While we’re more than happy to talk about the new monster spot that just appeared on our chin or that irritating patch of eczema on our arm, we’re far less chatty when asking for advice about ‘down there.’ And with our days of Sex Ed long gone (who was really listening anyway?), when it comes to vaginal health, we’re a lot less clued up than we are with the rest of the body. Which is kind of crazy when you think about how important that area is. So, we decided to get in touch with Dr. Mary Jane Minkin one of the world’s leading gynecologists and professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, as well as board certified NY based dermatologist, Dr. Doris Day to get their expert advice. They told us everything we should be doing down there to ensure your vagina is healthy and happy. Here’s what they told us…
1) Don’t crowd it
Dr. Day says firstly, “It’s already a crowded area, so the last thing it needs is tight clothing and underwear that minimizes blood flow and increases friction. This can lead to abrasions, infection and the associated change in vaginal odor. It helps to wear loose clothing and breathable cotton underwear or a cotton gusset when possible.” This means; think less thongs, more pretty panties, and French knickers. It may not always be sexy, but it’s good for your VJJ. Sleeping commando is even better as it allows everything down there to get some fresh air!
2) Know what’s normal
Dr. Day tells us “It’s normal to have vaginal discharge of 1-4 ml depending on the day and time of the month. Vaginas are meant to be wet, and discharge is the by-product of the process that keeps everything in working order – it’s normal. Avoid perfumed products; in the long-run, they’re more likely to have negative odor effects.” Check out this post for more deets on decoding your discharge. Dr. Day also adds, “removing pubic hair can also change vulvovaginal odor as this alters skin bacteria and increases daily friction on the skin, which leads to increased gland secretions.”
3) Don’t put things in it that weren’t made for it
Dr. Day and Dr. Minkin both agree that you should keep it simple when it comes to your vagina. Dr. Day warns against “steam or douches – nature has designed it to clean itself without these devices. Also, over cleaning the area to make it ‘smell better’ will have the opposite effect, and will increase odor as the more you clean, the more your vaginal glands secrete. Douching is an especially bad idea for the vaginal ecosystem because it damages the good bacteria.” Dr. Minkin agrees “You hear and read about all these crazy things like steaming your vagina or applying a mask to your vulva: don’t do it. Steaming is totally unnecessary and could be dangerous, both by burning this sensitive tissue and also killing good guy bacteria in the vagina. There are good bacteria that you want in your vagina, to help keep it acidic.”
4) Don’t ignore it
“If you’ve had some upset to your vagina (like you had to take an antibiotic, which may have killed off some of your good lactobacilli which makes acid), you can use something like RepHresh, which is a vaginal gel which will help re-acidify your vagina; and you can use a probiotic such as RepHresh Pro-B Probiotic Feminine Supplement, $45 which will help restore a healthier flora.” Dr. Minkin told us. Dr. Day also recommends, “Make sure to have regular pap smears and follow any recommendations from your gynecologist. If you think something’s not right, don’t go online, go and get it checked out with your gyno.”
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Dr. Day explains, “Exercise, in general, improves circulation to the entire body and helps keep your vagina healthy. You can also try Kegels, which are basically weights for strengthening your vaginal muscles. Kegels are specifically designed to target vulvovaginal muscles, and if done regularly and frequently, it can help strengthen your pelvic floor and even improve your sex life.”
6) Use the right soap
Dr. Minkin explains that in the winter “You’re more prone to take long hot bubble baths but these can be very irritating to the vagina and the vulva, which are the most sensitive skin in the body, so the less potential allergens you expose your delicate tissue to the better.” Dr. Day continues, “You don’t need to use vagina specific soaps like femfresh or any particular brand, but do look for fragrance-free soaps. You can use your hands or a washcloth, but there’s no need to insert anything, just wash the areas that are exposed. Some people are more prone to unbalance, if you are, you’re more likely to experience thrush or UTIs regularly; in this case, it’s a good idea to avoid really rich bubble baths and bath bombs, which can cause unbalance.”
7) Eat a healthy diet
Dr. Day reminds us; “What you eat affects every organ in your body including your skin and reproductive system. There are good bacteria that naturally live in the vaginal tract, and they help protect against bad bacteria and conditions like bacterial vaginosis. That balance can vary from one person to another, and while some types of bacteria are definitely good, the specific balance that keeps me healthy might not be right for you. Smoking is also very bad for the vaginal ecosystem and can affect odor.
While probiotic supplements sound like a good idea, especially for a vagina deficient in good bacteria, I have not found a convincing study that proves that what is currently available has any particular benefit for vaginal health or odor. The scent of the vagina is not just due to the mix of bacteria, but also due to secretions from the many sweat glands on the vulva and around the anus as well as the bacteria on the skin. Vaginas do not need a different smell; they need to smell like vaginas. Vulvovaginal odor can change in a way that we consider unhealthy with infections or when estrogen levels drop around menopause.”
If you ever find something you think is strange, go to your gyno, and don’t forget to get your pap smear every three years if you’re 23 or older. While we’re on the topic of bodies, check out 3 things you should do right now if you have boobs.