Various manufacturers claim their products offer the healthiest and most refreshing way to clean your vagina.
Together with sanitary pads, tampons, panty liners, and disposable razors, the feminine hygiene market is forecasted to be worth $42.7 billion in the next three years.
But the truth is that the vagina is able to naturally clean itself through mucus production, washing away blood and vaginal discharge. Even healthy, clean vaginas can have a mild odor unique to each person. It changes as the day wears on, but it gets particularly strong and musky after you do heavy physical activities such as exercise.
You should consult your doctor or healthcare professional if your vagina has developed an unpleasant, strong odor or if you’re worried about vaginal discharge.
What is Douching?
Douching refers to mixing ingredients in a bottle or bag then squirting or spraying the mixture upward into the vagina. Most douches are made of water mixed with iodine, baking soda, or vinegar. Some brands also contain fragrances and antiseptics. While the cleaning of the vulva or the external part of your vagina should be done daily, douching or washing inside the vagina isn’t necessary and could actually be harmful as it affects the PH level of the vagina.
Nearly a fifth of women in the US aged 15–44 say that they douche. But the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology advises against it, saying it may worsen vaginal discharge.
On a more basic level, douching upsets the natural balance of bacteria (pH level) of your vagina. The normal pH level is 3.8 to 4.5, or moderately acidic. A vaginal pH of 4.5 and below is ideal during a woman’s reproductive years and higher than 4.5 before menstruation and after menopause.
Other Dangers of Douching
Besides being the number one culprit behind bacterial vaginosis, douching is also associated with:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
This refers to the infection of a woman’s reproductive organs: her womb, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and cervix. Douching can make it easier for the bacteria to grow and get pushed up to the reproductive organs from the vagina.
- Urinary tract infections
As in the case of PID, douching can force pathogens up through the cervix.
- Preterm birth and low birth weight
Bacterial vaginosis, which is normally a result of douching, is linked to having low birth weight and prematurely delivered babies.
- Ectopic pregnancy
When a fertilized egg grows outside the inner lining of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube, ectopic pregnancy occurs. Besides cancelling the chance for the fertilized egg to survive, ectopic pregnancy can result in internal bleeding for the mother if left untreated.
New York-based obstetrician-gynecologist Alyssa Dweck says that women should avoid products with glycerin as this may encourage overgrowth of yeast.
Dweck adds that women should steer clear of body washes with mineral oil, propylene glycol, and heavy fragrance, as they’re likely to alter vaginal pH.
Body cleansers with dyes or colorants, sulfates, alcohols, silicones, and parabens are also harmful to one’s vaginal pH.
Ways to Stay Clean, Keep pH Balance
Choosing natural care for vaginal health is still the best way to go to avoid irritation, infection, or possible disease. That includes having a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Here are other practical ways to preserve the balance of bacteria “down there”:
- Regularly clean, but don’t over-wash, the skin of the vulva using unscented, mild, and soap-free washes. Pat it gently with a soft towel to dry instead of using sponges or flannels.
- Perhaps try cranberry pills for vaginal health to help combat or prevent UTIs.
- Only use sprays or powders outside your vagina but not inside.
- Wear breathable underwear made of 100% cotton instead of satin, silk, or polyester panties.
- Change sanitary pads, panty liners, and tampons every three to four hours, when you wake up and right before bedtime. Prolonged use of these products can cause irritation and higher risk of infection.