Is your female hygiene routine correct? A gynaecologist explains all…
Our vaginas give us pleasure, allow us to have children, go through menstruation once a month and then, eventually, menopause. We shave them, wrap them up in trousers and tights and, if we’re really brave, subject them to a thong.
Which makes it even more important to pay special attention to day to day hygiene when it comes to this female area. It’s our most sensitive organ, after all.
We spoke to Dr Jullien Brady, a consultant gynaecologist for GynaeHealth UK, about everything we need to know around vaginal hygiene – during a normal day, a gym day, a sex day and during the menopause.
This is what you need to know to ensure you don’t knock your natural flora and fauna out of balance and maintain a fresh, healthy vagina.
When it comes to washing your vagina…
- Overwash it – rinse your vagina as you would your armpits or face, don’t spend minutes scrubbing.
- Douche (squirting water into the vagina), as this can flush out the natural bacteria.
- Use anything that claims to be a vaginal detox – there are tablets and remedies that claim to detox the area. There is little evidence that these work and they are not recommended.
- Wash inside – the inside of a vagina is home to natural bacteria and moisture and is self-cleaning. Putting soap or any other product inside could risk putting the vagina’s natural pH out of balance, which could lead to infections such as thrush.
- Only wash the outside – rinse the outside skin and the labia with water and a little soap, if you wish.
- Use non-fragranced, simple soap – if your skin type does not react badly to soap, and you like using it, then you can use soap to wash your vaginal area in the shower. But be careful with the amount you use – a little goes a long way.
- Be aware of your skin type – if you have sensitive skin or an allergy, check with your GP about the best way to approach your vaginal hygiene.
- Get to know what’s normal – everyone’s vagina is different, so it’s important to monitor what’s ‘normal’ for you in terms of smell, discharge (colour, smell, amount) and feeling. This way, you’ll notice if anything changes – for example your discharge becomes thick or smelly, or you have itching. If you do notice a change, it’s important to consult your GP.
Jullien recommends: A gentle monthly examination of your genitals with a hand-held mirror. This allows for the discovery of any abnormal-looking areas, or lumps and bumps that might need a medical review. Make it part of your general health checks, like regular breast self examination.
How to look after you vagina when you…
1. Have just exercised
Exercising makes the vaginal area sweat – but every woman is different when it comes to how much. Women who have a lot of pubic hair, for example, can sweat more and might need to pay more attention to the pubic area during their post-workout shower.
2. Have just had sex
During sex, we secrete natural lubrication, ejaculation and sweat, and are likely to feel like we need to shower afterwards, which is fine (still no washing inside, though).
However, if you are unable to wash straight after intercourse, having semen inside your vagina for a longer period of time will not harm you or you pH balance. It’s natural after all.
When it comes to products you might use during sex, such as lube, gynecologists use the law that ‘what goes in, must come out’. So it’s important to rinse the outside your vagina after using lube – standing up after sex will help gravity do it’s job too.
It is also important to note that, if there is any trauma during sex, this will need to be kept clean to avoid infection. Women should also monitor their discharge after sex to look for signs of infection or symptoms of other conditions.
Jullien recommends: Use silicone-based lubricants that are easier on the skin – they also go further, so you don’t have to use as much.
3. Have been through the menopause
Women experience the menopause differently, but it’s common to feel a lack of elasticity on the skin around the vagina and internal dryness – this is due to reduced oestrogen.
Although this may mean that women use more lubrication during sex, the menopause doesn’t generally require a change in hygiene routine. We can carry on as normal.
4. Are on your period
Female hygiene during menstruation depends on the woman’s flow. Gynecologists advise women with a heavy flow to increase the amount they wash to avoid the smell that comes with the oxidisation of blood.
it comes to sanitary products, Jullien says that none is more hygienic
than others, and all women use them completely differently.
5. Have sex on your period
While having sex during a period is completely down to personal preference, Jullien stresses that it does not cause any harm or trauma to the vagina. You may just need a shower straight afterwards.
6. Have thrush
Most of the time this can be treated with simple over-the-counter remedy, and washing won’t make much difference. If the situation persists after treatment, visit a GP.