The Dirty Side of 'Feminine Washes': a Woman's Health Expert Explains

Disclaimer: The terms ‘feminine care’ and other related category names are not inclusive of all participants in this category. As a company with core values of diversity and inclusion, we have made an active decision to define our category as ‘intimate care’.

 At the Bloomi, we spent a significant amount of time and effort researching ‘feminine washes’ and trying to identify healthy options for our community. Of the 100 washes we have screened (we screen for vulva allergens, endocrine disruptors and the proper pH) only 2 have passed the test. Why only two?

Chemicals used in intimate care washes have limited regulation in the US. Washes are classified as ‘cosmetics’ so manufacturers are not required to disclose all their ingredients. This means companies can include harmful additives to make products look better (creamier, silky), smell more fragrant –why does everyone think vulvas need to smell like a flower?! --or last for years on the store shelves. These toxic additives and the undisclosed ingredients often found in intimate care washes have been linked to vulva skin irritation, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections or even worse, cervical and breast cancer.  

As you may know, your vagina is like a natural self-cleaning oven and there is no need to use douches or soaps internally. However, when it comes to vulva cleaning, there are many mixed opinions. Some clinicians recommend women avoid all washes and simply use water to cleanse the area [1]. While other clinicians recognize that women want more options than just water in order to feel clean.

Here is everything you need to know about intimate care washes:

Why We Have Vulvas

Let’s back up to understand the purpose of the vulva before discussing why they are so sensitive.  There are two main reasons our vulvas exist [2]:

  1. It is the female sex organ that includes folds of sensitive tissue called ‘labia’ to protect our clitoris as well as the vaginal and urethral openings.
  2. It is the center for woman’s sexual response and pleasure. The labia becomes engorged with blood when a woman is aroused and the clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings that help stimulate pleasure (that’s double the nerve endings that a penis has). Pubic hair around the mons pubis, also plays a role in pleasure by reducing the friction women may feel during intercourse.

Why Vulvas & Vaginas are So Sensitive

Vulva skin is the most permeable skin on the body due to the high concentration of sweat glands, hair follicles and increased blood vessels. In fact, vulva skin it is up to 7 times more permeable that the rest of our exposed skin [3].

The vagina is filled with blood vessels and lymphatic vessels –this means chemicals that touch the vaginal opening or go inside the vagina can be directly transferred into our bloodstream within a few seconds [4].

Best Hygiene Practices for Your Vulva

In general, please avoid bubble baths and hot tubs.  Bubbles (aka Suds or Sulfates) are made of harsh detergents that are horrible for you vulva, often leaving it irritated, dry or damaging the skin.

Never scrub the vulva with a loofah or sponge –your fingertips or a soft cloth work best.

Avoid over drying the area –pat dry after shower and use clean moisturizers that are designed for the vulva skin to hydrate when needed.

Most women know you should avoid products with fragrance (their ingredients can often have carcinogens and other toxic, unreported ingredients). In addition, you should also be cautious of products that claim to be ‘unscented’. This claim means the product does not have a noticeable scent but may contain ‘masking’ fragrance ingredients to hide the scent of other ingredients.

Ingredients to Avoid and Look For:

  • Fragrance & Unscented / Fragrance-free
  • Parabens / Paraben-free
  • Synthetic colors (look for CI followed by a 5 digit number, FD&C, D&C)/ No dyes
  • Phthalates / Phthalate-free
  • Glycerin / Glycerin-free
  • Triclosan
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) / Sodium laurth sulfate (SLES)
  • Toluene
  • Propylene glycol
  • Formaldehyde (quaternium 15, imidizolindinyl urea, diazolidinyl ure)
  • DEA-related ingredients, or MEA or TEA (triethanolamine)
  • Phenoxyethanol 

So What Wash Can Women Trust?

This is where Healthy Hoo Hoo comes in. Their washes were developed so well! They are fragrance-free, glycerin-free, paraben free and pH balanced correctly at 4.2. You can trust that their washes do not have any toxic ingredients –finally!

How to Use: No need to wash the vaginal opening. Simply stick to washing the outer skin: labia minora, labia majora, mons pubis and perineum with your fingertips. [See diagram]

 

 

 

[1] ACOG & https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4976-vulvar-care

[2] The V Book by Elisabeth Stewart, MD. 2002

[3] Connor CJ. Eppsteiner EE. Vulvar contact dermatitis. Proc Obstet Gynecol. 2014;4(2).

[4] Hussain, A and Ahsan, F. (2005) The vagina as a route for systemic drug delivery. Journal of Controlled Release. Vol. 103, pp: 301-313. 2005.

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