Doctors Shared Crucial Advice On How To Properly Clean "Down There" And It May Not Be What You Think

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When it comes to body parts, there’s no shortage of products designed to keep the vaginal area feel fresh and clean. There are “feminine wipes” that claim to be more refreshing than toilet paper and skin care that costs more because it is packaged in feminine colors and has floral scents.

But misunderstandings about feminine hygiene and how to best clean “down there” can be harmful and can lead to wasting money on unnecessary products. We asked health experts for the best way to keep vaginas and vulvas clean simply, without spending a fortune.

Do we need to wash INSIDE the vagina?

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There’s no need to routinely wash inside vaginas because they are “self-cleaning ovens,” according to Dr. Karyn Eilber, a urogynecologist and co-author of ”A Woman’s Guide to Her Pelvic Floor: What the F*@# Is Going On Down There?

Lactobacilli, a type of natural bacteria that inhabits the vagina, produces lactic acid to keep the vaginal pH in the normal acidic range. This helps keep vaginas clean, explained Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a gynecologist and chief medical officer at Bonafide Health. Washing inside the vagina, which is also called douching, can disrupt the natural microbe and pH levels in the vagina, she said. Once this happens, it’s possible to become irritated or develop infections.

That doesn’t mean people need to take special precautions to keep cleansing products away from their vaginas completely. If a little soap or body wash gets into the vagina while bathing, it may be uncomfortable, but it’s unlikely to be harmful, said Dr. Victoria Scott, a urogynecologist and one of Eilber’s co-authors. If someone does accidentally get a cleanser in the vagina, they should gently flush it out with water from the showerhead, said Dr. Christine Greves, an obstetrician-gynecologist.

However, there is a rare exception.

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Even though the insides of vaginas shouldn’t be cleaned regularly, sometimes they need to be rinsed.

“It can be helpful to get water inside of the vaginal canal a bit when showering to help clean out blood or discharge from a yeast infection,” said Dr. Jennifer Anger, a urogynecologist. Anger explained that one can perform a cleanout as needed “with a simple finger sweep while showering” by “placing a wet finger inside to scoop out any blood or discharge.” You should not use soap or cleansers when performing a cleanout.

Do we need to wash around the vulva?

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Unlike the inside of the vagina, the outside, called the vulva, is not self-cleaning. “When you don’t wash the vulva, it’s like not cleaning other areas with glands and hair, like your armpits,” Eilber said. She recommends washing the vulva whenever someone bathes.

Dweck explained that, because yeast and bacteria tend to thrive in moist, dark environments like the vulva, poor vaginal hygiene can cause health issues. “Not washing can lead to unpleasant odors, yeast infections, other infections, irritation, inflammation, swelling, and even cysts on hair follicles,” said Dr. Cecilia Zhang, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Atlantic Health System in New Jersey.

Because the vulva is delicate, Dweck emphasized that “vigorous scrubbing is not needed,” and may be harmful. She recommended cleansing the vulva with hands or a soft washcloth. Both methods are effective, and which one someone uses is solely a matter of personal preference.

Greves recommended washing from front to back to prevent soap from getting into the urethra and to prevent contamination from the rectal area, which can cause urinary tract infections.

After washing, Anger said that it’s important to use a towel to pat dry before putting on underwear to avoid excess moisture, which can lead to bacterial and yeast growth. She adds that sleeping without underwear is an ideal way to help keep the vagnial area dry throughout the night, which can help prevent irritation and infection. “Allowing your vaginal area to breathe is important,” Zhang said.

According to Dweck, even with regular washing, vaginal scents are normal and may vary throughout someone’s cycle. However, some vaginal odors may indicate an infection. Unusual odors or “odor accompanied by unusual discharge, itching, irritation, bleeding, or pain is best evaluated by a health care provider,” she said.

Which products are safest to use for cleansing the vulva?

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It’s not a great idea to reach for regular soap or body wash before cleaning down there. Some products contain ingredients that can disrupt the vulva’s microbiome, leading to infection and irritation, so it’s important to be thoughtful.

For most people, a simple warm water rinse is sufficient, Zhang said. However, for those who prefer using more than just water to wash, many gentle cleansers are safe, Zhang said. Additionally, water alone may not get rid of smells caused by sweating, so those who sweat a lot may need to use a cleanser, Greves explained.

When looking for a cleanser that is safe for vulvas, Scott recommended using “gentle, pH-balanced, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and preservative-free” products.

Specifically, she recommended avoiding products with parabens that can cause hormonal disruption. Scott also advised that one should avoid scented products, harsh detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate, glycerin and glycol, antibacterial agents such as triclosan, petroleum-based ingredients and alcohol. “Not only can these substances be abrasive and cause irritation, dryness and pain of the vagina and vulva, but they can alter the pH balance, which may predispose you to developing infections,” she said.

Even if a cleanser seems safe to use, if it causes any irritation, Dweck recommended rinsing the vulva with warm water and avoiding that product in the future. Greves emphasized that you don’t need cleansers or soaps that claim to be made just for the vaginal area. Those are likely to cost more without any additional benefit.

When in doubt, Eilber said to keep things simple. “Less is more when it comes to the vagina. Treat your vulva like delicate skin,” she said. This article originally appeared on HuffPost.