, douching may cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, altering the normal pH of your vagina.
Worse, if you already have a vaginal infection, douching can cause the harmful bacteria to travel further up your reproductive tract where they can cause even bigger problems like pelvic inflammatory disease (which can lead to infertility). Douching is also associated with an increased risk of developing bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted diseases. It can also aggravate conditions like vaginitis and vulvovaginitis.
They can irritate the vagina: Some feminine care products contain preservatives, fragrances and other ingredients that can cause negative skin reactions like itching and discomfort. The skin in your genital area is sensitive, and even if you use a product that claims to contain natural ingredients, you never know how your body will react to it.
Some products make misleading claims: Some external products like sprays, cleansers and wipes are said to maintain a healthy pH balance in the vagina. A balanced vaginal pH is a good thing, but unfortunately feminine care products that work externally do nothing to maintain this balance inside your vagina.
Here’s another important thing to know: The vagina is not “dirty” and, like our eyes, it does a good job of keeping itself clean. For one, it produces secretions which sweep away dead skin cells and other impurities from the vaginal tract. This fluid also helps maintain a healthy balance of vaginal flora.
Bottomline? Being mindful of feminine hygiene is certainly important, particularly during your menstrual cycle, and on warm days when you’ve been physically active. Nobody enjoys having to deal with stickiness and odour, but if you want to feel fresh and clean all day, simply washing your vulva and perineal area (between the vagina and anus) thoroughly with mild soap and water in the shower is enough. You should also make it a point to change your underwear daily, if possible. If you’re out and about or in a rush, just clean your intimate area with tissue that’s been moistened with water – no need for fancy fragranced wipes or sprays.