Despite warnings from gynaecologists, women regularly turn to douches, vaginal wipes, and moisturisers to try to ‘clean’ themselves below the belt.
But a new study has found that women who use these products are three times more likely to contract a vaginal infection than those who don’t.
Published in the journal BMC Women’s Health, researchers from the University of Guelph in Ontario surveyed nearly 1,500 Canadian women about their overall vaginal health, any products they used, and how often they had vaginal issues.
A whopping 95 percent of the women surveyed reported using some type of vaginal product, with the most common being anti-itch creams, moisturisers and lubricants, and feminine wipes.
The researchers found that women who use gel sanitisers are eight times more likely to have a yeast infection than those who don’t, and almost 20 times more likely to get a bacterial infection.
Similarly, women who used feminine washes or gels are nearly 3.5 times more likely to have a bacterial infection and 2.5 times more likely to report a urinary tract infection.
Those who use feminine wipes are twice as likely to have a UTI, and those who use lubricants or moisturisers are 2.5 times more likely to have a yeast infection.
The researchers point out that it’s hard to know whether the products themselves are causing the infections or whether the women are using the products to try to address their vaginal issues. But, they note, there is definitely a link.
The news isn’t shocking to experts. Many of these products contain fragrances or antiseptics that can disrupt the vaginal flora, the natural balance of bacteria that exists in the vagina.
“When the balance is messed up, the result can make it easier for the ‘bad’ bacteria to grow and cause an infection,” women’s health expert Jennifer Wider tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
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Feminine douches or washes are particularly concerning so much so that many health experts warn against it.
Of course, it could be that some women are resorting to using these products when they already have an issue.
“There are women who will self-treat if they have a vaginal discharge or odour,” gynaecologist Jessica Shepherd tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“But then they’re not getting to the source of the issue and are just masking it or even exacerbating it.”
The vagina and vulvar region are self-cleaning, making all of these products unnecessary, Christine Greves a board-certified ob-gyn tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“But it’s very sensitive, and feminine products can inevitably affect that area, especially if you put them inside your vagina,” she says.
It’s important for women to understand that it’s normal for the vagina to have a slight odour. “It’s usually a slight musky smell, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming,” Shepherd says. “If it varies from that, you need to let your doctor know.”
If you’re concerned about your normal vaginal odour, it is recommended that you shower regularly using a small amount of mild, unscented soap with water, external only.
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