Seunga (Jasmine) Han, PharmD Candidate
Female Hygiene Products
As discussed in Female Hygiene Part 1, proper genital hygiene doesn’t actually require many of the commercial products available in the market today. As the vagina is a naturally self-cleaning environment, mild soap and warm water are often sufficient for proper care. That being said, many women commonly seek out products intended for menstrual hygiene, to reduce vaginal odour or irritation, and for post-sexual cleanliness.1
#1 Genital Wipes (Tucks ®)
These are pre-moistened disposable wipes that are generally safe for occasional use and can be convenient in a pinch. However, take care to choose products that are fragrance or allergen-free to avoid ingredients that can be irritating or cause allergic reactions.1
#2 Genital Washes (Summer’s Eve ®)
These are liquid cleansers that are safe for daily use on the external genitalia, but they don’t offer additional benefits over mild soap and warm water.1
#3 Genital Deodorant Sprays (Summer’s Eve ®)
These are not recommended for two main reasons: not only do they contain ingredients associated with irritation and allergies, but they can also mask the odour of infections. The presence of an unusual odour is one of the key signs clinicians use to diagnose infections. Therefore, deodorant sprays can lead to a delay in treatment and potentially worse health outcomes.1
Douching is considered more of a technique rather than a product, that involves instilling fluid into the vagina to flush it from the inside. Despite its popularity among some groups of individuals, routine douching is associated with significant negative outcomes with no added benefits over regular bathing. These include:1
- Increased risk of irritation or infection
- Increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, cervical cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, and other genital tract infections
- Decreased effectiveness of spermicides if used within 6 hours
- Masks the detection of a vaginal infection if used within 24 hours of a vaginal examination
Also, douching under high pressure can cause fluid to enter the uterus, increasing the risk of damage or pelvic infection. Due to these risks, it’s recommended that women avoid douching, especially during pregnancy. Additionally, douching should never be considered as a contraceptive method or as a treatment option for vaginal infections.1
What Does the Evidence Say?
Even though many products are marketed to improve cleanliness and freshness, some of them are associated with different risks including infections and irritation. The use of commercial products is likely to cause a change in vaginal acidity, an introduction of foreign chemicals, and alteration of the vaginas natural immune barrier.2,3 Furthermore, emerging evidence is showing that certain products may damage the normal bacteria of the vagina, which are essential to preventing infection.2
The Bottom Line
Despite the number of female hygiene options out on the market, it’s likely these products can do more harm than good. Ideally, regular bathing with mild soap and warm water are the best recommendation for genital hygiene.
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- Jenkins A, Crann S, Money D, O’Doherty K. “Clean and Fresh”: Understanding Women’s use of Vaginal Hygiene Products. Sex Roles. (2018, May);78(9/10):697.
- Ekpenyong, C. E., Daniel, N. E., and Akpan E. E.. Vaginal douching behaviour among young adult women and perceive adverse health effects. Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology. (2014 May);6(5)182-191.