Are Scented Tampons and Pads Bad for You?

The truth behind this “hygiene” illusion

Woman shopping for tampons and pads

Let’s just get this out of the way ― the vagina is self-cleaning. It doesn’t require any sort of soap, chemical or perfume to make it “clean.” And it certainly doesn’t require a scented tampon or pad to hide period odor.

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The scary truth is that adding chemicals and fragrance to one of the most sensitive areas of your body is a disaster waiting to happen.

“The idea that the vagina is dirty and needs to be cleaned is simply not true,” says Ob/Gyn Patricia Yost, MD. “For centuries women have been told this and it’s not only causing unnecessary distress, but it’s a dangerous message to send.” 

Then why oh why are scented feminine products a thing you ask? 

Because they play on women’s insecurities that something is wrong with them and that they smell, explains Dr. Yost.

Newsflash: There are no specific products to make your vagina cleaner or smell better, even on your period. You don’t need to add internal perfume to your vagina to be considered clean.

Disrupting a natural process

It’s a delicate environment down there and using scented feminine products can upset the balance of power between good and bad bacteria. The chemicals in these products can also throw your pH balance out of whack, says Dr. Yost.

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Good vaginal bacteria exists to protect against infection and disease-causing organisms, such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. An overgrowth of bad bacteria (usually brought on by a disruptive foreign source, like a scented tampon), could cause irritation, itching, infection or an allergic reaction. Sounds fun, right?

“Alteration in pH levels and disturbance of normal bacteria is the same reason we also educate patients not to use vaginal douches,” warns Dr. Yost. “All these ‘hygiene’ products are not necessary for vaginal health.”

The bottom line? Using scented feminine products only interferes with the natural process of your body.

Your vagina is already good at keeping itself clean

The vagina is a pretty self-sufficient organ. With its complex mix of bacteria, it’s constantly washing away its own naturally renewing cells and microorganisms, even during menstruation. So it doesn’t need a special product to keep it fresh and clean because it’s already taking care of that!

It’s also pretty sensitive and introducing anything new risks upsetting the balance of bacteria and pH levels. If you tried a scented pad or tampon and found that it made you itchy or irritated, stop use and wait for those symptoms to clear up. The good news is that your vagina will typically revert back to its normal and natural state in a day or two. If it doesn’t, it’s time to see your doctor.

“Ignoring or self-diagnosing vaginal odor or abnormal discharge can be dangerous because women are often incorrect,” says Dr. Yost. “It’s generally better to see a physician and have an evaluation to determine the most likely culprit rather than covering it up with fragrance or taking incorrect over-the-counter medication for it.”

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If odor is your real concern, scented tampons or pads probably aren’t your answer. If something down there doesn’t seem right, whether it’s irritation, pain or smell – make an appointment with your doctor instead of trying to cover it up with fragrance.

So what should you look for?

It’s actually alarming that products designed to be placed in or near the vagina are not required to have more comprehensive labeling, says Dr. Yost.

When shopping for tampons or pads, do research, read the label and keep in mind:

  • Avoid added chemicals.
  • Use the lowest absorbency required to control your flow (in other words, the smallest or lowest capacity tampon ― so regular instead of super or super plus).
  • Use tampons for the least number of hours necessary and switch to pads when sleeping.
  • Never leave a tampon in for more than 8 hours.

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