To all girls and women: no, your vagina is not supposed to smell like flowers
Should you really smell like a rose? Here's how to maintain good feminine hygiene throughout the different stages of your life as a woman
There seems to be an unwritten rule somewhere that girls and women need to keep our "lady garden" smelling fresh like flowers or sweet like fruit -- but it is actually perfectly normal that your vagina smells nothing like a rose or a peach.
The vagina is a self-cleansing organ with its own perfectly balanced ecosystem to maintain a healthy pH level of 3.8 to 4.5 so that bad bacteria is unable to grow, and it also has a function to naturally keep foreign substances away.
There is nothing to worry about if you notice some clear or even white secretions with a slightly acidic smell, as this is considered healthy discharge. When you are ovulating, your cervical mucus will also have the same consistency as raw egg white and will feel thicker and stretchier than usual.
However if there is any itching, soreness, a strong fishy odour, discharge that has a strange colour (yellow-green) or unusual discharge (thin and milky, foamy, or lumpy like cottage cheese), it could be a sign of a vaginal infection and needs to be treated.
But a normal and healthy vagina is expected to have a light and natural scent.
So how do we maintain the hygiene of our intimate area and is feminine wash really necessary? theAsianParent spoke to Ms Atsuko Morita, the founder of INTIME Organique, leading phytotherapist, health consultant and lecturer from Japan for her expert advice.
To wash or not to wash?
Although the vagina has been described as a "self-cleaning oven", it is still important for us to maintain good personal hygiene and keep our vulva (the outer part of our vagina where pubic hair grows) clean.
Atsuko recommends that you practice Delicate Zone Care, which is the outer care of the vagina, that can be cleaned with just warm water or by using a gentle and natural feminine wash once a day.
But avoid using ordinary body wash or regular soap as they are alkaline which is too harsh for the sensitive skin of your intimate area and can cause an imbalance of your vagina's pH level, making bacteria spread or odour and itching to occur.
When choosing a feminine wash, Atsuko says, "You should choose weakly acidic products with the same pH as the delicate zone. And it is important to choose products with no synthetic fragrance, no colouring, and no synthetic formula (surfactant). Please choose organic products if possible, or products you are confident to use."
The Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) also cautions against using vaginal douches to clean out the inside of your vagina, as this could actually disrupt the natural pH balance and negatively affect the healthy vaginal flora.
Feminine care at the different stages of a woman's life cycle
A woman's reproductive life cycle is a bit more complicated than a man's, and our intimate area needs some extra care and maintenance to ensure a healthy vaginal health.
"Women experience pregnancy, childbirth, menopause during their life stage, and the balance of female hormones also changes with lifestyle. In that process, the condition of [the] delicate zone varies from person to person, as such itching, odour, drying etc [may occur]", Atsuko explains.
So what sort of feminine care is required during each stage of our life?
From birth to preschool
Water is enough to clean baby girls, but if you think you need to use a cleanser (especially after a poo explosion!), you can add a few drops of mild liquid baby cleanser to the bath water.
Alternatively, you can also wipe her private parts with fragrance-free baby wipes before giving her a bath in clean water.
For toddlers and preschoolers, it is best to steer clear from using any body washes, wipes or creams that are scented or contain alcohol, as these are irritants which are too harsh for the vagina -- and no matter how fun bubble baths are, sitting in a soapy tub for too long can also irritate the vagina and may even cause a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Puberty and womanhood
Once you hit puberty, you will notice some pubic hair growing and start to get your monthly visits from "Aunt Flo" -- this is probably when you might feel the need to step up your vaginal hygiene.
After washing up or taking a bath, it is important that you remember to dry your genital area well before putting on your clothes, so as to avoid the growth of bacteria which could cause irritation and infection.
Pregnancy and motherhood
Increased vaginal discharge is not unusual during pregnancy and could be caused by:
- An increased blood supply
- Higher production of estrogen
- The softening of your cervix and vaginal walls
- Stimulation from the baby’s head (when it is pressed against your cervix in preparation for labour)
Continue to practice proper delicate zone care and you can also use unscented panty liners to help with any feeling of discomfort from the wetness.
After you experience menopause, your levels of estrogen (female hormones) will decrease, causing the tissues and lining of your vulva and vagina to lose its elasticity and become less flexible.
This drop in estrogen can also reduce your vaginal secretions and natural lubrication, which can cause vaginal dryness and irritation.
It is recommended that you you use an oil-based, silicone-based or water-based lubricant to help things along during sexual intercourse so as to avoid injury, tearing or bleeding.
Even if you stop producing cervical mucus and are at a new stage in your life as a woman, it is still important to maintain good feminine hygiene and also continue going for an annual check up with a gynaecologist.
Feminine hygiene tips
Here are a few more tips on how you can keep your delicate zone clean, especially in Singapore's hot and humid weather:
- Wear breathable, cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes to allow air flow which helps prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi
- Change out of wet clothes and avoid sitting around in a wet bathing suit for too long as this can lead to a vaginal yeast infection
- Use tampons, pads, panty liners or wipes that are unscented, so they will not cause any irritation
- Avoid over-washing your intimate area as this can make you prone to infections
- Trim or shave off any excess pubic hair which can trap sweat, semen or other body secretions which can lead to unpleasant smells
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids (especially water) to help flush out toxins
- Wash up with warm water after working out or having sex
- Take some probiotics to help with vaginal health
- Try to use a gentle and natural feminine wash only once a day to avoid throwing off your vagina's pH balance
No matter which stage of your life cycle you are at, it is recommended to maintain good feminine hygiene and a healthy vaginal flora -- but just remember that you are not a delicate little flower, nor should you feel the pressure to smell like one!
This article is republished with permission from theAsianParent.