Though a stroll through the feminine product aisle at your favorite drugstore (or a quick internet search of “feminine hygiene”) will bombard you with flowery products claiming to be just the thing to keep your delicate areas clean, are they really necessary?
Our short answer is no, but there are several reasons why. The biggest one is that in most cases, a wide range of vaginal scents are normal and healthy. The vagina and the area around it (groin skin, vulva, etc.) contain important bacteria that are a part of our healthy microbiome, as well as special sweat glands. These all produce a natural odor that may become stronger at times, such as during heavy exercise, during your menstrual period, pregnancy, or after sex.
But if you rely on heavily scented feminine washes to freshen up, those chemicals and perfumes can make you prone to problems like urinary and yeast infections, or may otherwise exacerbate the problem you’re trying to solve.
Though you do want to keep your nether regions clean, there are great ways to do so without harmfully disrupting the ongoing cleansing process your vagina does marvelously all by itself.
Let It Breathe
Air flow and avoiding dampness are two ways to keep your vagina fresh without touching a bar of soap. Contrary to popular style trends, Lycra and spandex undergarments, yoga pants, or even leggings can trap organisms and produce more odor. More breathable cotton undergarments — or nothing at all, particularly at night while sleeping — will give everything down there a breath of fresh air.
Also be sure to remove wet or damp undergarments, workout wear, or a bathing suit as soon as possible. And avoid wearing panty liners or pads unless absolutely necessary, as these trap more moisture next to the skin and can increase odor.
Keep It On the Outside
Cleaning your vagina should be a gentle process for the outer area you can easily reach. Inserting douches, other feminine hygiene products, or soapy even soapy fingers, can cause an overproduction of harmful bacteria which could actually increase strong odor. If you already have an infection, douches can push these germs further up inside to your uterus, ovaries or fallopian tubes. Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease are all possible results of douching.
Trust that your body is cleaning things exactly as needed all on its own, without the introduction of a foreign fluid.
A Simple Splash May Be Safest
The truth is, in many cases plain old water usually does the best job of keeping your vulva clean. Water is non-acidic, and doesn’t contain ingredients that could disrupt the pH balance inside your body or kill off the good bacteria that maintains vaginal harmony. Though using a gentle soap during your regular bathing is fine, if you’re self-conscious about your smell, try a splash of cool water and then gently dry things off.
When to See a Doctor
“In general, odors that indicate a problem should be easy to identify,” assures Covington Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, Kerry Dewberry. “They’re the ones that make your face scrunch up or remind you of something dead. And if there’s a serious underlying cause, you’ll often be experiencing other symptoms, as well.”
Irritation, itching, burning, or pain could indicate bacterial vaginitis, a yeast infection, or possibly trichomoniasis, a common sexually transmitted infection. There’s a small chance that abnormal vaginal order could also indicate vaginal or cervical cancer, but your regular annual OBGYN exams will be one of the ways you’re already monitoring for that.