Many Women Swear By Feminine Washes, Are They Safe For Washing the Vagina?

The vulva (the external part of the genitals) is not self-cleansing. It often accumulates debris, sweat, period blood, urine, and all sorts of discharge from your vagina. It thus requires good cleaning and care, and this forms the basis for the use of feminine washes and the likes. However, using just simple lukewarm water does the trick and remains the best option for feminine hygiene.

A lady in bathrobe carrying bath oils in preparation to take a bath in a bath tube.

Key takeaways:

  • Feminine washes, also called intimate washes, can help eliminate odor and may gently moisturize the external genitalia but may disrupt the natural vaginal environment and cause vulvovaginal infections, dryness, irritation, and even reproductive disorders.
  • While feminine washes may be beneficial for maintaining vulvar hygiene, they are not entirely safe and should not be used internally in the vagina.
  • To reduce the chances of potential adverse effects when using feminine washes, ensure you are buying products that are properly formulated and tested and from reputable brands and avoid those that contain potential irritants like parabens. 

Genital hygiene is a top priority for every woman, especially since society tends to portray the female genitalia as unclean, needing extra measures to maintain cleanliness and freshness. 

In pursuit of this ideal, many women turn to feminine hygiene products, marketed as “safe to use” and “necessary," akin to skincare and haircare products, for that feeling of cleanness, freshness, and comfort. However, despite their widespread advertising and use, medical research reveals they may not be entirely safe and can have adverse effects on feminine health.

Read on to discover why feminine washes may not be good for you and empower yourself with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions regarding your intimate routine and well-being.

What Are Feminine (Intimate) Washes?

Feminine washes, also known as intimate washes or vaginal cleansers, are personal feminine hygiene products specifically formulated for cleansing women's external genital area.

These products come in various forms, including liquid washes, wipes, foams, and lubricating gels, and often contain a blend of ingredients targeted at providing women a feeling of cleanliness,  freshness and comfort.

What Are Some Potential Benefits of Using Feminine Washes?

 Typically, feminine washes claim to:

1. Provide Gentle Cleansing

Feminine washes are marketed as gentle alternatives to regular soap for cleaning the delicate skin around the vulva. They aim to remove impurities without causing irritation or disrupting the vulva's natural moisture balance.

2. Eliminate Odor

One of the primary concerns addressed by feminine washes is odor control. These products often contain fragrances or antibacterial agents to mask or eliminate unpleasant odors associated with sweat, menstrual flow, or bacterial overgrowth.

3. Maintain pH Balance

Many feminine washes contain ingredients such as lactic acid or formulations designed to mimic the natural pH of the vagina and maintain just the right acidity for a healthy vaginal environment.

4. Gently Moisturize

Some feminine washes also offer relief from dryness in the external genitalia by providing gentle moisturization to the vulva, especially in people who are in menopause.

Additionally, some products (lubricants) are designed to enhance vaginal secretion, reducing discomfort and mucosal damage after vaginal intercourse in sexually active women.

Are Feminine Washes Safe for Use?

When it comes to the safety and efficacy of feminine washes, it's crucial to understand how and where these products should be applied. For example, contrary to the fact that they are called “vaginal washes,” they are unsafe for the vagina and should not be used near it.

To clarify, let's briefly discuss the anatomy of the female genitalia. We often use the term "vagina" to refer to the entire genital area, but it's important to recognize that it consists of two main parts: the vulva and the vagina.

The vulva comprises the external structures of the female genitalia, including the clitoris, labia folds, urethral, and vaginal openings. As such, it is constantly exposed to external factors like skin debris, sweat, urine, menstrual blood, and all sorts of vaginal discharge.

Proper cleansing and maintenance of the vulva is essential to prevent bad smells,  irritation, discomfort, and the accumulation of harmful bacteria and yeast. This is where feminine washes come into play and may be beneficial in maintaining vulvar hygiene.

On the other hand, the vagina, part of the internal female genitalia, is situated deeper within the female genitals and functions like a canal, extending from the vulva to the cervix (the neck of the uterus). It is naturally protected by a mucus barrier and a healthy flora that maintains an acidic pH level, creating an inhospitable environment for harmful bacteria and disease-causing organisms.

The vagina also undergoes a regular self-cleansing process where it sheds its epithelial lining and expels any bacteria or foreign substances through mucus vaginal discharge, ensuring its cleanliness without the need for external cleaning products like feminine washes, which can disrupt its natural microbiome (natural beneficial bacteria in the vagina).

