It’s not polite conversation for the dinner table. Some women even struggle to talk about it with friends. In fact, the topic only seems to come up when you’re forced to go to the doctor for an emergency.
This is the wrong approach, say experts. Women must know the basics – and intricacies of vaginal health. What we don’t know, or are doing wrong, could kill us.
A glaring example of this type of misinformation is feminine “hygiene” products.
Put down the gel that promises a fruity scent. You don’t need it; it may do more damage than good.
Smells like... toxins?
"Do you know what’s in that vaginal douche? Or that bar of scented soap that assures you freshness and cleanliness?"
Your skin is the only barrier between your internal organs – and what’s outside. The vaginal and vulvar tissue are far more sensitive than the skin, say on your hands. So, these scented, perfumed, fragranced products you’re applying on the most sensitive area of your skin can quickly turn detrimental.
According to a report by the Women’s Voices for the Earth organisation, feminine hygiene products may use ingredients that are known or suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals, carcinogens or allergens.
What this means: your body becomes vulnerable to disturbances in the nervous and immune systems, abnormal growths, and your risk for breast cancer and fertility issues increases. As the report says, “The vaginal ecosystem is more sensitive and absorbent than typical skin.”
Not just absorbent, but self-functioning too.
You don’t need expensive gels, soaps and aromatic trickery to be clean.
“Female sex organs evolved to be self-explaining,” explains the report. “The vaginal canal is richly endowed with blood vessels and produces mucus that protects against and washes away harmful microorganisms.”
READ MORE: "Vaginal douching has no benefit"
Unfortunately, many women believe the hype. A small study in Canada found that over 95% of participants use at least one product in or around the vaginal area, including moisturiser, anti-itch creams, wipes, washes, sprays and powders. And the report also found that 80% of these women suffer one or more negative vaginal reactions/symptoms.
Johannesburg-based general practitioner, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng agrees on the risks. “There is a definite link between these products and the increased risk of PH imbalance. This can lead to thrush, bacterial vaginosis (very difficult to treat and break the cycle), and depending on the toxicity, chemical burns on the vulva and vagina.
You can pick up infections, and chronic dermatitis. And even when the skin heals, it heals with scars. Your skin elasticity and vaginal lubrication are all affected by these harmful ingredients.”
The down low on your down below
So, is a wash-and-go fine? Are you going to repel everyone within a 10-kilometre radius if you don’t wash, scrub and spray yourself with the strongest scents you can find?
Let’s demystify the conjecture.
You should “smell nice” down there to be healthy?
Certain foods can improve vaginal health?
How should women stay healthy?
Do probiotics for vaginal health work?
Would you put this in your mouth?
Just some of the worrying ingredients in some female hygiene products include:
- Benzocaine; can cause an allergic rash and dermatitis
- Diazolidinyl urea; can cause cancer
- A colourant dye (FD&C Yellow no. 5); can cause allergic reactions and bronchial asthma
Do you use feminine hygiene products? What has your experience been. Let's chat here.
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