If you’re douching or steaming it, you’re doing it wrong.
1. Let’s talk about cleaning your hoo-ha.
Because you probably can’t go a day without seeing an ad for something that your vagina desperately needs in order to stay sanitary.
2. Actually, your vagina needs you to just leave it alone. It can clean itself, thank you very much.
“For vaginal health up inside, you don’t need to do anything,” Dr. Jennifer Gunter, Bay Area OB-GYN, tells BuzzFeed Life. “Leave it alone. It’s like a self-cleaning oven.” But instead of an oven cleaner, you’ve got tons of good bacteria called lactobacilli working to keep everything spotless.
“They make the vagina acidic so that it makes it difficult for pathogens to grow,” explains Gunter. “And they produce different substances that can be toxic to different bacteria and viruses.” Basically, they do all the cleaning for you, so they really don’t need your help. (FYI: We’re strictly talking about the vagina here — not the vulva, which is the outer layer of your genitals. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
3. But Gwyneth Paltrow says vagina steaming is the best! Won’t that make it sparkly clean?
No. Definitely not. So much nope. Even though Goop recently raved about the uterus-cleansing powers of V-steams, Gunter explains that this is just unnecessary — and potentially dangerous. “It’s not based on any understanding of physiology. Steam isn’t going into your vagina, and if steam could get in there, it would be harmful,” she says. “Your uterus doesn’t need to be cleaned.”
4. HOWEVER, you can (and should) be cleaning your vulva… but you’re probably doing it wrong.
Obviously occasional washing below the belt is necessary, and in most cases, plain old water is all you need on the outer area of your genitals. Really. Like, no soap at all. So if you’re already in the shower, use your hand or a washcloth to gently clean the area with water, suggests Gunter. Easy peasy, right?
5. If you must use soap, opt for one with the least amount of stuff in it.
Maybe you feel the need to freshen up after sex or you realized that the crotch smell in your workout class was actually coming from you. It’s fine to use soap on your vulva, but you need to be really careful about the ingredients, says Gunter.
Shower gels and any scented body washes are way more likely to irritate the skin, so she suggests a simple, unscented glycerin or castile soap (you can still find these at most drugstores, and they’re often cheaper). Basically, you want to keep that vanilla-scented body wash with microbeads far away from your vagina.
6. Don’t feel the need to lather up your vulva every single day.
Your skin down there is sensitive. And, like any part of your body, the more you wash it, the more you’re stripping away your skin’s natural oils and causing irritation. “One of the big problems we have in North America is over-washing,” says Gunter. (This is how often you should actually shower, according to science.) So even if you’re only soaping up after sex or a workout, don’t do it more than once a day, says Gunter.
7. HALP, something itches and/or burns!
DID YOU USE THE VANILLA-SCENTED BODY WASH?! According to Gunter, the majority of people who think they have yeast infections actually just have an irritation to a product they’ve been using. Stop washing with anything but water for a day or two and see if it subsides.
That said, if the itching/irritation/burning feels like it’s up inside the vagina, that’s more likely to be a yeast infection, so you’ll probably want to call your doctor. If you’d rather try an OTC yeast infection medicine first, go for it, but call your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away. “Those products are highly effective, so if you’re not better you don’t want to keep treating yourself. You want to get a correct diagnosis.”
8. Never, ever, ever douche. Ever.
Admit it, the commercials are intriguing: a feminine wash specifically made for your lady parts that helps you maintain ~pH balance~. The problem is, it doesn’t. Actually, pH balance is maintained by lactobacilli — that good bacteria that’s already in your vagina, says Gunter.
“If your pH is abnormal, it’s because your lactobacilli are abnormal,” she explains, which means that you may not have enough good bacteria down there. “You can put any product you want in your vagina that’s a different pH, and that’s not going to make your lactobacilli grow. So there’s no way you can put a product in your vagina to change your pH — nor should you.”
9. “Think about a douche as a cigarette for your vagina,” says Gunter.
Well, that escalated quickly. But, really. If you read the back of these products, you’ll find a warning label that mentions an association between douching and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection that can lead to severe complications like scarring, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility. “Multiple studies show that douching is associated with damaging your good bacteria,” says Gunter.
Using these products could even make you more susceptible to STDs. “When women are deficient in the strains of protective lactobacilli, they’re more likely to catch an STD when exposed to one,” she says.
10. Bottom line: All those washes, wipes, douches, and steams aren’t going to make your vagina sparkle and shine.
Your genitals probably already do that on their own, to be honest. Plus, over-washing can screw with the natural cleaning cycle and cause irritation or even infections. As for your vulva, water is best, but you can use a gentle, unscented soap if you really want — just steer clear of chemicals and take note of any itching or burning.
“If you’re not having any health problems, then what you’re doing is probably fine,” says Gunter. “Unless you’re douching.”