Feminine wash products are a popular choice among women for keeping their nether regions feeling fresh and clean. Some women even assert that douching (cleaning the vaginal canal) regularly-- as frequently as everyday-- with feminine wash helps prevent the incidence and recurrence of both vaginal and urinary tract infections (UTI). Typically, feminine wash comes pre-mixed, as a combination of vinegar, water, baking soda, and iodine. Sounds innocuous enough, but how safe is it to use on a regular basis? Furthermore, are there any negative side effects for using too much of it?
According to Dr. Greg Alvior, an ob-gyn, the answer to the first question depends upon the type of feminine wash being used. Not all formulations of feminine wash are the same, with some being much stronger than others in their ability to kill bacteria. Dr. Alvior states, “Some [types] are strong antiseptics, and so could cause a super infection with resistant-fungi and bacteria if used too often and too long.” In the case of a super infection, the resistant fungi and bacteria don't respond to conventional medical treatment, making it that much more difficult to manage and prevent from spreading throughout the vaginal area.
Also, keep in mind that in most cases, both good and bad bacteria can be killed by feminine wash, which could be a disadvantage, because your body needs the good bacteria. An adequate amount of good bacteria (normal vaginal flora) is needed to maintain the acidity of the vagina, which is what maintains your ability to fight and prevent infections in that region. Prolonged use of feminine wash — especially the stronger types — can change the acidity of your vagina, and can make you more vulnerable to infections.
However, there are other types of feminine wash that are more mildly formulated with moisturizer added, which, according to Alvior, are safer for prolonged use. To that end, he advises not to use feminine wash everyday, although using a mild formulation a few times a week is okay for women with no symptoms or infections. If you have symptoms, however, and would prefer to use a stronger antiseptic formula, Dr. Alvior recommends using it no longer than one week. Finally, he cautions that scented variants of feminine wash could cause irritation from allergy. Added scents of any type are usually made of phthalates, which have been shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and an endocrine disruptor (interferes with your hormones).
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Rarely, the douching process can actually cause the infection to spread. While cleaning or rinsing, the force of the water can sometimes move the bacteria further up the vaginal canal and into the uterus. Take your time and try to stay gentle when douching. As tempting as it may be, save the pressure washing for the car.
If you're simply looking to maintain everyday cleanliness and prevention of infections, and have no symptoms, your healthiest bet is simply mild soap and water. More specifically, Dr. Alvior suggests using an unscented and hypoallergenic cleansing bar and/ or lotion. It's convenient, affordable, and safe enough to use everyday.
Finally, if you're trying to pregnant, doctors caution against using feminine wash unless absolutely necessary. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, douching may interfere with your chances of becoming pregnant. If you also have a history of endometriosis, PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease), or bacterial vaginosis, or other recurring infections, consult with your doctor about healthier alternatives to feminine wash that are safe to do while trying to conceive.