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The truth about feminine hygiene products

We all feel the need to invest in feminine hygiene products to be fresh and fragrant. How essential are they & could soap and water be enough?   2015-02-03

If you have managed to get rid of the extra pounds which settled round your waist at Christmas and got through’ ‘Dry January’ with your social life still intact, you may be feeling that it is time to have a break from what can feel like a relentless stream of health advice and lifestyle instructions.  However, it is often difficult to know how much of the information which circulates is worth taking note of or whether it is scaremongering put out with the intention of promoting a product or service.  In this respect some areas of the health industry could be said to use techniques which are rooted in the advertising industry of the 1920s whose tactic was to pinpoint a problem, perhaps one consumer didn't even know they had; exacerbate anxiety around the problem and then sell the cure.

Victims of advertisements?

If you are reading this as a female and have an inkling that women are disproportionately targeted by this type of material, your instinct is correct as women’s’ anxieties about their bodies have been exploited for many years in order to get them to purchase certain products.  As early as the 1920s a corset manufacturer urged women to be aware of ‘the beauty contest of life’, and in a 1953 Chlorodent toothpaste pointedly reminded us that ‘There’s another woman waiting for every man’ a warning to wives who allowed their husbands to smell their morning breathe.

Despite women winning a few fights, the battle of the sexes continues and women can still be vulnerable to advertising which undermines their self-esteem or preys on their fears.  This has resulted in a growing concern that in an effort to be hygienic women may be using products which are detrimental to their health.

Waste of money

Dr Ugwumadu is a consultant gynaecologist at St George's Hospital, in South-West London has recently expressed concern about the number of women using certain feminine hygiene products of which he says ‘In my view, these new feminine hygiene products just worsen women's anxiety about their bodies, and are probably a waste of money.’

Feminine hygiene products are designed for use in the vaginal area, both internally as douches, and externally as sprays, wipes and washes.  This preponderance of products claim to keep women clean, fresh and fragrant ‘down below’ and some may hint that there are health advantages to their use.  However, the reality is that these products are at best unnecessary and at worst harmful as repeated usage may result in an increase in infections as natural protective bacteria are removed.  These products should not be confused with medications and pessaries which are recommended for health problems such as thrush.

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Soap & water are enough

Despite the range of goods on display in pharmacists and supermarkets, there is no reason to buy special products for the vulval area.  The vagina has been described as ‘self-cleaning oven’ which keeps itself healthy and with natural secretions.  Gentle, daily washing with plain unperfumed soap should be the norm, this will not interfere with the ph balance which is naturally maintained at less than 4.5, which is optimal for keeping bacterial infections at bay.

Women are often concerned by the fact that their genitals have an odour and are unsure if this is something to be concerned about.  The vulva may be referred to as a ‘lady garden’ but that does not mean that vaginas should smell of roses!  It is normal for this part of a woman’s bodies to have a distinctive odour which will be affected by the menstrual cycle, certain foodstuffs such as curry and asparagus and some medications most commonly the contraceptive pill or antibiotics.  If this odour becomes offensive, always consult a healthcare professional as it may be a sign of infection or disease. 

Be self-aware

Being aware of what is normal for your vagina, in terms of discharge and odour will allow you to be alert to any changes which might indicate a problem, and it is not helpful to use highly perfumed products which may mask these subtle signs. 

MyHealthPortal encourages a holistic approach to all aspects of health and the key to this important aspect of women’s wellbeing is neatly summed up by Dr Suzy Elneil, consultant in urogynaecology at University College Hospital, London, and spokesperson for Wellbeing of Women. “Generally, good vaginal health is maintained by making sure you’re in good general health,” she explains. “This includes healthy diet and exercise. Normal exercise helps maintain good vaginal function, as walking and running helps the pelvic floor to tone up and helps ensure good general health.”  This advice is echoed by most health professionals, the majority of whom will reiterate that good personal hygiene is all that is required to avoid problems and that specialised products are not a requirement.