It may be embarrassing to admit you’re not quite sure how to keep clean “down there,” but a lot of women are just as clueless. Picture this: You’re in the shower scrubbing up. When you get to your private parts, you pause for a moment before cautiously proceeding. Sound familiar? Well, if you’ve ever wondered how to clean your vagina, you’re certainly not alone. Not only do many women not know how to properly clean their private parts, but they’re also using products that could possibly increase their risk of infection, according to a recent study.
Researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada surveyed 1,500 Canadian women about their vaginal health habits and the products they used. Anti-itch creams, moisturizers and lubricants, and vaginal wipes were the most commonly used products.
What Kieran O’Doherty, the study’s lead investigator, and his team found were “strong correlations” between the use of certain products and higher rates of infection. For example, women who used vaginal gel sanitizers were almost 20 times more likely to have a bacterial infection, as well as eight times more likely to have a yeast infection. Ladies who used feminine gels or washes were about three-and-a-half times more likely to have a bacterial infection and two-and-a-half times more likely to tell their doctors they had a urinary tract infection.
While there have been studies documenting the health risks of douching, there isn’t much research about the possible negative effects of these types of products, O’Doherty said. But he acknowledges the limitations of this research. “The study does not establish whether it is the products causing the infections or whether women are using the products in an attempt to address the infection,” he said. “However, the results do provide important evidence for strong correlations that need further research.”
So now that we know what products we probably shouldn’t be using, what’s the right way to clean your vagina? Luckily, there are a lot of great doctors out there who are ready to answer all your questions, like Nancy Herta, MD, an OB-GYN at Michigan State University, did for Glamour.com.
First off, Herta says that your private area is actually really good at cleaning itself, for the most part. This is due to the low pH, which prevents the growth of bad bacteria. “It’s a delicate balance that makes the vagina hostile to bacteria,” Herta said. “If you put stuff in there that changes the pH, you can allow bacteria to overgrow.”
This can lead to a yeast or bacteria infection in your lady parts. Doesn’t sound too fun, right? And if you’re concerned about discharge you’re having, Herta said that it’s completely normal. In fact, that’s part of how your private area cleans itself.
In any case, Herta discourages women from using douches to clean, because they can upset the body’s natural pH levels. “If you douche, it changes the pH, making it higher and allowing other kinds of bacteria to overgrow.” Apparently, douching can also really dry you out, making you more vulnerable to pain during intercourse. Yikes!
And on top of all that, a 2016 study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences linked douching with much more serious consequences down the line, such as a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Though more research is needed to know why, it may have something to do with the possibility of pushing harmful bacteria into the ovaries.
That being said, the safest way to clean the area is using a really mild soap for your labia (the outer part of your privates) while you’re in the shower or bath, says Herta. After you’re done, though, be sure to pat the area with a towel and make certain you’re totally dry before putting underwear back on, as any moisture left behind can cause a yeast infection.
See what your skin, hair, and nails can reveal about your health below.
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Dull, limp hair can indicate a nutritional deficiency; you could be particularly low in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B12, and iron.
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