Many of us are in a constant battle with body odor. We’re showering, using scented body wash and then layering on deodorant and fragrant body lotion all in the name of smelling fresh and clean.
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But when it comes to vaginal odor, we may be doing too much.
If you’ve tried douching, then you may be shocked to learn that this practice of cleaning your vagina with a solution may be doing more harm than good.
Nurse practitioner Molly Gumucio, CNP, explains why we should avoid douching and the best way to keep “down there” clean.
What is vaginal douching?
Douche is a French term that means “wash” or “shower.”
“Vaginal douching is when you use a solution and insert it into the vagina to flush it out and to help clean it,” explains Gumucio.
Sometimes, people will use just water or add vinegar, soap, baking soda or a fragrance. Douche kits are sold online and at stores. They typically contain an antiseptic solution and a bag or bottle to help distribute the solution at a high pressure.
People claim that douching not only cleans their vagina, but also helps eliminate any odor and prevents infection.
Is douching safe?
“People choose to douche because they don’t feel clean enough,” notes Gumucio. “They have an odor and they’re trying to get rid of it. Or after intercourse, sometimes, they want to use it.”
But douching isn’t safe and isn’t recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“What douching does is that it removes the good bacteria and the good flora that’s naturally in your vagina,” explains Gumucio. “And then, when your body goes to reproduce more of bacteria, it overproduces, which can lead to an infection.”
Much like your gut has a microbiome filled with different bacteria, fungi, yeast and viruses, so does your vagina. There are about 50 different microbes living inside of your vagina. And if those microbes get out of whack, it can cause problems like infections.
Those infections can include bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
Bacterial vaginosis is an infection caused by the overgrowth of your normal vaginal bacteria. A yeast infection happens when candida, a type of yeast, is out of balance in your body.
Both types of infections can cause a vaginal discharge, while a yeast infection can also cause an itchy sensation, redness, swelling and a burning feeling when you urinate.
What to do instead of douching
It’s simple — just clean with soap and water. And opt for a soap that’s gentle and sensitive.
And where you clean is important, too. Most people tend to think of all their genitals as their vagina. But in fact, the outside area is known as your vulva, which includes your clitoris, urethra and labia.
Your vagina is your birth canal, which connects to your cervix.
“People tend to clean their vagina and vulva too often,” says Gumucio. “Try to avoid using scented body wash and just stick to warm water and gentle soaps that usually don’t strip away all that good bacteria and flora.”
Cleaning down there during your daily bath or shower is fine. But avoid cleaning your genitals multiple times a day.
And don’t be tempted to buy and use feminine hygiene powders, sprays or wipes to keep you fresh.
“Some of the over-the-counter products can tend to make your symptoms worse or irritate your skin,” says Gumucio.
When to see your doctor about vaginal odor
If your symptoms persist for more than a week, then it’s time to call your doctor.
Some symptoms may include:
- Smelly vaginal discharge.
- Pain during urination.
- Discomfort or pain during sex.
- Redness, burning and or swelling in or around your vagina and vulva.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may take a sample of your discharge to test. They may prescribe antibiotics, which can be taken as a pill or applied as a cream.
But overall, don’t stress out too much about keeping your vagina and surrounding areas clean. A less-is-more approach will do the trick.
“Our vaginas are self-cleaning,” says Gumucio. “It’s something that we really don’t need to take extra special care of. Just showering once a day using warm, soapy water is sufficient.”