Rarely a day goes by that you’re not confronted by advertisements for vagina-related hygiene products swimming across your Instagram feed. Sold in packages covered in flowered designs and girly colors, they're presented as goods that can make your vagina cleaner than it was yesterday. On the outside, the messages seem innocent enough. Douches, for example, are labeled as simple feminine sanitary products, despite the fact that, like a lot of products and substances, they should never, ever come into contact with your vagina.
"The vagina can be sensitive and temperamental, often affected by everyday routines including diet, medications, stress, fragranced body and laundry soaps, douching, and sex," Dr. Sherry Ross M.D., an OB-GYN, tells Bustle. "Some of the common offenders may surprise you." From scented lubricants to old sex toys, some items can carry risk for your vaginal health if you start to use them downstairs.
Always talk to your doctor or a qualified medical professional if you have any questions about your vaginal health. Here are 10 things that doctors would love for you to keep out of your vagina.
Experts say there is no circumstance that calls for you cleaning your parts with a douche. "Douching is an aggressive treatment and alters the normal vaginal microbial population — which is a complex ecosystem — killing both the good and bad microbes," Dr. Felice Gersh M.D., an OB-GYN, tells Bustle. Your reproductive system doesn't need to be "cleaned out." Douches leave your pH levels out of whack and mess up the vagina's balance of bacteria, leaving you at risk of a yeast infection. A 2018 study of 1,435 Canadian women published in BMC Women’s Health also found that people who reported using douches were three times more likely to get a yeast infection, seven times more likely to have bacterial vaginosis, and two and a half times more like to get a UTI than non-douching people.
There are other serious, and potentially longer-lasting, issues that can arise after douching. Using douches increases your likelihood of contracting pelvic inflammatory disease or endometrial infections, according to a study published in Sexually Transmitted Infections in 2020. There's also a potential connection between douching and ectopic pregnancies in people who are pregnant, according to a study published in Journal of Obsterics & Gynecology in 2018. The Office on Women’s Health also suggests that consistent douching might be linked to lowered fertility.
2. Fruits & Vegetables
From grapefruits to cucumbers, there are all kinds of creative ways people have tried to incorporate fruits and vegetables in the bedroom, but many of them are harmful to your vaginal health. Many fruits and veggies still carry some kind of pesticide on them, according to the Environmental Working Group’s 2020 analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But no matter how many times you've scrubbed that organic cucumber, it probably still carries some bacteria. Using produce for penetration could lead to pieces breaking off inside you, which would be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Further, it can also result in a bacterial imbalance, which can lead to bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection.
3. Rubber & Plastic Sex Toys
Simply using a dildo that's made of rubber won't hurt your vagina right off the bat. But over time, rubber and plastic sex toys are susceptible to small cuts and other damages, which can eventually lead to microbes making themselves at home. They can easily move from the toy into your system, and give you an infection.
Low-quality plastic is no better. Toys containing phthalates, PVC (polyvinyl chloride), parabens or anything with a “chemical/toxic/rubbery smell” should not be considered body safe, sexologist Dr. Laura Deitsch previously told Bustle.
So how do you play safely? Invest in a phthalate-free toy that is made of silicone, good-quality plastic, or stainless steel. Additionally, make sure you're properly cleaning your sex toys after each use to avoid any bacteria build-up.
4. Scented Lubes
"Warming gels and scented lubricants, rubber products such as diaphragms and condoms, spermicides such as foams, creams, and jellies can all cause irritation," Dr. Ross says. A 2013 study of American women published in Obstetrics and Gynecology found that people who used scented commercial lubricants, petroleum jelly, or oils as lubes were more likely to get bacterial vaginosis. Always read the ingredients and do a spot test (check to see if the object or cream causes irritation when applied to an unobtrusive patch of skin) if you can.
5. Body Art
Any body art, including and especially tattoos, can cause severe irritation in the vulvar region. And the glue and substances used in vajazzling pose a unique threat — adding glue to freshly waxed skin could create a serious infection risk, by trapping bacteria. The 2018 BMC Women’s Health study revealed that people who’d vajazzled were more likely in general to report some kind of issue down there than people who’d left their vulvas undecorated. Hospitals in the UK also reported a spike in genital injury admissions in 2015 due to vajazzling.
6. Dirty Razors & Pubic Hair Dye
"Even everyday rituals can disrupt pH balance and irritate all areas of the vagina," Dr. Ross says. Shaving your pubic hair is one of them, as is dyeing it.
"It’s most important to use a clean razor when shaving the bikini area," Dr. Ross says. Old razor blades carry unwanted bacteria that can cause razor burns, bumps, and irritation to the sensitive skin around the vulva. You should also avoid all products containing alcohol or astringents, she says, in case they irritate the skin. Putting Vaseline on your vag after shaving, or a thin layer of coconut oil, is considered safe and soothing. The skin around your pubic hair is much more sensitive than you might think, so dyeing it in the first place may cause irritation.
7. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is a totally natural product. Therefore it is safe for all parts of the body, right? Nope. "It can do more harm than good," Dr. Ross says.
Tea tree oil is an antifungal to yeast, so some say it's good to use in the case of a yeast infection. But the vulva is a very sensitive area, and the risks of irritation when using this method are great. Tea tree oil has astringent effects on skin, so you could experience discomfort or burns. Talk to your OB-GYN about other alternatives to taking care of a yeast infection.
8. Anything That Has Been In Or Around Your Butt
This includes condoms, sex toys, fingers, penises, toilet paper, etc. When fecal bacteria from your anus is pushed towards your vagina, it could easily lead to a urinary tract infection (UTI). No matter what it is, if it's been in your butt, thoroughly wash it before you put it in or around other intimate areas.
9. An Electric Toothbrush
People have been known to use electric toothbrushes for their vibrating pleasure. But while they might do the trick on your clitoris (you know, if you're running super low on options), there are risks to using them internally. Electric toothbrushes are household products that weren't made to be inside you, and with all the bacteria from your mouth living on them, they could easily cause irritation or, worse, fissures and infections on or in your vulva or vagina.
10. Oil-Based Lubricants
You should keep all oil-based lubes — including Vaseline or coconut oil — out of the bedroom and your vagina. They are difficult to wash out of the vagina, and synthetic lubes are usually made of glycerin, which is made of sugar compounds; microbes feed on that sugar, which can upset your vagina’s balance of bacteria, putting you at risk for a yeast infection. "Maintaining a healthy microbiome of the vagina is important for the overall health of the reproductive organs," Dr. Gersh tells Bustle. Further, oil and latex aren’t compatible, meaning it could break your condom, landing you with an unwanted pregnancy or an STI. Instead, opt for silicone- or water-based lubes, which won't interfere with condoms.
When in doubt about lube (or anything else), ring up your OB-GYN or a nurse who works at the office. They'll be able to give you a solid idea of what's worthy of your vagina's time — and what’s not.
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Dr. Felice Gersh, M.D., OB-GYN
Dr. Sherry Ross M.D., OB-GYN
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