On Aug. 22, Poosh, Kourtney Kardashian’s recently launched lifestyle website, published an article entitled “Non-Toxic Feminine Washes That Won't Harm Your Hoo-ha.” The article opens, “Friendly reminder that traditional body washes and soaps are full of chemicals that seep into your skin, and if you’re using them … down there, it can kill good bacteria that keeps your vagina healthy." Almost immediately, Twitter exploded with revulsion at both the use of the word “Hoo-ha” in place of “vagina,” and the fact that Poosh was promoting these products in the first place. The best response, though, has to be attributed to Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN famous for her viral shutdowns of misinformed health advice. Dr. Gunter tweeted, “How about follow none of this advice. Your vagina is naturally fresh, anyone who says otherwise is representing the patriarchy. Feminine washes are a scam. I'm the expert. The end.”
"I'm just so sick of these products that [...] perpetuate the patriarchal myth that women's bodies are dirty and need to be cleaned and fresh," Dr. Gunter tells Bustle over the phone. "Your vagina doesn't need any products to stay healthy."
Poosh’s article does acknowledge that the vagina is self-cleaning (read: does not need special “feminine wash”), and that any extra cleansing should be done around the vulva only. “While the vagina is a self-cleansing machine, sometimes a little extra love for the external areas is necessary,” the site wrote. In reality, if the way you've been cleaning your vulva doesn't cause any irritation, whether that's with your regular soap or a gentle cleanser, then there's no reason to buy another product to clean it. Further, there is never any reason to clean the inside of the vagina. Doing so can upset your vagina’s bacterial balance, which can encourage yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and other uncomfortable conditions.
"Almost every one of these sort of cleansers or products are sold with the idea that they're to control feminine odor. There's no such thing as feminine odor," Dr. Gunter says, pointing out that there aren't products for "scrotal odor." She continues, "It's a totally made up term."
Even when products like these are marketed to be for "vaginal health," Dr. Gunter says that that's misleading, because they should not be used internally. "We know that a significant percentage of women will actually use these external products internally, which even makes them worse," she says. Dr. Gunter has four chapters on vaginal and vulvar hygiene in her book The Vagina Bible, which comes out on Aug. 27, for those seeking to learn more.
Your vagina’s pH naturally hovers a little lower than 4.5, according to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), meaning it’s more acidic than it is basic, which helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Additionally, it creates its own natural antibiotics, which also help kill outside bacteria that enters the system. Messing with this balance by douching (aka, introducing cleaning agents into your vaginal biome) can lead to infection, no matter if the cleanser is advertised as “non-toxic” or “pH balanced.”
"When [these cleansers] say pH balanced, they're confusing the pH of the vagina with the pH of the vulva," which is external skin, Dr. Gunter says. "The best way to keep your skin pH healthy is by not over-cleaning it."
At the end of the day, "You can't get health advice from anybody selling a product," Dr. Gunter says. Your vagina will be just fine without a dedicated “feminine wash." But if your vagina or vulva do feel irritated, talk to your doctor about how to best manage it.