If you believe you need to douche to keep your vagina clean and odor-free, you’re not alone. It has become a common misconception that douching is necessary, but it isn’t. In reality, there are better alternatives to douching. We’ll talk about how it does more harm than good, and what to do instead of douching.
What is douching?
Vaginal douching is the practice of intra-vaginal washing or rinsing with water or other solutions. Over-the-counter douching products typically come with a plastic bottle and applicator nozzle. The bottle is filled with some liquid solution that varies, but often includes a perfumed mixture of boric acid (baking soda), water and vinegar, or something else.
Douching products claim to help with various concerns ranging from balancing pH to preventing unwanted odor or cleansing after sex or menstruation.
The truth is douches have not been proven to do any of those things. Their effects range from being simply ineffective to actually causing harm by unbalancing your pH and triggering vaginal infections.
Why douching is unsafe
For years, the idea of douching has been ingrained in our culture as normal. An estimated one in five women has used a douche. However, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology advises women to steer clear of it. Regardless of what you’re experiencing or how ‘fresh’ you feel down there, researchers have found no medical reason for women to douche. However, researchers have found several reasons not to douche.
Douching can upset the delicate balance of bacteria that keeps your vagina healthy. Your body does a great job of maintaining balance, and the vagina cleans itself to keep your pH levels ideal.
Washing out your vagina doesn’t get rid of odor, which is typically normal and healthy for women. Instead, it can increase your risk of vagina dryness, irritation, and infection. Other possible risks of douching include:
- An increased risk of infections like bacterial vaginosis
- Imbalances in your pH levels
- Burning and allergic reactions
When you interfere with the natural pH of your vagina, you increase the risk of infections. In addition, douching interferes with the good bacteria in your body, such as Lactobacilli. It can reduce the number of good bacteria and cause an overgrowth of the bad, increasing your chances of getting yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
Antiseptic douches irritate the vaginal lining and induce inflammatory reactions. They also inhibit the growth of good bacteria in the vagina. Some douching solutions claim to help fight infection-causing bacteria. Yet, there is not much scientific evidence that supports it.
Some studies on douching and its effects have also linked it to more serious issues like sexually transmitted infections, cervical cancer, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). One study found that women who douched had a 73% higher chance of developing PID.
However, the findings aren’t conclusive. More research is needed to determine if douching is the primary cause of these ailments. Some researchers suggest that women that typically douche may also be impacted by other factors such as socioeconomics.
What to do instead of douching
The purported benefits of douching don’t outweigh the real risks. So, you may be wondering what to do instead of douching. Here are six of the best alternatives to douching that are safer for your health.
1. Don’t do anything
First, and foremost, you shouldn’t need to do anything to keep your vaginal area clean.
The vagina cleans itself. Lactobacillus bacteria aid in the production of mucus in the vaginal lining. This mucus lining sheds and regenerates frequently. It washes away everything that it needs to, including blood, discharge, semen, and more.
Your vaginal discharge also plays a part in self-cleaning. It can signal if everything is normal or something is off down there. Depending on your menstrual cycle and hormones, the consistency of your discharge may thin or thicken regularly. Certain changes in color, odor, and texture can signal an infection.
The self-cleaning ability also helps maintain your natural pH balance, keeping the entire ecosystem in check.
2. Look for pH-balanced products
That said, some women still feel not quite clean if they just use water. In that case, you can use gentle cleansers on the vulva (outer parts). However, avoid deodorants, perfumes, and sprays, and definitely, do not wash the inside of your vagina. Cleansers are not meant for internal use.
Instead, try a pH-balanced cleanser designed specifically for the health of your vagina. A healthy vaginal pH level is between 3.8 to 4.5. Many soaps and body washes can offset your natural bacteria levels and irritate the delicate skin of the vagina and vulva due to their high pH. For women in menopause, estrogen deficiency can result in a rise in pH levels.
A pH imbalance can make you more susceptible to infections and diseases. These can cause odor, and may make you think a perfumed douche will help. Douching will exacerbate the problem. There are no easy solutions when it comes to how to restore vaginal pH, but better alternatives to douching are available.
However, the best way to stay healthy is to prevent an imbalance from happening by using pH-safe products with clean ingredients such as HER Intimate Care.
3. Avoid moisture
Make sure to dry off and change out of wet clothing like swimsuits immediately after leaving the pool. Also, practice good feminine hygiene during hot weather conditions. The accumulation of sweat and moisture from humidity can lead to a host of problems.
Moisture is a breeding ground for Candida or yeast. The result is a yeast infection candidiasis, which has symptoms of itching and burning in the vaginal area.
4. Wear breathable underwear and clothing
Tight clothing and certain materials can irritate you, especially when it comes to one of the most sensitive areas of the body.
In your groin, apocrine glands secrete heavier sweat with a more pungent odor. Breathable fabric like cotton can help reduce sweat from the skin. That deprives naturally occurring bacteria on the skin from breaking down the protein and combining with sweat to give off a foul odor.
Cotton allows for free airflow. The clothing should not be too tight to allow the sweat to evaporate from the clothes easily. Wear breathable cotton underwear or ditch them altogether in certain situations, like during sleep.
5. Take care of your immune health
Like the rest of your body, your vaginal health is heavily dependent on your lifestyle.
Research findings reveal that women with a decreased immune response have low levels of mucus that is responsible for cleaning the vagina naturally. That makes them more susceptible to bacterial vaginosis. Chronic stress also causes vaginal dryness and, consequently, pain during intercourse.
When you take care of your mental well-being, it can improve your overall health. Eat well, get plenty of rest, and exercise.
6. Practice healthy habits and eating
It’s also important to avoid certain habits like smoking and heavy drinking, which can contribute to pH imbalances and odor. Certain foods and diets may also trigger imbalances and affect your vaginal health. Avoid consuming these in excess.
Remember that vaginas have a natural odor. They aren’t meant to smell like flowers. If you are tempted to use a douche, refer back to these tips on what to do instead of douching.
Also, keep in mind that there are certain times when you should seek support from your healthcare provider. If you notice a strong vaginal odor, changes in vaginal discharge, irritation, or other signs of discomfort, schedule a visit. These tips can help you keep your vagina healthy. But, they aren’t treatments for underlying conditions. A physician will be able to identify what is causing changes and recommend treatment options.