Why Feminine Washes May Not Be Good for You

Feminine washes may be touted to have benefits, but they are not without risks, which include:

Disruption of the normal vaginal environment

Research reveals feminine washes can disrupt the normal vulvovaginal pH and bacteria flora by stripping out healthy mucus and bacteria from the vaginal cavity, which is needed for maintaining healthy vaginal immunity.

Increased risks of infections and diseases

When the vaginal microbiome is altered, it increases susceptibility to the overgrowth of harmful opportunistic bacteria, yeast, and even viruses (a condition called bacterial vaginosis), predisposing women to various infections and diseases, including vulvovaginal infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and even sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Increased risk of reproductive disorders

Disruption of the vaginal microbiome has also been associated with an increased occurrence of medical conditions that affect the reproductive tract, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, ectopic pregnancies, and even infertility.

Pregnancy complications

In stripping out normal vaginal flora, these washes may also remove vaginal lactobacilli, an important bacteria needed for a healthy pregnancy, full-term delivery, and immunity in newborns.

Research reveals that harmful bacteria from conditions like bacterial vaginosis (BV) can travel from the vagina to the placenta and fetus, causing premature labor, fetal injury, and other complications that could affect the baby's health for life.

May cause side effects

Some women may experience side effects from using feminine washes, such as:

  • Vaginal inflammation
  • Irritation
  • Itching or pruritus
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Changes in skin color and texture)
  • Allergic reactions to one or more of the substances, like harsh chemicals or fragrances in the products.

These side effects can cause discomfort and can lead to further health issues if not addressed. 

Tips for Ensuring Safety When Using a Feminine Wash

If you're considering or already using feminine washes, it's important you use them with caution to prevent these risks. Here are some key safety tips to look out for when using feminine washes:

  1. Go for properly formulated and tested products by reputable brands. 
  2. Ensure they match the natural pH balance of your vagina (around 3.8 to 4.5) to support a healthy microbiome without disrupting the pH.
  3. Pick mild, alcohol-free products with no chemicals, perfumes/fragrances, or other harmful ingredients that may disrupt the vaginal environment.
  4. Carefully wash only the vulva and ensure no products enter the vagina. 
  5. Gently pat dry with a soft, dry towel or unscented, alcohol-free wipe.
  6. Steer clear of feminine washes containing Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), soap, or parabens to prevent irritation and allergic reactions.
  7. Avoid using feminine washes containing glycerin if you're prone to yeast infections, as it may contribute to yeast overgrowth.
  8. Consult your healthcare provider before incorporating any new products into your intimate care routine, especially if you've previously had a history of vaginal infections or sensitivities or if you notice any unusual odors or changes in vaginal health from using feminine washes.

How Best to Clean the Vulva

Below are tips on the best way to clean your vulva:

  • Washing your vulva with simple, lukewarm water while bathing remains the best and safest way to clean the vulva.
  • You can also use a mild unscented soap (optional), but it is medically advised to avoid using soap, shower gel, scrubs, bubble bath, deodorant, baby wipes, or douches on the vulva.
  • When washing your vulva, always start from the front to the back, never in the reversed direction, to prevent spreading bacteria from your anus to your vagina and urethra (this can cause UTIs).
  • Avoid using sponges or flannels on your vulva. Simply, use just your hand and rub gently as you wash.
  • Aside from bathing, also ensure you wash the vulva after peeing and wipe dry with a clean, dry towel, toilet paper, or unscented, non-alcohol-based wipes.  
  • If you're concerned about how your nethers smell, you can apply scents on your thigh, a good distance away from your vulva and vagina.
  • If you're experiencing vaginal dryness, consult your gynecologists for diagnosis and the best treatment for you.
  • Let your vulva breathe! Wear clean, breathable cotton underwear, and change them daily.
  • Do not wear any underwear or tight clothing when you're indoors or asleep.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Should you use feminine wash every day?

According to gynecologists, using feminine washes every day is not recommended. Excessive use of feminine washes on the vulva and vagina can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria, leading to irritation, infection, or allergic reactions, and should be avoided at all costs.

Can feminine wash treat yeast infection?

Feminine washes are not typically intended to treat yeast infections. If you're experiencing symptoms of a yeast infection, it's best to seek medical attention rather than relying solely on feminine washes for treatment.

Is using a feminine wash necessary?

Absolutely not! Feminine washes may be beneficial in some cases, but they are not a necessity; water is all you really need.