Women, listen up! You may love those feminine creams, lubricants and wipes, but are these products doing more harm than good? Perhaps so, according to new research.
Background: It’s been known for some time that douching can disrupt the vaginal flora—the balance of “friendly” and “unfriendly” bacteria in the vagina. When this occurs, it increases a woman’s risk for bacterial vaginosis, a mild vaginal infection that commonly results in a fishy-smelling discharge.
To learn more about other vaginal health practices, researchers from University of Guelph in Ontario asked 1,500 Canadian women about their use of vaginal hygiene (aka “feminine hygiene”) products, such as anti-itch creams, sanitizing gels, moisturizers/lubricants and feminine wipes, during their lifetimes and in the last three months. These over-the-counter (OTC) products are used for everything from vaginal dryness to smelly female parts.
Study results: A whopping 95% of the women surveyed reported that they had used vaginal hygiene products. The study, published in BMC Women’s Health, further revealed big differences in the rates of infection between users and nonusers of vaginal hygiene products.
Biggest offender: Women who applied vaginal gel sanitizers (sometimes known as “vaginal deodorizers”) reported having eight times as many yeast infections and almost 20 times as many bacterial infections as those who didn’t “sanitize.”
The use of feminine washes or gels was associated with three-and-a-half times higher odds of having bacterial vaginosis compared with nonusers. Among women who used these products, there was two-and-a-half times higher odds of having a urinary tract infection (UTI).
There were similar findings among those who used feminine wipes and lubricants/moisturizers. Women who used these products reported having a UTI twice as often and a yeast infection two-and-a-half times as often, respectively.
Even though the researchers can’t say for sure that these products caused any of the infections, the study results do provide a reason to further investigate whether these gels, creams, wipes, etc., disrupt the natural vaginal environment and inhibit the growth of healthy bacteria.
Without enough healthy bacteria, a woman’s body is less capable of fighting off infections. In addition to UTIs and yeast infections, this could theoretically mean that women are also increasing their risk for other conditions linked to unhealthy vaginal flora—such as pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. If additional research supports the findings, these products could indeed be doing more harm than good.
Bottom line: The body naturally produces secretions that clean the vagina from the inside. To play it safe, it’s best for women to limit their cleansing and freshening routine to a once-a-day wash (maybe more than once if you’re menstruating) with warm water and perhaps a mild, unscented soap.
Your vagina doesn’t need to smell like lavender or jasmine or a tropical rainstorm to be healthy. In fact, those added scents may just add to your problems. It’s seems that this part of a woman’s body can take care of itself just fine—thank you very much!