Our vaginal health is probably not something we discuss every day, and for that reason, it's likely that at one point or another, we are going to get something wrong. Because many women are in the dark about proper care, there are some mistakes you're making down there that would make your gynecologist cringe. They might not be something you think about constantly, but paying attention to your health down there can save you a lot of trouble down the line when it comes to things like infections and hygiene.
Many women are misinformed on sexual and genital health because myths and disinformation are so widely spread. "Most younger girls get information from their peers, which can often be misinterpreted or outright wrong," says Nicole E. Williams, M.D., FACOG over email. "Also, many women do not feel comfortable enough to mention their concerns to their physician during their yearly exam, so the proper information is never disseminated. The key is to find a practitioner in whom you trust and get all your questions and concerns addressed."
If you're in the dark about how to take care of your vaginal health, you're not alone. Here are seven mistakes you're making down there that your gynecologist would not be happy about.
All gynecologists will agree on this point: Don't douche. "Douching is not necessary for good hygiene," says Marra S. Francis, MD, FACOG over email. "As a matter of fact, regular douching can actually precipitate vaginal problems. The natural pH of the vagina is slightly acidic, allowing the natural yeast and bacteria to remain at acceptable levels. Douching can actually change the pH and allow overgrowth of certain vaginal bacteria that creates odor and discharge."
2Using Fancy Lubricants
"Anything with perfume or oil may smell and feel good, but the vulva and vagina can be sensitive to chemicals, and that may lead to irritation," says Raquel B. Dardik, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the NYU Langone Medical Center, over email. "Stick to water based or silicone based lubricants."
3Wearing Thongs Made With Synthetic Material
Cotton underwear is best, especially if you're one to wear thongs. "Underwear with synthetic fabric is more likely to irritate the area, especially for women wearing thongs," says Dardik. "If the fit isn't correct, the friction from the underwear will chafe the vulvar area."
4Wearing Tight Pants Every Day
Your vagina needs some room to breathe. "When you wear tight fitting leggings or jeans multiple days in a row, the balance in pH can be thrown off, allowing for the proliferation of pesky yeast or bad bacteria like gardnerella or ureaplasma," says Williams.
5Using A Depilatory To Remove Hair
When it comes to hair removal, you're better off shaving or waxing. "One thing that makes me cringe is when a patient uses a depilatory to remove genital hair," says Williams. "These very strong chemicals can cause burns to the delicate vagina if it gets too close."
6Using Soap To Clean Yourself
"Soap is not necessary to be clean," says Francis. "Women and girls should avoid washing their genitals with soap, for the same reason women should avoid douching — pH changes can create problems." Clean the area with just water to maintain good hygiene.
7Using Remedies From The Internet
Although many things are "natural," it doesn't mean they belong in the vagina and should not be used to self-treat irritation or smell. "Many of those products can make the problem worse, and some can actually cause a chemical burn in the vagina (ie. undiluted tea tree oil)," says Dardik. "Even though taking the time is sometimes inconvenient and time consuming, see your doctor!"