Feminine Hygiene Products- are they really necessary?

 Feminine Hygiene Products- are they really necessary?

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The female body and all its wonders have been discussed since time immemorial. The private parts of a woman’s anatomy have been put to debate, questioning whether or not the natural odour of the vagina is “pleasant” or not. The vagina “cleansing” product industry is built around this shame and this stigma. Several “supposed” feminine hygiene products including wipes, washes, gels or lubricants and even alternate methods like douching and vaginal steaming are popular in many countries. According to statistics, millions of dollars are brought in by the feminine hygiene market. In 2018 alone, $286 million was brought in such hygiene products and another $41 million in procedures like vaginal douching.

The question that arises is do we really need these products?? The clear answer is NO!! Gynaecologists and health experts the world over have reiterated repeatedly that the vagina is self-cleaning. Anatomically speaking, The vagina is a tube of muscle that joins the cervix and the vaginal opening, and the vulva is the exterior genitalia. The vagina has a mucosal lining that produces a distinct bacterial flora designed to protect the urinary system from infections. A specific pH is maintained that also has an antibacterial action. These natural protective features protect the body from almost all infections, except sexually transmitted diseases. 

The vagina has a distinct odour as a result of the mucus produced, and the multi-million dollar feminine hygiene industry would have us believe that this odour should be misconstrued as smell, fishy and unpleasant, and something that needs to be corrected. A wide variety of vaginal wipes and washes and even vaginal perfumes have been created, only to further this very misconception. Every vulva, every vulva largely looks slightly different. In a paper studying the range of female genital appearance, researchers at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital in London found that “women vary widely in genital dimensions”, but that “detailed accurate representations of female genitals are rare ... although representations of female nudity are common”.  Claims of “freshness” and “odour control” have been advertised to prey on insecurities created by the very same manufacturers.

More harm than good

Several studies conducted on intimate wipes concluded that women who used feminine wipes were 3.5 times more prone to bacterial infections and 2.5 times more likely to report urinary tract infections. When a hygiene product like a feminine wash or wipe is used, it disturbs the natural pH level of the area. The ph imbalance causes disproportionate growth of the pathological or “bad” bacteria and reduces the rate of physiological or “good” bacteria. This will make the individual more susceptible to infections and fungal growth. All the wipes have perfumes and preservatives, thereby exposing the vagina to chemicals furthering the disbalance. 

Preservatives like Iodopropynil butyl carbamate, parabens and formaldehyde used in wet wipes are known skin allergens. Formaldehydes and parabens are also found in breast cancer tissues, thus prolonged exposure to these chemicals increases the risks of such anomalies. 

Vaginal Douching or steaming are also wildly popular methods to ensure “freshness”. These procedures also use liquids which contain antiseptics and parabens, again exposing the women using these products to a myriad of health anomalies.

What to do instead

As mentioned earlier, the vagina is self-cleansing and does not require an outside agent to maintain hygiene. Warm water and a mild cleansing agent is all that is needed, which should be used only on the vulva and never introduced into the vaginal canal.

The following points should always be kept in mind for good vaginal health:

  1. Wear loose cotton underwear on a regular basis.

  2. Wash the vagina only with warm water and a mild soap

  3. Change underwear daily

  4. During periods, change the sanitary pad every 4-5hrs  to prevent UTI and in extreme cases, toxic shock syndrome

  5. Use specific hygiene products, ONLY if prescribed by a gynaecologist to treat any pathology that might have developed.

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