When people hear the term “feminine hygiene,” their minds immediately go to tampons, pads and other products used for menstrual hygiene.
But a feminine hygiene routine encompasses so much more than picking out the types of menstrual products best suited to you – feminine hygiene is about making sure that the entire vaginal region is clean and healthy.
Over the years, vaginal washes have received mixed reviews from consumers – some women love them and some women will never consider using them. Even among healthcare professionals, there is a great debate over whether vaginal washes are a safe and necessary part of a feminine hygiene routine. These so-called feminine hygiene products –washes, douches and sprays – claim to reduce odor and balance pH and their marketing tactics seem to be working. According to Bustle, a British market research firm found that 24 percent of women over age 16 have used feminine wipes or a feminine wash in the past six months.
But just because so many women are purchasing these products does not mean that they are effective.
Women’s Health reported that many of the products that are designed to help stabilize the pH of a woman’s vagina aren’t even pH balanced themselves, which can cause further discomfort and irritation down there.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require that feminine wipes, which are classified as cosmetic products, or their ingredients meet FDA approval before they hit the market because they are considered to be low-risk.
The consoling truth is that not all feminine wipes are inherently bad or harmful, as long as they are specifically-formulated with the correct pH, they may help to limit pH disruptions in the vagina. Furthermore, a “safe” feminine wipe should be alcohol-free, glycerin-free and fragrance-free, as all of these ingredients can all dry out the sensitive skin in and around the vagina.
But while some feminine wipes may not be harmful, it’s important to not that they are not intrinsically necessary, especially because the vagina is a self-cleaning part of the body, full of bacteria that is actually healthy for you.
“New healthy cells lie underneath, coming to the surface and creating a liquid-y sensation, similar to the way your mouth creates saliva,” Iffath Hoskins, MD, an OB-GYN at NYU Langone Medical Center told Health.
Most doctors agree that while using vaginal wipes and washes may not be toxic, they do create unnecessary risk for yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and bacterial vaginosis.
“If you’re going to put something inside the vagina, obviously there’s a possibility of having a problem,” she explains. “There’s always a concern that you can insert an infection. The pH in the vagina regulates itself, and douching is going to change the equilibrium. My mindset is there’s no reason to do it,” Hoskins said.