Women’s Health Week: For The Record, You Can Use Soap Down There, Just Not In There

May 17, 2018  |  

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May 13-19 is Women’s Health Week. Instead of trying to tackle a whole host of all-over-the-place issues, we thought we would focus on something we always we have questions about — the area down there. That includes the vagina and its parts, the uterus, and a few issues pertaining to our private parts that it never hurts to know more about. To educate ourselves, we sought out the insight of Dr. Wendy Goodall McDonald. She is a board-certified OB-GYN based in Chicago and author of the super informative and funny book,  It Smells Just Like Popcorn: The Modern Woman’s A-V Guide to Her Vagina and Beyond. This women’s health expert gave us the rundown on what we should know about our sexual and reproductive anatomy, the right way to take care of it, and what it’s all capable of. 

What methods do you use to clean down there?

Do you like the fragrance-free options? Are you a fan of light soaps like Dial? Or do you go all out with your favorite scent from Caress?

Only you know what works for your skin and what doesn’t. But in case you were one of those people who gets confused when medical professionals say you don’t need to use anything to clean your vagina other than maybe water, for the record, they’re talking about your inner private parts. And according to Dr. Wendy, don’t even use water.

“When we say vagina, I think it’s important to understand what we’re talking about,” she says. “So technically, if we want to get all particular about anatomy, the vagina is the inside. The vulva is the outside. I’m not into semantics, but I think in this space it does matter, because you shouldn’t put really anything, probably not even water just from a need standpoint, inside of the vagina. But if you were going to sit in the tub or something like that and water is getting in there, that’s not a problem. Water is not bad for your body. But you don’t need to put soap or anything in there.”

Your vagina is indeed self-cleaning, but the outside, of course, requires some work. Because there is hair and regular skin there, it needs to be cleaned in the same way as any other part of your body, but gently.

“That’s why it’s important to clarify those two things because you know, when people talk about using things like douche to clean the vagina, that’s the vagina, and you don’t have to clean it with anything. But when you talk about, say, a Summer’s Eve wash, that’s not supposed to go inside, that’s just supposed to be outside. But you can use Summer’s Eve.”

But certain sensitivities to soaps and cleansers that have fragrances can be serious depending on the person. A study done at the University of Melbourne School of Engineering last year showed that around one-third of study participants found themselves dealing with one or more health issues from their use of these products. The most common health problem ended up being respiratory issues, including coughing and a shortness of breath. Therefore, you need to be careful with whatever product you choose to cleanse the outside of your vagina, or even to clean things that will come into contact with your genitalia, especially if you’ve ever had bad reactions to scented products on skin on the rest of your body.

“Some people are really particular and sensitive to certain fragrances when it comes to soap, but you can definitely use soap,” says Dr. Wendy. “It’s just a matter of, the skin itself on the outside, it can be more sensitive. So not everybody can handle every type of cleanser for that space. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be cleaned.”

“Some people have issues more sensitive even to the type of detergent that they use on their underwear, or fabric softener,” she added. “That is an individual thing. But I think the safest things are usually fragrance-free or something that’s a skin conditioning cleaner or cleanser. Those are probably the safest things to try if you’re not sure. Avoid the fabric softeners and the extra stuff on your underwear and undergarments.”

If you’re well aware of your anatomy, and know the difference between the vagina and vulva, then you’ve probably known better than to put anything in there. But that doesn’t mean you may be choosing the best products to take care of your genitalia. Keep it simple. Have fun with your scented soaps on the rest of your body, but play it safe down there. Clean wisely.

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