Why it’s important for women to care for their intimate area
It’s important to look after every aspect of your health. But if you’re a woman there’s one part of your anatomy that needs particular care – your vagina.
Our intimate areas are not something we discuss often. We’re quite happy telling people about problems we might have with other parts of our body, but if something doesn’t feel for look right on our genitals, we’re too embarrassed to speak out.
As a consequence, we don’t know much about intimate health. Yes we understand how our periods work, but do you know how often you should ideally wash your genital area? Or what products you should avoid? Or even what looks and feels healthy- and what doesn’t?
This embarrassment leads some women to avoid even routine health appointments such as smear tests – and risking illness. So, to help bring your vagina out into the open – as it were! – here’s a comprehensive guide to caring for it.
What causes vaginal infection?
To start, let’s get straight to some of the problems you might experience – and what causes them. Here’s why you might get a vaginal infection.
It might come as a surprise, but there’s a right and wring way to wash your vaginal area. It’s important to use the proper cleansing agents or soaps to maintain the pH levels and avoid skin irritation.
Simply using the same soap or body wash that you use for the rest of your body isn’t a good idea as it can be too harsh for your intimate area. It can also lead to other problems like an unpleasant odor or dryness. So if you have a particularly sensitive vagina, it’s worth using the right cleaning soap or wash.
The vagina actually has its own cleansing ability, and can clean itself naturally with its lubricating system. So it is better to wash daily with warm water and use gentle washing products intended for the intimate area.
If you are at work, and you need to clean yourself, use wet wipes that are designed for the genital area. And always ensure you properly dry yourself after washing.
Vaginal pH is the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of your vagina. Our body parts need to be pH balanced to be able to function well.
A healthy and normal vaginal pH ranger from 3.5 to 4.5, where good bacteria can survive and do their job to protect the vagina. If your pH is disturbed due to washing with an inappropriate product, this can lead to bacteria growth and cause bacterial infection.
Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to infection, and in extreme cases in can even lead to miscarriage if not properly addressed, s it’s especially important to take good care of your vaginal health.
It’s quite normal to experience regular vaginal discharge – usually white or clear. This is discharge excreted by the cervix to keep the vagina lubricated.
This lubrication system keeps your vagina moist, clean and healthy. However, if the discharge smells unpleasant and you have skin rashes or itchiness, or your discharge changes colour, it could indicate a vaginal infection. Particularly, you need to look out for discharge that:
- Smells fishy.
- Is thick and white (like cottage cheese).
- Is green, yellow or frothy.
- Is accompanied by pelvic pain or bleeding.
- is accompanied by blisters or sores.
If you experience any of the above you need to see a medical professional.
Vaginal discharge volume may vary from person to person, and the consistency of your discharge may change before and after your menstrual period. This can be brought about by hormonal changes.
It’s important to always keep your vaginal area clean because discharge can also accumulate on your underwear and cause bacteria build-up.
Sex and hygiene
If you have an active sex life it’s particularly important to keep your intimate area clean before and after sex.
It’s recommended that you empty your bladder after having sex to flush any bacteria that might spread in the urethra. And always clean yourself. You don’t need to have a bath or shower, but washing your genital area with warm water after sex can prevent urinary tract infections and other types of infections.
Douche means “to wash” in French, and in this context it also means using a solution of vinegar and baking soda. This process is known as ‘douching’.
Douching regularly is not recommended. Yes you may think you feel cleaner, but this routine poses a risk of exposure to infection. While some women say that douching is done to prevent foul odor, it can also lead to vaginal dryness.
Bacteria is always present in your vagina, and indeed, some is actually there to protect it. These are known as good bacteria, and their main role is to:
- Help maintain your vagina’s pH balance.
- Produce naturally occurring antibiotics to prevent other bacteria from entering.
- Produce a substance that prevents bacteria from sticking on your vagina wall, and protect your tissues from bad bacteria.
Once the balance of bacteria in your vagina is disturbed or unbalanced, this can lead to infection and inflammation. So the best practice to keep good bacteria and drive bad bacteria away is to keep it clean with pH balanced products.
How can you avoid vaginal infection?
So now we have an idea of what might cause vaginal infection, what steps can you take to avoid it?
Avoid excessive washing
If you wash your vaginal passage too often or too excessively you can flush out the good bacteria from your vagina, which can lead to bad bacterial growth because the normal pH is not maintained.
So don’t wash top frequently, or use cleansing products that might disrupt the delicate pH balance of your vagina. There are specially designed feminine washes that are commonly used for daily washes with warm water, to maintain pH levels. And women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms, such as vaginal dryness, can also consider using vaginal moisturizers.
Some laboratory scientists and gynecologists recommend products like Rejuvenate Daily Vulva Moisturizer, an intimate revitalizing cream that is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. This can help to enhance moisture in your intimate area.
It’s important to ONLY use a moisturizer that is specifically intended for vaginal use, as it will maintain the required pH level to avoid infection.
If you live a very active life, you may also consider using an intimate powder that is designed to absorb moisture and reduce odor. Choose a talc-free powder that can soothe skin rashes or irritations, and is designed – again – for vaginal use.
Avoid using alkaline soaps
Your vaginal pH can be affected by alkaline soaps, and other scented products like spray, powder, medications, and deodorants. These products may also cause skin irritation and rashes, or even unusual discharges.
