You know what they say; “less is more.” Believe it or not, when it comes to feminine hygiene, the same token applies.
The importance of hygiene is instilled in men and women for their entire lives. However, when it comes to feminine hygiene, what many women fail to realize is that washing, douching, or using harsh cleansers can strip away the vagina’s natural lubrication, which can cause odor problems, pH imbalances, itching, and discomfort. Experts recommend that women rinse their genitals daily with warm water and mild, unscented soap and pat dry with a clean towel (1).
When it comes to sexual health and menstrual care, it is best to look for products that are all-natural. Many lubricants, condoms, and even tampons can be laden with harsh chemicals that are unsuitable for these sensitive areas of a woman’s body. These industries are very loosely regulated, which makes it difficult to determine what is truly safe to use.
Let’s Talk Tampons
Conventional tampons and pads can be potentially harmful. Tampon manufacturers are not required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to disclose the ingredients in their products nor any chemicals used during the manufacturing process. The FDA also does not regulate which materials can and should be used to create tampons.
During the cotton growth process, pesticides and chemicals are used to ward off insects and pests, which can remain in the tampon even after processing. Bleach and chlorine are also used to achieve a stark white color, which produces dioxins. Many tampons are made from non-cotton fibers such as rayon, which have been known to shed inside the body and leave behind bacteria-collecting fibers, which can increase one’s risk of acquiring toxic shock syndrome (TSS) (2). On the contrary, Certified Organic (no pesticides or herbicides) tampons are made from cotton fibers that are secure and will not shed.
Most natural tampons have biodegradable cardboard applicators or no applicators, which make them more environmentally-friendly than plastic applicators. Plastic applicators may also pose health concerns. The highly vascular mucus membrane of the vagina can easily absorb unwanted toxins from plastic, such as BPA and other chemicals (3).
Alternatively, there are also medical-grade silicone menstrual cups available that are completely safe and have no risk of TSS associated with them. Menstrual cups are pliable and comfortable. They are also 100% reusable once thoroughly disinfected, making them a smart, environmentally conscious alternative (3).
Yeast Infections, Urinary Health, and pH Imbalances
When it comes to feminine hygiene, it is very closely tied to female health in general. This provides a great opportunity to also cross merchandise other important products that may fall outside the HABA category. Probiotics, for example, can be a wonderful measure to reduce the risk of yeast infections and pH imbalances in addition to physical precautions mentioned previously. A vagina with too little bacteria can actually be problematic. Probiotics provide a dose of healthy bacteria not only to the gut, but to the vagina as well. “Yogurt is rich in probiotics, especially plain Greek yogurt,” says Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the female sexual medicine program at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, CA. “If a woman is prone to yeast infections, taking a probiotic that is rich in [the bacteria] Lactobacilli, or eating plain Greek yogurt every day can be helpful” (4).
Cranberry taken as food/drink or taken as a supplement can help reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTI). If you are prone to UTIs, research published in July 2012 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine suggested it may be helpful to take a cranberry supplement daily (4).
When it comes to lubricants, being wary of added chemicals is extremely important. This is because the fragile mucosal membranes of a woman’s anatomy absorb most of what is applied to them. Experts suggest looking for a lubricant with healthy and few ingredients (5).
Avoid lubricants containing glycerine. Glycerine is sugar, which can feed bacteria and lead to a yeast infection. Another ingredient to avoid is propylene glycol, something found in antifreeze. The safest and most reliable types of sexual lubricant are either water- or silicone-based. Alternatively, many use natural oils like coconut as a lubricant. However, these oils can increase risk of condom breakage, so only use them if you are not worried about STIs or are using a backup method of contraception.
As always, checking labels is important to determine if the product meets one’s standards. WF
- Weiss, Marisa. “Feminine Hygiene: Cleaning Up ‘Down There.’” org, 25 Jan. 2012.
- “The Best 10 Organic Cotton Tampons Brands & Reviews.” net, 19 Feb. 2017.
- “Women Beware: Most Feminine Hygiene Products Contain Toxic Ingredients.” Mercola.com, 22 May 2013.
- , Dennis Thompson. “8 Rules for a Healthy Vagina.” EverydayHealth.com, Everyday Health, 6 Sept. 2017.
- Machado, Jessica. “7 Natural Lubricants for Better Sex (or Solo Fun).” The Daily Dot, 18 Sept. 2017.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine January 2018