With so many products on the market that brand themselves as “feminine hygiene”, it can be a bit confusing to navigate the space. Especially if you take to the internet or social media for answers, where the interworld seems to be divided on what is healthy and what is not.
Whether it’s a hot take on douching or figuring out if trends like yoni eggs lend any real health benefits, it can be be difficult on deciding what is safe and effective for yourself.
Some of the most commons questions and concerns women have about the vaginal health and cleaning revolve around douching, the forcing of water and other solutions into the vagina for “cleaning”. Most medical professionals advise against it, though some women still swear by the practice.
Another concern is the rising trend of using products like yoni eggs, which are supposed to strengthen and tighten the vaginal, and the use of herbal yoni steams that are supposed to boost overall vaginal health.
With so much conflicting information out there on the internet, we’ve consulted obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Kiarra King, who practices at Family Christian Health Center in Harvey, Illinois to talk about some of the do’s and don’ts and to dispel some common myths when it comes to feminine hygiene practices.
ESSENCE.com (EC): What are some common misconceptions about feminine cleansing and hygiene products that you find people have?Dr. Kiarra King (DK): I think a big misconception is that women think they need to “clean” the vagina. The vagina is very much capable of maintaining a normal healthy environment! We don’t need to introduce perfumes and fragrances. Some tend to think that a by product of its normal cleansing, vaginal discharge, is abnormal when it’s actually quite the opposite. Most often, discharge is physiologic or a normal function of the vagina. Discharge will change throughout the menstrual cycle due to hormonal changes. A change in discharge color or odor along with other symptoms such as irritation may signal an infection. However, we don’t need to introduce perfumes and fragrances to ensure vaginal health. It is ok to use plain water, a gentle wash or mild soap on the external genitalia aka the vulva or labia
EC: What ingredients and/or products should we keep away from our vaginas?DK:Things women should avoid are known allergens. Many women are latex allergic and may have found out from using gloves. But this sensitivity may translate to condom use as well. Also any other products, lotions, detergents that cause you sensitivity elsewhere (like on on your arms, legs, scalp, etc) can also be irritating to the vulva and vagina. Women should also be very careful when it come to depilatories and waxing products. I’d recommend always doing a test patch prior to using to check for any potential adverse reactions.
EC: Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room and solve this debate: is douching really bad for you? What are some alternatives to douching?DK: Yes it is bad! It’s not recommended for general use. I have seen colleagues recommend very specific types of douches when patients have conditions that seem refractory to any treatment, but you should only douche after consulting your OBGYN and when all other treatment options have run out.
EC: What are your thoughts on things like yoni eggs and herbal yoni steaming? Is a harmless trend? Are there real benefits? Is it actually dangerous?DK:Yoni eggs have been around for thousands of years. I do think yoni eggs can be beneficial in helping with pelvic floor muscle tone, which for some women is an issue especially after going through childbirth. The eggs are placed vaginally to help create an awareness of the organ. In fact, women that undergo pelvic floor physical therapy often use vaginal weights to help recover from pelvic floor dysfunction.
Some women swear by steaming for chronic medical conditions such as pelvic pain and fibroids but I don’t believe there are any randomized controlled trials, the gold standard in medicine, that can back up those claims. The steaming may help one to relax and thereby provide some of the purported benefits. However, it’s not understood how the steamed herbs are able to permeate the vagina, closed cervix and then the uterus to effect change. Also, although well tolerated by many, women should be cautious about steaming and avoid water that is scalding and stop treatments if they experience any allergic reactions to the steamed herbs.
EC: What’s your advice on maintaining overall feminine hygiene and health, especially after sex or for menstruation?DK: The good thing is that there really isn’t much to do! The vagina is capable of cleaning itself. A good old fashioned shower or bath after daily during menses should do the trick and help rinse away any old blood or discharge. During menses, women don’t need to use scented hygiene products as they may cause an allergic reaction known as contact dermatitis. Likewise, although some may be tempted, there is no need to douche after menses.
If a woman is with a new partner I would highly recommend std screening for both partners prior to initiating any sexual activities. This will allow for the detection of any STIs and can ideally prevent transmission of said infections. Partners should avoid sex if either has an existing infection, until treatment has been completed. Women who contract STIs often don’t display any symptoms and unfortunately certain STIs can place one at risk for infertility. Latex condoms, if not allergic, can decrease STI transmission.
For women who experience vaginal dryness, a water based lubricant can help to minimize symptoms and are generally well tolerated by most. As women age, vaginal dryness may be more prevalent due to decreases in estrogen levels. This may negatively impact their sexual health. In this is the case, a woman should see her doctor for options and possible hormone replacement therapy.
EC: What issues do you see women try to resolve themselves that they shouldn’t? Are there some symptoms you should attempt to treat alone?DK: I see tons of women who self treat prior to an office visit. One common issue is that women often think all itching is a yeast infection, also known as candida, when there are many other causes for vaginal and vulvar irritation and bacterial vaginosis is a common culprit [this requires a doctor’s visit]. Sexually transmitted infections and other vulvar disorders can also cause bothersome discomfort. Problems can arise if someone is treating themselves for a yeast infection, for which there are many over the counter remedies, when it really is something else. What happens then is that symptoms can persist or worsen and the time to curative treatment may be prolonged.
Bottom line: outside of a thorough shower or bath, any alarming changes in your vagina should be brought up to your doctor for further testing and controlled treatment. Make sure you check out more of Dr. King’s health talks and advice by visiting her site at www.drkiarraking.com , and check her out on social media where she shares tips and tricks at @DrKiarraKing.