By Katie Ellis, Period Pro from University of Louisville School of Medicine
Should you use a feminine deodorant or wash?
Before we dive any deeper into this topic, here is the simple answer: No!
There are many reasons a person might choose to use a feminine wash: social influence, cultural norms, and/or religious practices. Sometimes, it is because of a worry that the vulva smells and that others can smell it too, or that the vulva is dirty.
But I am here to tell you that your vulva and vagina are not dirty. Just like any other part of your body, like your armpits or other places that get sweaty throughout the day, your vulva can hold onto smells in the creases of the skin or in the hair. This is normal! When this happens, you don’t need a special feminine wash to properly wash your vulva — just good ole’ soap and water. This will help get rid of any vaginal discharge, sweat, urine, or oils that create or hold onto body odor.
The first step to properly wash your vulva is to wash the external genital area (anywhere hair grows), the groin, and the buttocks with soap and water. Then, you can gently spread apart the labial folds and clean any dried discharge or fluids trapped inside with just water. The skin inside the labia can be very sensitive, so it is important to only use water. For all of these steps, you can just use your hands and avoid any textured cloths or sponges. When washing your vulva, nothing should ever go inside the vagina! The vagina is self-cleaning and doesn’t need a thing.
You may be thinking to yourself – but what about those feminine washes I see in stores that claim to make my vulva smell like a cool summer breeze? Or the shower gel, scrub, or bubble bath that I keep in my shower? You don’t need them to clean your vulva! In fact, any scented products and many feminine washes can actually be irritating to the sensitive skin of the vulva. The vulva naturally has its own little ecosystem of good bacteria that keeps everything “down there” happy, healthy, and infection-free. It is maintained primarily by the pH of the vulvovaginal area. Many feminine washes change the normal pH of the vulva, and that can damage the healthy bacteria. Instead, all you need is normal soap and water! If your skin is extra sensitive, it is best to choose a fragrance-free cleanser (cleansers are milder than soaps, and scents or fragrances can be very irritating for some people).
If you are thinking about trying a feminine wash for odor-control, I am here to let you know that the vulva is NOT supposed to smell like a cool summer breeze! It is supposed to smell like a vulva–and that is normal!
Many menstruators also wonder about vaginal douching. A douche is a device created to squirt cleansing products directly up into the vaginal canal. Vaginal douching is harmful and not recommended at all! Like the vulva, the vagina also has a protective ecosystem of good bacteria. Douching disrupts this ecosystem and is associated with poor outcomes like an increased risk of infection, sexually transmitted infections, ectopic pregnancy, and vaginal irritation. The vagina cleans itself by creating discharge (check out our article about discharge) that contains fluid and cells that keep the vagina healthy, lubricated, and free of infection and irritation. Nothing should be placed inside the vagina to clean it, ever!
To sum it all up in a few sentences. Your vulva and vagina are not dirty. To properly wash these areas, all you need is mild soap and water. Always avoid feminine washes and vaginal douching. Protect your natural vulvar/vaginal ecosystem.