Dr Ugwumadu, a consultant gynaecologist at St George’s Hospital, in South-West London has stated that women do not need to have sleeplessness nights about vaginal hygiene. He states that vaginal wipes and Odor Shield spray should not be confused with medical products that treat conditions such as thrush and bacterial vaginosis. They all promise freshness but may be misleading. Studies show women who use scented soaps, bubble baths, or special deodorants, or who douche, are in fact more prone to bacterial vaginosis than others, as these practices can remove naturally protective bacteria. The new wave of feminine hygiene products are not designed to be used internally, so I wouldn’t be concerned they could cause bacterial vaginosis.
The vagina is a perfectly-balanced ecosystem, and the bacteria there play a crucial role in gynaecological health. The skin cells of the vagina contain high levels of sugar molecules called glycogen, which bacteria break down to produce lactic acid. This helps to keep the vagina at the specific, acidic pH range it needs to keep itself clean and healthy, which is about 3.5 to 4.5 – about the same as a tomato (the rest of your skin has a pH of about 5 to 6, similar to rainwater). The best thing you can do is to not interfere with this process.
Often, any odour is imagined but, of course, that’s not always the case. Up to one in six women will be affected by bacterial vaginosis at some point, where the balance of the bacteria in the vagina become disrupted. It’s usually symptomless and clears on its own, but if it does cause symptoms – such as odour – the condition can be treated with a straightforward course of antibiotics. You can see why women might want to mask the odour – but, actually, that’s the worst thing you can do. In Dr Ugwumadu’s view, these new feminine hygiene products just worsen women’s anxiety about their bodies, and are probably a waste of money. If a patient of mine is healthy, yet feels paranoid about a smell, I don’t have a problem with her using one – and the act of buying and using it may have a placebo effect, making her feel better about herself.
But I would not recommend such a product and I always tell women to be a bit careful, as they could have sensitivity to the ingredients, or even an allergic reaction. Many feminine hygiene products are marketed as being ‘free of preservatives’, but it’s not possible to guarantee against allergy, as we cannot predict what people may be sensitive to. Over millions of years, the vagina has adapted its own highly-effective cleaning process. As long as you’re showering every day and wearing clean, preferably non-synthetic underwear, this should be enough.