Don’t use scented menstrual pads
It’s also a good idea to avoid using strongly scented menstrual pads or tampons, as they can disturb the pH level of your vagina and may eventually lead to irritation.
Practice protected sex
An unbalance in pH during sexual intercourse may occur because the semen has a pH of 7-8. This can sometimes lead to an unpleasant odor.
So, if you want to protect your delicate pH balance (and your sexual health generally if you have multiple partners, or want to avoid pregnancy) it’s a good idea to protect yourself during sex by using condoms.
And, as mentioned earlier, don’t forget to wash your intimate area after sex too.
What are the types of infection?
There are a number of different vaginal infections that you may experience.
Thrush is a type of vaginitis or a common vaginal yeast infection characterized by inflammation of the vagina. This occurs when the fungus Candida Albicans increases in number, and usually happens if your immune system is weak or when the good bacteria cannot control the fungus growth.
This can be avoided by refraining from using scented products to clean your intimate area. And if you are having a period, make sure you change your menstrual pads or tampons often, and change your underwear – especially if you’ve been swimming or working out. Make this part of your regular routine to maintain good intimate hygiene.
Bacterial Vaginosis is one of the most common infections in women who are of childbearing age.
Pregnancy can cause an increase of bacteria in the vagina and as soon as you notice symptoms like a discharge that is grayish in color or has a foul smell and is watery, you should see your general practitioner. Left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can lead to pregnancy complications like a potential risk of miscarriage, increased risk or premature labor and inflamed pelvic disease.
To prevent bacterial vaginosis, avoid using scented cleansing products, avoid over washing your vagina, use mild laundry detergent for your underwear, wipe after using the toilet, and always keep the area dry.
Vaginal dryness is commonly experienced by women who are nearing menopausal age, or those who are having symptoms of menopause.
The female sex hormone estrogen is responsible for producing vaginal lubricant, and when the hormone level drops, there is likely to be an occurrence of vaginal dryness. One way to prevent this is to avoid using scented deodorants or cleansing products when washing your intimate area.
Cystitis is a condition where your bladder becomes inflamed. This inflammation is caused by hormonal changes, dehydration, nicotine, diabetes, use of catheters, rough sex, and strong chemicals used in feminine soaps.
Good hygiene helps bacteria from going up to your urethra and into your bladder. Cystitis can be prevented by washing your vagina with mild cleansing products and warm water, wiping from front to back after using the toilet and changing menstrual pads or tampons frequently.
It can also be prevented after sexual intercourse by emptying your bladder fully after sex.
Maintain good general intimate hygiene
All these infections can be avoided if you maintain good and proper hygiene of your intimate area. Here are some tips for a routine for feminine hygiene.
- Wash your genital area every day using your hands (never with sponges as they can be sharp or rough for the soft part of the intimate part).
- Never wash with direct running water to your vagina. Instead, let water flow from the top to avoid bacteria entry. Strong water flow can also wipe off the good bacteria.
- When using cleansing products, make sure you use intimate cleansing soaps or creams or liquids. Using ordinary bath soap or body wash can be harmful and can cause unbalanced pH levels.
- When washing, it’s not recommended to wash inside your vagina, only the lips and around the clitoris.
- Use a clean, dry towel after washing.
- Avoid wearing tight underwear. And always wear cotton underwear to allow your skin to breathe.
- When traveling you may want to use intimate powder to absorb extra wetness. Choose one that has no harsh chemicals, and sprinkle a small amount on your underwear or panty liner.
- Always wash your intimate area before and after sexual intercourse. Make sure that your partner also maintains good hygiene.
- Try to avoid the use of public restrooms, as this can increase exposure to bacteria.
- Shaving off your pubic hair completely is not advisable. It has a purpose; namely to act as a barrier to protect the vagina from bad bacteria.
- Another way of maintaining good vaginal health is through the food you consume. Yeast infections can be prevented by eating food that is rich in probiotics, like yogurt. Berries are also proven to prevent urinary tract infections. Having a balanced diet will keep your body healthy too, including your vagina.
Hygiene routine during your menstrual period
- Wash two times a day during your period.
- Change sanitary pads or menstrual pads and tampons every four hours to avoid infection and skin irritation.
- Never sleep with a tampon; it’s advised to change to a menstrual pad during the night.
- Don’t engage in sexual activity if you have your menstrual period as this can pose the risk of getting infections.
Hygiene before and after a gym workout
- Before a workout, you can sprinkle some intimate powder to help the absorption of moisture.
- Wear comfortable clothes and avoid wearing tight clothes that can cause irritations to your intimate part as you move vigorously.
- After an intense workout, change your underwear and wash your intimate area.
- Make sure that you use a mild cleansing product
- Always use a dry and clean towel to gently wipe off all moisture around your genital area before you put on new underwear.
Maintaining good intimate hygiene promotes a clean and healthy lifestyle. This reduces the risk of getting vaginal infections caused by bacteria to build up in your genital area.
Once you have been diagnosed with an infection in your intimate area, it’s important to take action promptly by visiting your doctor. It is also good to have regular checkups and pap smears to check on the health condition of your vagina.
Preventing disease is always better rather than acting too late. This can be done by following the advice above on how to maintain your intimate area’s hygiene and how to avoid having infections.