There is no one-word answer to this question. Many people use so-called feminine hygiene products — such as intimate cleansers and wipes, douches, and even deodorants — hoping to feel clean and fresh while some use them thinking it will protect them from unwarranted and embarrassing diseases. Women in urban areas frequently use intimate feminine hygiene products on a fungal infection too that can cause more harm. A good percentage of the cases of infections are caused by the wrong usage of intimate hygiene products.
Understanding the vagina and the wash
In the doctor’s terms, the vagina is the internal muscular tract extending from the cervix to the vaginal opening. The vulva is the external part of the female genital tract, which includes:
- the inner and outer labia (labia minora and Majora)
- the external part of the clitoris and clitoral hood or the fold of skin protecting the external part
- the vestibule surrounding the vaginal opening
- the urethral opening
To maintain vulvar and vaginal health, you must ensure that two important aspects – their pH, a measurement of acidity or alkalinity, and their bacterial equilibrium – are balanced. Intimate hygiene products including washes, wipes, shaving gels, and lubricants, as well as douches and alternative care products for vaginal steaming, etc. are popular among women. However, according to studies, gel sanitizers are likely to increase a person's risk of developing a yeast infection by 8 times, while the risk of getting a bacterial infection rises by nearly 20 times.
Washing the private part is important to keep it clean and prevent infection as well as to maintain pH balance. The vaginal pH of a premenstrual woman will be 7 (neutral), whereas, in reproductive age, it may range between 3.8 to 4.4. At menopause, depending on whether a person undertakes hormone replacement therapy or not, the vaginal pH maybe 4.5 to 5 or 6.5 to 7. The other important thing is balanced microbiome in the vaginal and vulvar areas that differs from person to person. It is not advisable to use commercial intimate feminine hygiene products very regularly, especially if there is a fungal or yeast infection – consult your doctor first. However, one can use such products just before or after periods. Most of the washes available in the market are meant for the external genital area as the vagina has a self-cleaning mechanism that is quite effective but as an additional measure, use of water is enough. However, marketing and media messaging have led us to believe that is not adequate. For regular cleaning of the private area, use of water and antifungal soap is highly recommended.
Dr Vinita Diwakar, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynaecologist Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad, shares a quick guide to keeping the private area clean and protected
- Generally, good vaginal health can be maintained by making sure you are in good general health.
- But avoid fragrances and other harsh chemicals to clean this area, as they can cause irritation and inflammation, which can lead to itching and pain. In terms of clothing, always wear light and breathable fabric, such as cotton through the use of panty liners, which is a non-breathable back sheet, is a widespread practice.
- It can increase the temperature, skin surface moisture, and pH of the skin in the private area.
- Besides, aesthetic practices, such as bikini wax, are increasingly exposing the skin of this delicate area to microtrauma and infections.
- Try and avoid such practices as it affects the skin condition of that gentle area.
As a rule of thumb, always urinate after sex to push any germs outside of your urinary tract. During sex, germs can come into contact with your urinary tract and urinating after sex helps flush those germs out. Damp, warm conditions are ideal for breeding bacteria.
- To prevent disinfecting your vagina, change your wet swimsuit or sweaty gym pants as soon as you can.
- When using the toilet, always wash or wipe the area dry.
Do not wipe from back to front as this can spread bacteria from your anus to your vagina and can cause infection. Instead, always wipe from front to back. The same goes for any sexual activity – nothing that goes in or near your anus should go in or near your vagina afterwards unless you clean it first.
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