Feminine intimate wash is a topic that has been under great discussion over the last few years.
I think some of the misconceptions are caused by incorrect knowledge of the anatomy of the intimate area. And the names of these parts. Let’s start with the anatomical definition of a woman’s intimate area: The Vagina is the most internal part and a lot is known about its environment and pH. The Vulva area, is the most external part and little is known about it, especially how personal hygiene practices can affect its biological and physiological stability. More specifically, there is very little published in medical literature about intimate feminine hygiene and how it relates to external topical washes and the role that intimate feminine hygiene plays in managing unpleasant symptoms and supporting overall intimate health. Moreover, if we want to be more precise about the physiology of the two areas, the vulva represents the first line of defence to protect our genital tract from different types of infection. Contaminants can be collected in the folds of the vulva, and increased moisture, sweating, menses, and hormonal fluctuations (like the ones that happens during menopause) can influence microbial growth, potentially resulting in odour and sometimes even vulvovaginal infection.
The vagina instead is the fibromuscular canal extending from its external opening in the vulva to the cervix and is composed mainly of smooth muscle (a non-voluntary muscle) covered with an epithelial lining, which, until the menopause when then changed, is thick, with folds kept moist by fluid secreted from the vaginal wall and mucus coming from cervical glands.
So, they are two different parts which require very different types of care.
Microbiota of the vulva is diverse in every woman and it hasn’t been well characterised yet. Vaginal flora on the other hand, is better understood. Vaginal flora fluctuates as a function of internal factors (for example hormonal shifts) and also external factors. It has been demonstrated that differences in vaginal flora could depend on ethnicity, and sometimes it is due to different hygiene practices among different ethnic groups. On top of that the pH of the vulva falls between skin pH and vaginal pH, fluctuating usually between 3.8 and 4.2. Vaginal pH during menopause increases, and a pH higher than 4.5 is found often amongst menopausal women. It is important to note that this happens in the menopause due to the decrease of oestrogen levels, and the more the vaginal pH increases the more alkaline pH favours undesirable outgrowths of pathogenic microbes. Skin disorders of the vulva are also more common after the menopause as the hormonal imbalance that is created, can influence also the environment of the vulva.
In this scenario, having clarified that the vulva and vagina are two different anatomical parts of the female reproductive system, we can assess that scientific research confirms the absence of benefits of vaginal douching and that this practise can also alter the vaginal pH and natural immune defence, therefore it should be avoided. In contrast, much research demonstrates that routine (daily) washing of the vulva is desirable, to prevent accumulation of vaginal discharge, sweat, urine and hypothetical fecal contamination. The topic of intimate feminine hygiene has not yet received enough attention in medical literature, making education a priority. The guidelines suggest daily cleansing of the vulva, with a gentle hypoallergenic liquid wash. In fact, washing with water is not enough. The intimate wash needs to be properly designed either for the fertility stage of women, as pH and skin changes over the years, also for the area: it has to have the right pH and it should not be aggressive on the skin.
Vaginal pH during menopause increases, and a pH higher than 4.5 is found common amonsgt for a menopausal women, yet not ideal. These values should be maintained between 3.8 and 4.5
A brief recap:
- Scientific studies have been pivotal in understanding the necessity of having more information about feminine intimate care as it can help prevent many infections and diseases
- Intimate feminine hygiene has not received enough attention so far in the medical literature, therefore education is a priority.
- Differences in feminine hygiene practices can be related also to differences in cultural beliefs/religious practices.
- Since harsh soaps and detergents may irritate or damage the vulvar skin and mucous membranes and provoke or exacerbate vulvar dermatitis and infections, feminine wash products should be formulated and tested specifically for the vulvar area and right women age to ensure that they do not cause skin irritation or sensitization.
Appropriate female intimate hygiene has to be properly designed and products tested with key attributes, which include being hypoallergenic, soap-free, pH friendly, with no irritants and guaranteed protection against dryness and maintenance of balanced microflora. The Blossom Lave in the MM range does fulfil all of the above requirements, so if you haven’t yet, why not try it?
Author Ornella Cappellari
Womens Health (Lond). 2017 Dec;13(3):58-67. doi: 10.1177/1745505717731011. Epub 2017 Sep 22. Role of female intimate hygiene in vulvovaginal health: Global hygiene practices and product usage. Ying Chen, Elizabeth Bruning, Joseph Rubino, Scott E Eder
Semin Dermatol 1990; 9(4): 300–304. Microbiology of specialized skin: the vulva. Elsner, P, Maibach, HI.
J Appl Bacteriol 1974; 37(3): 385–392. The flora of the perivaginal area: the normal flora and the effect of a deodorant spray. Crowley, S, Murphy, CT, White, PM.