When you walk down the personal hygiene section in the grocery store, you’ll see soaps and products for every part of a person’s body.
Among the hundreds of cleansers, shampoos, and body washes, there is usually a sad little section of soap for women’s intimate hygiene, with just a handful of options. With this shortage of safe and pH-balanced products, most women turn to conventional soaps to clean their intimate area. However, these products can be harmful to our delicate tissues, causing irritation, inflammation and even infection.
Bottom line? Keeping clean shouldn’t feel so confusing.
Shopping for the best feminine soap or cleansing products for your areas below the belt should be just as easy as picking up the products marketed for the rest of your body.
The truth about feminine hygiene: Yes, your vagina is self-cleaning. No douching needed. Cleaning it out can actually lead to health issues.
While you obviously don’t need to wash out your vagina, there are a few other feminine parts in the same area that may need special attention to achieve that fresh feeling we all want.
But first, a quick anatomy lesson
The vagina usually takes center stage when it comes to parts of the female anatomy people can recognize, but as mentioned, it's not where you should focus your cleansing routine.
When trying to work out a good feminine hygiene process for yourself, don’t forget about the elusive vulva.
The word vulva references the parts that are around the vagina, specifically the:
- Clitoral Hood
- Inner and outer labia (or vaginal lips)
While your vagina is self-cleaning, the vulva is not and could use a little extra love in the form of specially-formulated soap to help you feel fresh.
What's really the best soap for your private parts?
The best bar soap for feminine hygiene is one that incorporates safe and mild ingredients.
Now we definitely don't suggest you eat your soap just to prove it’s safe, but a good rule of thumb is that if it would be toxic to ingest orally, don’t put it near your delicate tissues. The skin of your vulva and vagina is extremely sensitive and absorptive. Unwanted chemicals can irritate and dry these tissues.
At the end of the day, a good personal hygiene soap or cleanser has two main jobs:
- Be safe enough to use on the most fragile parts of a woman's body
- Cleanse and freshen effectively
Some are able to do those jobs better than others.
Soaps come in many colors, shapes, and sizes. The two most common forms that soaps come in are liquid and bar soap.
So, which one's best? It's complicated.
If you're in the market for a new face moisturizer or body soap, you probably feel comfortable asking a friend or even the worker at the beauty store for a recommendation.
What about for a vulva soap? That’s a different story, right?
Asking the cashier which soap she would recommend for your vulva may be a little more awkward. After all, many women won’t even say the “V word” aloud to their OB, let alone their neighborhood cashier.
Look, we completely understand that you may not want to talk about your vagina at the supermarket. Whether you’re shopping in-store or from the safety of your computer screen, here are the details you need to make the right choice for you.
What to look for in a feminine hygiene soap
There are a few critical things that you need to know to help you make an informed decision about the products you're using on your body.
Many soaps, especially certain brands of bar soaps, have high pH levels.
This can pose a problem around your more intimate areas because maintaining a healthy pH balance in your vagina is important to your overall vaginal health.
To ensure that the bad types of bacteria can’t grow, your vagina and vulva keep a low or acidic pH level. If you introduce chemicals to raise the pH level, you could end up with irritation at minimum or even worse, an infection.
Higher pH levels in products can also dry out the skin considerably, so if you’re already experiencing dryness in your vulvar tissues, you don’t want to perpetuate the issue by using a high pH soap.
This may go without saying, but we will say it anyway…look out for any soaps with exfoliants in them. That’s potentially painful and totally unnecessary.
You can also make sure to apply any soaps with your hand and not a loofah, which is too rough and irritating for your intimate areas.
The trick is to find the mildest soap possible that still accomplishes the task and leaves you feeling fresh.
FAQs about feminine hygiene soaps
When we set out to launch our own line of V-friendly cleansers and refreshers, we quickly realized there were A LOT of unanswered questions.
Here are answers to some of the most common ones.
Which ingredients should I avoid?
Many of us routinely check out the labels in the food store to see what ingredients are in certain types of food. You should be doing the same thing for your hygiene products.
Since soaps go directly onto your skin, the chemicals in them can be absorbed by the body and the vulvar tissues are particularly absorptive.
When searching out the best soap for feminine hygiene, make sure to avoid products with parabens and sulfates in particular.
- Parabens are preservatives used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Although that sounds helpful, their estrogen-mimicking properties have been associated with breast cancer. We are just talking soaps here, but parabens can be found in hundreds of health and beauty products, from makeup to food.
- Sulfates are already in 90% of personal cleaning products (yikes!). They are known to irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs. They have also been linked to other issues like respiratory diseases when tested in high amounts.
What about artificially scented products?
It's understandable to think about covering up vaginal odor with some scented soap, but artificial additives can end up doing more harm than good. You may enjoy a fresh or floral scent, but some synthetic colors and smells found in soap products can often be derived from petroleum and coal tar, the latter of which has been linked to an increased risk of skin cancer.
But what if there's an odor?
Take the time to use soap to gently clean your vulva every shower and especially if you have been sweating, like after a workout. V-sweat, lovingly referred to as “yoga crotch” by the millennial crowd, can cause an abnormal odor and have an unpleasant effect on your vagina.
A little odor is completely normal but using ultra-fragranced products can actually mask the scent of a health issue and make matters much worse.
When to know if you should see a doctor
Maybe you have made sure that your vulva and the area surrounding it are clean with the best natural soap you can find, but you still have a certain smell down there.
By the time you hit menopause, you probably know what your normal discharge and odor should look and smell like. Although many changes happen throughout the body during this time, always remember to see a doctor if you are concerned or something seems off.
If you are experiencing a health issue, no amount of soap is going to make it go away.
You should consult a doctor if:
- the odor is stronger than normal,
- you have pain with sex, urine, or masturbation,
- there is an abnormal color of discharge, or
- the vulva is red or itchy.
The bottom line is to make sure to educate yourself on the products that you are putting onto your body. Many of the products — even soaps — that we use regularly have toxins in them. Informing yourself about what to avoid can help you limit the chemicals that you introduce to your body, especially on delicate tissues.
We know this isn’t the most comfortable topic to talk about but remember: even though your vulva is a small part of your body, feeling your freshest down there can boost your confidence and make you feel more comfortable in your own skin. Take care of your delicate tissues and they will thank you!