One of the most sensitive parts of a woman’s body, the vagina is often misunderstood and mistreated. While it’s true that women need to take care of their vaginal health, experts say that many may end up causing more harm than good in order to protect it from infection and harmful bacteria.
Cleaning Up “Down There”
“It is a misnomer that women’s genitalia are ‘dirty’ with the need for scrubbing, deep cleansing or special hygiene routines,” says Dr Tanya Kormeili, board certified dermatologist, and clinical professor at UCLA. The truth is that the vagina is a self-cleaning organ. It is naturally acidic and has bacteria that fend off infections and help maintain a normal pH balance. The vaginal glands and the cervix secrete fluids that remove dead cells and harmful bacteria out of the body all by itself— it actually doesn’t need the help of an external product!
In fact, experts say that many common hygiene practices that women across the world follow in order to keep their vagina clean might not be needed at all. Here are the four most common ones.
1. Douching: While many women feel that douching helps you keep clean “down there”, it is actually a misconception. All those fancy smelling vaginal douches available in the market can actually cause more harm than good.
“The vagina likes to be at its natural pH. Using products that alter the natural pH can lead to a destruction of the natural flora (bacteria) that colonizes the area. This can cause infections and irritation,” says Kormeili. At most, you should use a mild, unscented soap and water to clean the vulva.
2. Trimming Too Much: Experts are divided on this issue. While some say it is okay to leave pubic hair as it is, as long as it is kept clean, others say it necessary to trim it to maintain hygiene. However, some women prefer to get rid of it entirely, which exposes the vulva to infection and you will need to take greater care of your genitals at all times. That’s why it is advisable to just trim it rather than get rid of it all.
Shorter pubic hair keeps the area cool and is easier to clean. “The Edger, a mini hair clipper often used by barbers, is great for shaving those sensitive areas and for preventing razor bumps. In addition, applying OTC Cortisone 10 cream on the day before, the day of, and the day after shaving can also be very helpful,” says Dr Kafele Hodari, a California-based dermatologist.
3. Using Intimate Whitening Creams: Many women feel that a darker skin color around the vagina makes it unattractive, which is why they make use of the many bleaching products available in the market to fix it. However, experts say they might have side effects. “Permanent bleaching creams destroy the pigment cells in the area and cause whitening. These agents are not well studied for long term side effects and can be very irritating,” says Kormeili.
4. Using Fancy Menstrual Products: With so many fancy products available in the market to make your menstrual days comfortable, women have a variety of options to choose from. For those looking for re-useable products, there are menstrual cups, soft cups, re-useable sanitary pads, menstrual sponge and the old-school cloth pads. And then there are disposable products such as tampons and sanitary pads. But they come with their own side-effects, which is why it is best to consult a specialist in case of irritation or infection.
Just remember that the skin on the outside of the vagina is as sensitive as your eyelids. The clitoris has the most number of nerve endings in the body. The vagina is delicate, but very resilient. It is perfect the way it is.