All women should be concerned about their vaginal health.
A healthy vagina is naturally acidic and contains rich quantities of beneficial bacteria that help fend off infections and maintain a normal pH level. A healthy vagina will also secrete small amounts of discharge to keep itself clean, much as saliva is produced to help cleanse your mouth. Any interference with these normal conditions and you may face vaginal irritation or infection. Here’s how to keep your vagina healthy.
Your vagina really (really) wants you to read this!
You clean too well
The vulva naturally secretes thick oils that protect its delicate skin from the secretions and friction it’s exposed to on a daily basis. Scrub off those oils with harsh cleansers (think body washes or douches with dyes, fragrance, or surfactants), and your vulva will be more prone to irritation. Worse, you’ll remove the good bacteria that help maintain a healthy pH and make room for odor- and infection-causing bacteria to move in. So keep it simple and clean your vulva with warm water, by hand, then leave it be.
You use feminine hygiene products
Products claiming to clean, deodorize, and groom the area are best left at the drugstore. The fragrances, dyes, chemicals, preservatives, and anti-itch anesthetics they contain aren’t necessary, and can cause allergic reactions. Vulvar skin is extra sensitive because it’s thinner than the skin on other parts of the body. All you really need? You guessed it—water, says Libby Edwards, MD, chief of dermatology at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
You haven’t discovered Vaseline
Irritated vulva? Moisturize it, Edwards suggests. Just like other spots on your body, your vulva can get dry, even if you haven’t gone through menopause yet. But don’t reach for a regular body lotion, which is typically packed with drying alcohol and irritation-causing fragrances. Try a tiny dot of basic petroleum jelly, like Vaseline ($2, drugstore.com), which is free of fragrance, alcohol, and preservatives.
Wear cotton underwear or go commando
When it comes to your underwear selection, your vagina has a preference: cotton. That’s why most underwear comes with a thin strip of cotton fabric in the crotch. Since it breathes and absorbs moisture, it’s the ideal way to clothe your lady parts, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University. And when you’re laying around the house, feel free to go commando so you can let things air out, says Minkin. Just don’t go to the gym sans undies, because you’ll want that extra layer between you and germy gym equipment.
You shave (or wax, or use depilatories)
Most of us store our razor in the shower, a warm, moist environment where bacteria can multiply. That’s a recipe for infection the next time you nick yourself. But you don’t have to entirely nix your razor: Just use a natural shaving lotion like Pacific Shaving Company All Natural Shaving Cream, which contains none of the irritating chemicals and fragrances found in traditional foams, and use a brand new blade each time you shave (try buying disposables).
Alternative hair removal methods can get you into trouble, too. The harsh hair-dissolving chemicals in depilatories are very irritating to the sensitive vulvar skin. Waxing, if done incorrectly, can also be risky because it’s possible to burn the skin. Your safest bets: laser hair removal or trimming hair with small scissors.
Your laundry smells amazing
Laundry detergent with dyes and perfumes can irritate delicate vulvar skin. Choose detergents that don’t contain dyes and perfumes, and skip fabric softeners and dryer sheets, which are loaded with irritating chemicals. Look for detergents labeled “Free and Clear”, which means they don’t contain dyes or perfumes. One to try: Gentle Extra-Softening Pureturgent Liquid Detergent ($10, worldmarket.com), an unscented, biodegradable formula with aloe vera.
Work it out
Doing Kegels is crucial for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, which are key for producing stronger, mind-blowing orgasms—not to mention bladder control. Note to self: Include Kegels in every workout.
Embrace Greek Yogurt
Snacking on yogurt with live cultures helps boost the good bacteria in your hoo-ha, which, as you know, is all around fantastic for preventing annoying vaginal problems like yeast infections, says Minkin. Just be careful that you’re not noshing on the super-sugary kind because that could make you more susceptible to those infections.
Always go to your annual exam
Although new guidelines advise against annual pelvic exams if you’re symptom-free and not pregnant, a visit to your doctor isn’t just about poking around your lady parts, says Minkin. “I think an annual exam is important for talking about health problems,” she says.
Using this time to chat about using condoms, fertility, and any random sex questions you might have is just as important as checking for STDs. So before you switch up your doctor visits, have a conversation about it with him or her first.
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