We need to first learn that the vagina and vulva are different! The vulva is the outside part that includes the labia majora (outer lips), the labia minora (inner lips), and the clitoris, whereas the vagina is the inside, tunnel-like structure. And regardless of what the media says, your intimate parts do not need to smell like roses and rainbows. There is no need to buy bleaching products to lighten those areas. And there is definitely no need for vaginal tightening creams. But when it comes to waxing or shaving, that totally depends on you. The media has fed us a lot of lies when it comes to our bodies. Learn more from our experts. Click here to expand your knowledge on intimate hygiene.
In conversation with TC46, Dr Sonal Kumta & Dr Manjiri Mehta, Gynaecologist & Obstetrician, Fortis Hospital, Mumbai share everything you need to know about vaginal and vulva health and products for them. They also share 7 hygiene rules that you need to follow for better genital health.
1. Don’t use harsh products on your vagina & vulva, it could throw off the pH balance
As per Dr Manjiri Mehta, “It is true that one should not use harsh soaps and skin-care products on your vagina or the vulvar area. However, it does not mean that one should forget about its health altogether. Most of the feminine hygiene products in the market contain a lot of fragrances and ingredients that may be damaging to the pH balance and can disrupt the sensitivity of the inner and outer area.”
2. Intimate washes and hygiene products are safer than most soaps
According to Dr Manjiri Mehta, “Intimate washes are safer than soaps in terms of sensitivity and maintaining pH balance. However, this is subjective from product to product. They are not always beneficial and not always necessary. It is important that hygiene is maintained.
When it comes to odour, it is normal due to the body fluids. If the discharge is excessive or foul-smelling or associated with itching, then it is best to consult a doctor for further treatment.”
Vaginal odour is totally normal but if it is something that bothers you, click here to learn how to prevent it.
3. Skin lightening and tightening products are not recommended
Dr Sonal Kumta says, “The colour of one’s private areas varies from person to person. The natural skin tone plays a role in how dark the area can be. It’s perfectly normal for your skin to be darker in your private parts than your skin elsewhere. Hormonal changes, ageing, friction, and infections are a few causes that can further lead to darkening and hyperpigmentation. However, if you feel concerned, it is advisable to discuss it with your Gynecologist. Whitening and hair removal products contain harsh chemicals which damage the sensitive skin of the pubic area; hence it is not advisable and not recommended to use skin lightening and tightening products.”
4. To shave or wax your pubic area is a personal choice
While talking about pubic hair, Dr Sonal Kumta says, “Shaving or waxing your pubic hair is a personal choice. However, one must be aware that shaving/waxing exposes the hair follicles and makes the perineum more susceptible to infection, which can cause skin irritation. My opinion would be to use scissors and clip the hair short. Pubic hair acts as a safety net that protects the external genitalia.”
5. Use hygiene products as per your preference and flow
According to Dr Sonal Kumta, “There are several hygiene products available in the market like sanitary pads, menstrual cups and tampons. How often you change your sanitary pads while menstruating depends on your flow and the type of pad you use. Remember to change the napkin every 6-8 hours at least, before it becomes full.
- Menstrual cups are a great eco-friendly option. They should be washed and sterilised regularly. To clean the cup, boil and dry it properly before using it again in the next cycle
- Tampons are a popular hygiene product. They come in different absorbances to accommodate light to heavy periods. The biggest downside to wearing tampons is the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TTS). It’s a rare but life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections. To prevent TTS, use the lowest absorbency tampon you can. Change your tampon frequently, every 6-8 hours. Alternate between tampons and pads when your flow is light. Avoid wearing a single tampon all night.”
- Sanitary napkins or pads are the most commonly used period products. Pads and panty liners are made of rayon and Super Absorbent Polymers (SAPs), which are typically partially made of acrylic, a plastic. If you have sensitive skin, go for pads made from eco-friendly and sustainable material. Learn more about menstrual hygiene products here.”
6. Important hygiene rules to follow
While talking about vaginal hygiene, Dr Sonal Kumta and Dr Manjiri Mehta share a few important tips that must be followed:
- Having a bath twice a day and using lukewarm water to clean the vagina is a healthy practice. It is recommended to avoid products that have parabens, glycerin, petroleum, alcohol, perfumes, or synthetic fragrances in the formula. If you are suffering from an itchy vagina then here are some expert inputs to help you.
- People tend to wash themselves every time after peeing, which causes the underwear to remain wet. This can lead to frequent infections. If you feel uncomfortable, you can pat yourself dry with tissues after peeing. Make sure your underwear is always dry. Also always wash your private area from front to back and not otherwise as it can bring germs from the anal area to the vagina.
- Avoid using harsh or scented soaps to clean the vagina. The vaginal flora (beneficial microorganisms) protects the vagina from harmful organisms causing infections. Excessive use of soaps can interfere and disrupt a healthy vaginal biome, setting the stage for bacterial infections. Normal vaginal pH is acidic. Douching (washing or cleaning the insides of the vagina with water or a mixture of fluids) can also interfere with your vaginal pH.
- A normal vagina secretes some discharge. However, if the release is foul-smelling, causes itching and has a distinctive colour like curdy white, green, or brown: it may suggest an infection. In that case, you should visit your gynaecologist for a pelvic examination.
- Peeing after sex is not necessary, but it may help prevent Urinary Tract Infections (UTI’s) in individuals more prone to it.
- Maintain a healthy diet for vaginal health, like eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Try to follow a balanced diet and stay hydrated. Food products such as curd and yoghurt are recommended to promote beneficial microorganisms/vaginal flora growth.
- Do not wear synthetic underwear often; instead, use cotton underwear which allows the vagina to breathe.