Original Article printed By The Daily Mail
- Dr Ugwumadu says more women are asking about feminine hygiene
- Female patients want to know if they should use a special spray or wash
- He thinks they worsen women’s anxiety and could be ‘a waste of money’
- And using such products could mean infections go undiagnosed
By AUSTIN UGWUMADU, CONSULTANT GYNAECOLOGIST
Many women worry about feminine hygiene. But, in recent years, I’ve noticed that more and more of my female patients are coming in and asking if they should be using a special spray or wash to help.
Such products have been around for a long time, but a recent survey by British market research firm Mintel found that a quarter of women aged 16 or over had used feminine wipes and/or a feminine wash in the past six months.
Take a look on the shelves of any High Street pharmacy and you’ll see products such as Canesfresh Gentle Refreshing Mousse, Balance Activ Fresh pH Balanced Intimate Wipes and Vagisil Odour Shield Intimate Spray.
The vagina is a perfectly-balanced ecosystem, and the bacteria there play a crucial role, says Dr Ugwumadu
These should not be confused with medical products that treat conditions such as thrush and bacterial vaginosis. Instead, they promise to keep you ‘fresh’.
However, fragrant though they sound, I’m afraid these products are completely unnecessary and, in my opinion, are exploiting women’s anxieties about their bodies.
The advertising and packaging of feminine hygiene products play on the impression that women need to be squeaky-clean – otherwise they’ll be more at risk of infection.
In fact, the opposite is true. The vagina is a perfectly-balanced ecosystem, and the bacteria there play a crucial role in gynaecological health.
The skin cells of the vagina contain high levels of sugar molecules called glycogen, which bacteria break down to produce lactic acid.
This helps to keep the vagina at the specific, acidic pH range it needs to keep itself clean and healthy, which is about 3.5 to 4.5 – about the same as a tomato (the rest of your skin has a pH of about 5 to 6, similar to rainwater).
The best thing you can do is to not interfere with this process.
Often, any odour is imagined but, of course, that’s not always the case.
Up to one in six women will be affected by bacterial vaginosis at some point, where the balance of the bacteria in the vagina become disrupted.
It’s usually symptomless and clears on its own, but if it does cause symptoms – such as odour – the condition can be treated with a straightforward course of antibiotics.
You can see why women might want to mask the odour – but, actually, that’s the worst thing you can do.
In his view, ‘these new feminine hygiene products just worsen women’s anxiety about their bodies’
Studies show women who use scented soaps, bubble baths, or special deodorants, or who douche, are, in fact more prone to bacterial vaginosis than others, as these practices can remove naturally protective bacteria.
The new wave of feminine hygiene products are not designed to be used internally, so I wouldn’t be concerned they could cause bacterial vaginosis.
However, they do claim to be formulated to ‘maintain’ or ‘support’ a healthy vaginal pH – and this is misleading.
As they don’t get anywhere near the inside, I don’t see how they could have any effect on the pH.
There will be no difference in the pH of a woman using such products and a woman who washes with a normal shower gel – except that one will be lighter of pocket.
Many feminine hygiene products are marketed as being ‘free of preservatives’, but it’s not possible to guarantee against allergy.
In my view, these new feminine hygiene products just worsen women’s anxiety about their bodies and are probably a waste of money.
If a patient of mine is healthy, yet feels paranoid about a smell, I don’t have a problem with her using one – and the act of buying and using it may have a placebo effect, making her feel better about herself.
But I would not recommend such a product and I always tell women to be a bit careful, as they could have a sensitivity to the ingredients, or even an allergic reaction.
Many feminine hygiene products are marketed as being ‘free of preservatives’, but it’s not possible to guarantee against allergy, as we cannot predict what people may be sensitive to.
Over millions of years, this part of the body has adapted its own highly-effective cleaning process.
As long as you’re showering every day and wearing clean, preferably non-synthetic underwear, this should be enough.