Is Your Intimate Hygiene Product Safe?
The use of pelvic washes and over-the-counter intimate hygiene products has become increasingly prevalent, with India’s feminine hygiene product market witnessing substantial growth. However, the safety and necessity of these products are subject to debate among healthcare professionals.
The market for feminine hygiene products in India was worth INR 25.02 billion in 2018 and is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.92% between 2019 and 2024 to reach INR 58.62 billion. This industry is undergoing a significant transformation.
“It’s important to note that using such products is a personal choice, and their safety can vary depending on the specific product and an individual’s health condition, says Dr Nimmi Rastogi, Senior OBGYN and fertility expert, visiting consultant Max Group of Hospitals.
Should the vaginal washes be used daily?
Despite the usage of feminine hygiene products almost every day, there are chances of a woman developing a vaginal infection. How was this possible? “Overusing vaginal cleansers, even ones labelled as “safe” for intimate areas, could upset the delicate intimate balance of the vagina and give rise to infections,” she adds.
The mantra that ‘the vagina is a self-cleaning oven’ has gained prominence, highlighting the natural discharge that eliminates dead cells and bacteria. It has a natural ability to maintain its ideal pH balance through the presence of good bacteria, creating a slightly acidic environment. This acidity helps prevent the proliferation of harmful bacteria and infections. Using various products to wash the vagina can disrupt this self-cleaning mechanism.
“Though the inner canal of the vagina, which is inside the body, has a self-cleaning mechanism and doesn’t require external cleansing. However, it’s essential to wash the vulva, which is the external part surrounding the vagina, including the clitoris and inner and outer labial lips,” clarifies Dr Rastogi. Practising good hygiene by washing the vulva with gentle, mild soap and warm water is sufficient to maintain cleanliness without interfering with the vagina’s natural balance.
A woman’s reproductive organs undergo different stages, such as puberty, menstruation period, and menopausal phase, which disturb vaginal pH and microbes. Therefore, doctors advise not to use these commercial intimate wash products regularly.
Spotlight on Intimate Washes
Many gynaecologists and healthcare professionals advise against using scented or harsh soaps, douches, or intimate washes in the vaginal area. Factors such as allergies, pre-existing conditions, and individual sensitivities can influence the safety and appropriateness of these products or procedures. If a woman experiences unusual symptoms, such as itching, unusual discharge, or discomfort, seeking guidance from a healthcare provider rather than attempting self-treatment is advisable.
However, medical pelvic washes performed in a healthcare setting, such as pelvic lavage, are different and are carried out under sterile conditions for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes.
What would the older generations do?
Historical practices related to personal hygiene, including intimate care, have varied widely across cultures and periods. While there isn’t a single, universal historical practice for intimate hygiene, different cultures have indeed employed various methods to maintain cleanliness in the genital area.
In some cultures, traditional practices involve using natural substances such as water, herbs, or fermented products like curd (yoghurt) for cleaning. Local customs, available resources, and cultural beliefs about hygiene often influenced these practices.
The use of curd and water for intimate hygiene, if historical, might have been influenced by the perceived cleansing properties of curd. Yoghurt contains beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacilli, which are also present in the healthy vaginal flora. The idea may have been to promote a balance of these bacteria, helping to maintain a healthy pH environment in the vaginal area.
Additionally, hygiene practices have evolved, and contemporary recommendations from healthcare professionals often emphasise gentle cleansing with water and avoiding harsh soaps or products that may disrupt the natural balance of the vaginal flora.
Individual responses to different products vary, and consulting healthcare professionals for personalised advice based on individual health needs is crucial for intimate care.