Tuesday, September 13, 2016Choosing your cosmetics well

In the intimacy of women’s intimate hygiene

© Thinkstock/L'Observatoire des Cosmétiques

Women’s intimate hygiene still often sounds like a taboo topic. And yet, the offering of cosmetics intended for it is actually well-developed and comprises the best… and much worse. Which products should you choose? How should you use them? Here is a short guide and a few tips to gently and safely take care of your intimate area.

Reading time
~ 6 minutes

Let’s speak clearly: when it comes to women’s intimate hygiene, we talk about cleaning the mucous membrane of our body’s urogenital area, which is the interface between our urinary and sexual organs and the outside. Pussy, fanny, cunt… we are not short of slang words to name this area, otherwise often mentioned with much reservation and discretion.

Still, let’s talk about it, because this area – especially if we overburden it with treatments ill-adapted to its sensitivity – may develop persistent discomfort, burn symptoms, itching sensations or irritations, when it is not infections. So, we should treat it properly.

Beware, sensitive area

More permeable than the skin and naturally damp, this part of women’s anatomy is particularly fragile. However, since nature does things well, it does have its own natural defences to preserve its balance: for example, the vaginal flora.

Let’s reiterate that the vagina is not a sterile cavity, but an extremely well-sophisticated organ, in which a whole series of germs live together, which are both protective (like Doderlein bacilli) and pathogenic (like streptococci, coliform bacteria, Candida Albicans…). The balance of this flora depends on its pH, usually acid, between 3.8 and 4.2.
It is this acidity that helps fight against infections and prevents ‘bad’ germs from developing. If the pH changes, the door is wide open to mycoses (pH too acid) or bacterial infections (pH too alkaline).

When the flora becomes unbalanced

Several types of factors can unbalance the vaginal flora pH:
• Oestrogenic deficiencies throughout pregnancy, menopause, or the period before menstruation
• Stress, tiredness, lack of sleep
• Diabetes
• Certain medicinal treatments (anti-acne, antibiotics…)
• Poor hygiene, excess of hygiene, ill-adapted restrooms…
• Chemical aggressions (chlorine in swimming pools…)
• Microtraumas due to too tight clothes or repeated rubbing…

Every woman has their own vaginal flora, but for all of them, in order to help keep its balance, there are a few good habits and hygiene principles to be transmitted to our daughters at a very early age, and not to be overlooked during teenage years and menstruation.
With this mind, in case of real disorders or recurring discomfort, you should just go and see a doctor or gynaecologist.

Our balance protectors

So, what should you do and not do to keep your flora in good health?

• Ban vaginal douching: unfortunately, 50% of women still follow this practice, although it disturbs the vagina’s natural defences, by completely washing its flora and leaving it without any protection.

• When it is time to have a shower, your usual shower gel will do, provided it is very gentle, preferably hypoallergenic, and it does not contain any irritant surfactants (foam makers) or allergenic ingredients. You can also choose a specific product supposed to gather all these characteristics.

• Gently wash your vulva, but always on the outside of the area, with your finger or a clean glove, and do not forget to thoroughly rinse off the skin and mucous membrane with clear water. Do not do it too often though: once a day is enough, twice is definitely the maximum authorized.

• Always dry the area thoroughly after rinsing it off, without rubbing: leaving it damp will favour maceration, which is an infection factor.

• Prefer showers to baths. And generally speaking, avoid keeping your urogenital area in a damp environment for too long (frequently change your sanitary towel during menstruation, do not wear your wet swimsuit after going to the pool or swimming…)

• If you do want to have a bath, try not to stay in too long or add products that make too much foam (as they might be ‘abrasive’ too) or too rich in sensitizing ingredients (like certain essential oils).

• When you go to the loo, always wipe yourself from the front to the back (and not from the back to the front, as we naturally do), to prevent taking the germs from the digestive tract to the vagina and the bladder.

• Always favour underwear with natural fibres (cotton or silk), rather than synthetic material, and change it every day.

• Outside your periods, avoid wearing sanitary towels and panty liners on a daily basis, as they prevent your intimate area from being properly aired.

• Do not wear underwear at night.

• Do not wear very tight clothes too often (jeans, tights…), as they create rubbing and maceration.

• After going to the pool, rinse with clear water.

• In case of mycosis, wash your underwear at 60° in your washing machine (certain spores can resist lower temperatures).

Choose adapted cosmetics

Most intimate hygiene products are claimed to be ‘gentle’, ‘tested under gynaecological control’, and bear the ‘hypoallergenic’ indication. This does not guarantee they are all safe.
Indeed, many non-recommended ingredients can be found in certain formulas for the intimate area, often because they are irritant, drying, and/or allergenic.

So, if you want to prevent any itching, inflammation, or allergy, while making sure your washing routine is perfect, search for gentleness above all, with a formula adapted to the physiological pH, and which respects the lipid film and the natural lubrication of the mucous membrane.

The ingredients to be avoided
• Perfume
• Essential oils
• Irritant surfactants (Sodium lauryl sulfate, Ammonium lauryl sulfate…)
• Preservatives and antiseptic actives likely to destroy the protective germs of the vaginal flora, in addition to be possibly drying, irritant, and/or allergenic (Alcohol denat., DMDM Hydantoin, Triclosan…).

The ingredients to prefer
• pH-regulating agents (lactic acid…)
• Softening and soothing actives (camomile, oats, calendula, cornflower, hemp, hibiscus, mallow, lavender…)
• Gentle surfactants derived from plant bases, beetroot or sugar (with the suffixes […]- betaine, […]-glucoside, […]-glutamate…)
• Purifying agents (sage, pine, eucalyptus… or cranberry, whose virtues are well-known for fighting against urinary infections if taken orally, but which can also be found in a few intimate hygiene products).

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