The vagina is designed to keep itself clean with the help of natural secretions (discharge). Find out how to help your vagina keep clean and healthy, and why you don’t need douches or vaginal wipes.
If the balance of bacteria is disturbed, this can lead to infection and inflammation.
Bacteria called lactobacilli help keep the vagina’s pH balance at its normal low level (less than pH 4.5), which also prevents the growth of other organisms.
If the pH of the vagina increases (it gets less acidic), the quality or amount of lactobacilli can fall and other bacteria can multiply.
This can result in infections such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush, which can cause symptoms including itching, irritation and abnormal discharge.
Washing your vagina
It’s a good idea to avoid perfumed soaps, gels and antiseptics as these can affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina and cause irritation.
Use plain, unperfumed soaps to wash the area around the vagina (the vulva) gently every day.
The vagina will clean itself inside your body with natural vaginal secretions (discharge).
“During your period, washing more than once a day may be helpful,” says Dr Elneil, who points out that keeping the perineal area between the vagina and anus clean is important, too.
“Good perineal hygiene is necessary by washing that area at least once a day using your normal bathing routines.”
“All women are different,” says Professor Lamont. “Some may wash with perfumed soap and not notice any problems.
“But if a woman has vulval irritation or symptoms, one of the first things you can do is use non-allergenic, plain soaps to see if that helps.”
Scented wipes and vaginal deodorants
These perfumed products can disrupt the vagina’s healthy natural balance.
“If nature had intended the vagina to smell like roses or lavender, it would have made the vagina smell like roses or lavender,” says Professor Lamont.
Washing with water and a plain soap should be all you need to keep your vagina healthy. It’s normal for the vagina to have a scent.
“Vaginal odour can change at different times of the reproductive cycle and shouldn’t always be thought of as being a sign of infection or illness,” says Dr Elneil.
If you’re worried about the way your vagina smells, the smell is unpleasant or you’re using perfumed products to cover up your vagina’s smell, you should see your GP. You might have an infection that needs treatment.
A douche flushes water up into the vagina, clearing out vaginal secretions. Some women use a douche to “clean” the vagina.
But using a douche can disrupt the normal vaginal bacteria, so it isn’t recommended that you use one.
“I can’t think of any circumstances where douches are helpful, because all they do is wash out everything that’s in the vagina, including all the healthy bacteria,” explains Professor Lamont.
There’s no evidence that douching protects against STIs or vaginal infections, and it may even increase the risk.
Use a cold compress to deal with itching and discomfort.
If your vaginal area is itchy or burning, then soaking a clean cotton washcloth in cold water, wringing it out, and applying it to your vaginal area may help provide some relief. Do this as often as needed to help soothe your vaginal area
The most common cause of unusual vaginal discharge is bacterial vaginosis, which can cause an unpleasant smell. It’s easily treated with antibiotics, so see your GP if you’re worried.
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